Archive for WARNING!!

‘share’ spamming on Google+

Can you spam people using Google+?

Yes – using the ‘share’ function.

Just now, I got an item in my stream from one ‘Mac MacPherson’. From looking at this ‘incoming’ item, you can clearly see that Google+ lets people who you don’t know and who don’t know you push things at you. Great.

So I tried it out myself. Here’s how you do it. First, publish your piece of mega-spam to your stream. Make sure it contains plenty of calls to actions and links to your Viagra store or Forex trading platforms (or whatever else you’re pushing at people).

1) When you’ve published your lump of spam, click the ‘share’ link underneath it.

2) Delete any circles

3) Start to type ANY name you like in the circle / name field (G+ will kindly fill it for you with tons of people you don’t know and who don’t know you)

4) When you’ve finished adding names, click the green ‘Share’ button

5) Those people will get a notification in their stream that you want to share something with them. They either have to view your post or they can choose to delete it by clicking the little ‘x’

However, the cute bit is that even if they choose to delete you from their stream, they will still have got a notification email from the Google+ noreply containing the full content of your spamming post.

Unless Google does something about this, I think we can expect G+ to drown in a deluge of spam.

Vital Beauty: scam or not? You decide…

Is Vital Beauty ‘prize’ promotion a scam?

As always, you the great Googling public will decide. I’ll just give you some space to air your views. Please feel free to leave a comment.

Vital Beauty sells cosmetics but misleads people into thinking they’ve won money as a way of drawing them into it’s marketing trap. It’s been in trouble before with OFT before and – like our other scammy friends McIntyre and Dodd Marketing Ltd – were ordered to stop misleading customers.

But, just like the recent judgment against M&D, this High Court ruling seems to have made little or no difference – judging by the phone call I got from a very concerned Mr C from Romsey. According to him, Vital Beauty has carried right on sending out these ‘prize promotions’ and he’s got a big bag of letters to prove it.  A quick Google search shows the company has been doing this for over 3 years now. Penman and Sommerlad at the Mirror have been reporting on this for a while. This TV news item will tell you pretty much all you need to know about Vital Beauty.

This country is awash with scams aimed at vulnerable people and you can bet, in these tough times, it’s going to get worse. Given the total impotence of the law and bodies like OFT to control them, it really is no surprise.

Is Vital Beauty a scam? I know what I think but as always, I’ll leave it to you decide for yourself. When you’ve made up your mind, don’t forget to share your experience to help prevent other people from wasting their

For more information on ‘prize promotions’ scams visit the ‘thinkJessica’ website.

Camelot Castle Hotel: down the online reputation rabbit-hole

Camelot Castle Hotel’s use as a Scientology recruitment and training center sparks growing online reputation crisis

Jun 13th 2010

Before today, I didn’t know Camelot Castle Hotel in Tintagel, Cornwall existed. It probably would have stayed that way had not a family member and their partner returned from a stay there, full of horror stories about the place.

These weren’t your run-of-the-mill ‘what a dreadful dump’ kind of comments. Oh, no. These were of the ‘this place literally scared the shit out of us’ kind. Say what?? That’s quite a reaction. You’ve got my full attention now.

A quick visit to TripAdvisor (have your pinch of salt ready) reveals 182 ‘excellent’ reviews and 124 ‘terrible’ reviews.  Such extreme polarisation of opinion is unusual and a good sign that something odd is going on and the problem is that Joe Public suddenly wants to know “what?”.

Read the reviews yourself and make up your own mind which are credible and which are not.  Would you stay there?

The negative reviews are extraordinarily critical of the owners and of a peculiar – and less than transparent – agenda. You would be forgiven for thinking that the hotel’s purpose might be to ensure your satisfaction as a paying customer. It isn’t – as this page quickly demonstrates. It seems they’re out to make a better world through art and creativity. According to this press release, if you’re an artist (or just think you are) then you’re welcome to stay at the hotel as long as you like for free.

By the time you’ve read the hotel’s own disconcerting copy on its website and the TripAdvisor and Holiday Watchdog reviews it’s hard not to start to feel uneasy about the connection between the owners of this hotel and the ‘Church of Scientology’.

A quick standard Google search for “Camelot Castle Hotel” reveals (as you’d expect) a P1 of Google stuffed full of neutral references (apart from this lone article now). These include the hotel’s own website plus a range of other tourism directory listings. Nothing unusual there.  In fact, almost nothing on the first 5 or 6 pages cause concern. Except this one listing on P2 beginning: “It takes a lot to freak me…” [update: this has since changed considerably]

But search for “Camelot Castle Hotel scientology” or “camelot castle scientology” and things will get much more interesting. Very quickly, you’ll find yourself encountering owner John Mappin, his Khazakh wife Irina and artist Ted Stourton. A little more research on all three gets even more interesting – not least Mappin’s short career as ‘porn film’ actor and his defeat in the High Court in a sordid fraud case.  But these things are really only the beginning.

What does this odd threesome have to do with scientology?  [They have since gone public about their 20+ years as dedicated Scientologists]. I recommend you read some of the comments and check out some of the links on this site here and this site here and read this press release before you make up your own mind.  Pretty soon, you’ll find yourself looking at a ‘religion’ that appears to have more bad things said about it than good things than any other you can think of.

Having read all this, you hope that these reviews and commentators are joking. I mean, c’mon – a cult centre masquerading as a hotel in the heart of sleepy Cornwall? Puh-lease. That’s what I thought when my family members texted me from inside their locked hotel room. But what they told me is confirmed by the all the research I’ve done since.

If you’re still not decided, then you could read Camelot Castle’s creepy ‘Westminster Independent’ newspaper, published by John Mappin who has declared that he will never again publish anything but positive news – particularly pseudo-news like articles such as ‘The Truth About Drugs’ which quickly leads you first to the ‘Foundation for a drug free world‘, and from there to Narconon -  a Scientology front organisation.

If you get as far as the serious allegations that staff are forced to study Scientology materials disguised as ‘business training’ (get your Google translator out) then you’d be forgiven for being worried.

Mappin and Stourton are fully-documented, fee-paying Scientologists, there’s no doubt about that but the fact that they have been less than upfront about their agenda no doubt fuels many of the harshest online hotel reviews.

I don’t know about you but the one thing I want from a hotel is that it’s clean, in every sense of the word – above and below the surface.  And that it exists first and foremost to accommodate me and satisfy my needs. What I wouldn’t want is dingy rooms, mouldy walls, Port-a-loo sanitation, hard sells of bad paintings, connections with Scientology or creepy personalities with sleazy pasts. But hey, that’s just me.

The moral of the story? It’s one that so many businesses get wrong. Hotel guests (like any business’s customers) expect you to serve them, not your own pet ideologies. Mix those two up and they won’t just feel dissatisfied, they’ll feel swindled.

When all’s said and done, an online reputation rabbit hole as deep and as bad as this one is the product of some very poor decisions. No matter how unpleasant it is to accept, the fact is that you simply can’t blame everyone else for the disconcerting impression that you’ve created through your own actions.

Update: 08/07/10 – today I got a threatening phone call from someone claiming to be a Church of Scientology minister in the USA (he withheld his number of course).

He demanded to know what I had against John Mappin and Scientology.

From the outset, he did that Scientology ‘handling‘ thing I’ve since learned about. According to L. Ron Hubbard, anyone who disagreed with Scientology is a criminal.  They’re trained to assault you with accusations about you, your past, your CRIMES rather than answer the question you asked them or address the issue you raised about their ‘church’.

Watch this very revealing video of scientologists ‘handling’ a critic and you’ll get a very good idea of the experience.

A couple of minutes into the call, I couldn’t resist saying to him “I’m sorry, Minister Jeffries, that is by far the worst fake American accent I’ve ever heard.  Now if you’ll do me the honour of dropping it, perhaps we can talk?”  He took great offense – but amusingly (and entirely unsurprisingly) by the end of the call, he had just about forgotten he was supposed to be doing it.

Sadly, he didn’t answer my question: are anonymous and threatening calls to anyone who disagrees with you  a central tenet of Scientology? When you’ve done a little research, you’ll find the answer to that question is a resounding ‘yes’.  Anyone who disagrees with them is branded as a member of a ‘hate group’ and targeted for legal, professional and personal attack.

Take the recent attacks on Welsh councillor John Dixon for example. Or, if you want something a little more sinister – how about the story of how Scientology bankrupted then took over the Cult Awareness Network, so that today, worried parents looking for advice on how to get their kids out of dangerous cults get advised by… yes, you’ve got it – Scientologists.

Those are examples of what L.Ron called his ‘Fair Game’ policy which states that any critic of Scientology should be destroyed by any and all methods available – legal or otherwise.

It’s now been a couple of months since I posted about this hotel and in that time, I’ve observed the reputation crisis around this hotel growing deeper by them moment.  There is now a 45+ page long thread on the WhyWeProtest forum which has exposed fully the extend of these peoples’ activities and their plans for Scientology in this region.  It goes beyond the quirky and into the downright sinister.

There is also another site about Camelot Castle Hotel and Scientology that has appeared in the last few months. The people behind that site (like those in the WhyWeProtest forum) believe that this hotel is fast becoming a problem for TripAdvisor because they believe it is faking its own positive reviews.  It seems that TripAdvisor has now become aware of this problem and taken steps to remove a small number of suspect reviews but it will be interesting to watch to see what develops.

My original post was a response to the personal experience of a family member who stayed at the hotel and was – to put it frankly – freaked out by the state of the accommodation and the owners.  I did some research in Google and was amazed at what I found – a very interesting situation from an online reputation management point of view. What I’ve discovered since is that Scientology is its own very worst enemy from a PR perspective.  You’d be hard-pushed to think of how to do it worse – which is the gist of the post (below).

Scientologists seem to believe that everybody else has got it wrong and that people should go to the Scientology website to find out about the church and its founder.  That’s a bit like a hotel saying ‘don’t read the 1 star reviews on TripAdvisor, go to our website to find out what it’s really like here’. That approach, in today’s context, it’s practically deluded. Whether you like it or not, people take more notice of what other people are saying about you than they do of your propaganda.

Unlike the person who called to ‘handle’ me, I’m a believer in free speech. ‘Minister Jeffries’ you are welcome to comment here using your real, verifiable name [I'm still waiting].

By the way, for your information, I did report your call and threat to the police.

yatsy999 – your eBay ID is being misused

…in a phishing scam

** Hey, somebody who IS on eBay and is here because they received the phishing email, be a good netizen and contact yatsy999 on eBay and let him know, would ya? **

This neat little phishing attempt came through this morning. I picked it up on my iPhone – on which it appeared convincingly like something from eBay might look.

If I was a regular eBay user (I avoid it like the plague as it happens along with its unholy sibling, PayPal), I might be tempted to fall for this email. It’s cleverly designed to provoke you into thinking that someone out there thinks you haven’t paid for something. Someone is wrong!!  That’s a powerful psychological attractor. You go Google to check on yatsy999 and find he does in fact sell VW camper van parts on eBay.  But since you haven’t bought any camper van parts, he must be wrong – and that leaves you feeling both aggrieved and right.

“I’ll show him” you think.

And right there in the email is a nice big ‘Respond Now’ button to help you do just that.

Of course, if you click it, you’ll go through to a site that looks just like an eBay login page (although the URL is nothing like an eBay URL). Enter your details in that login page and you’d be handing your eBay login details over to the scammers.

Like a good cybercitizen I wanted to let yatsy999 know that his account is being used for a phishing scam. Only I couldn’t without logging into eBay.

All I could do is tweet and blog and hope he picks it up somewhere.

Is this latent semantic indexing at work…

..or just that Google simply doesn’t care what things mean?

Lols.

Here’s a nice surprise for me in my web stats today.

Eww.  If you run a blog (or intend to), pretty soon you’ll get something similar to this appearing – leaving you wondering two things: firstly, “who’s searching my name like that?” (depends on how many unsavoury and vengeful people you’ve cheesed off) and second “why does Google return my site when that word isn’t anywhere in it?”

Is this the result of Google’s famous ‘latent semantic indexing’ at work? That clever algorithm that makes connections between words with related meanings? What’s true is that I have in the past blogged about protecting kids from unsavoury people online.  Is Google saying to me “Hey, since you’ve blogged about pornographers targeting kiddies via YouTube, we’ll return your site when someone searches for your name + …….. as a special favour”?

Why, thanks, Google.

Incidentally, the last item on that list (above) is an example of the same thing at work. Last December, a Google search for that phrase started to return my site – even though that phrase didn’t appear anywhere (either literally OR semantically!!).  The result? A lot of their dissatisfied customers looking for a place to share their experiences, plenty of revealing comments, a good deal of reputation pressure, some refunds – and finally a threat of legal action against me ;-) How did that occur? I had written a post about them a year earlier.  Add that (as Google clearly has) to the fact that I also write some posts about scams on this site and hey presto – a reputation crisis.

So, the moral of this story is that in GoogleWorld, you should expect to be guilty by association at some point or other – no matter what you have or haven’t done.

Alexa toolbar terms and conditions: are they mad or am I?

Would YOU sign up for these terms and conditions?

“Alexa’s toolbar service collects and stores information about the web pages you view, the data you enter in online forms and search fields, and, with versions 5.0 and higher, the products you purchase online while using the toolbar service.”

Actually, I haven’t quoted exactly.  The original is ALL IN UPPER CASE WHICH, WHILE MAKING IT MORE IMPORTANT, MAKES IT HARDER TO READ AND DIGEST (since we don’t usually read capital letters).

The T&Cs also go on to say that the information collected is personally identifiable.

Unless I am completely mistaken, if you click ‘Agree’ you are giving Alexa permission to record and use any information you put in any form online and permission to build a record of your online searching and buying decisions.

On this website we’ve already seen plenty of scams exploiting the willingness of ordinary people to sign forms on which the small print committing them to several years of absurdly expensive scam ‘services’ is plainly visible.   God alone knows what we agree to on a daily basis in the ever-present ‘Terms and Conditions’ boxes we click without reading or so much as a second thought.

Is it that we are so greedy for the ‘pay-off’ that we have lost our critical faculties?  Is it that the way in which the data we give up in these transactions is used so subtly that we never make the connection between the privacy we signed away and the cold calls, the spam and the junk mail coming into our homes?

I suspect that one day a lot of us are going to really, really regret clicking all those ‘I Agree’ checkboxes.

OysterCard taking me for a ride?

oyster

Is Oystercard profiting from ‘out of towners’ like me?

Last week, I was surprised – and inconvenienced – to find my OysterCard had run out of credit.  Again.  I went to the ticket window and asked the woman to put £5 on it.

“You’ve got a negative balance” she said after swiping the card.

“What’s that?” I asked. ‘Look” she said showing me her little screen “It says -£2.20’ “

“How the hell did I get a negative balance?”  I asked.  She printed a list of my journeys over the last couple of days.  The first thing that struck me was how many of them were £4.00 journeys, not the usual £1.60.

“Why was I charged £4.00 for travelling two stops between Richmond and Gunnersbury?” I asked, confused.

The lady printed out my ‘Oyster Usage Statement’ for the last two days:

19/11 08:00 – Gunnersbury No Route Data £4.00
19/11 16:47  Pre Pay entry Gunnersbury £4.00
19/11 16.47 Add Pre Pay Gunnersbury £10.00
20/11 10.41 – Gunnersbury  No Route Data £4.00
20/11 13.52 Pre Pay Entry Gunnersbury £4.00

ending up, of course, with the attempt to get through gate with a negative balance

20/11 18.21 Rejected Exit (Code 36)

She explained that the reason this had happened was that somehow I hadn’t registered the start of my journey.  Her explanation was that often, the card doesn’t register properly – but still opens the gates.

Eh? Hang on a minute.

It failed to register my card properly yet still let me through?  And given the gates opened to let me through, how was I supposed to know I was being charged £4.00 each time for a £1.60 fare?

I was, as you can imagine, outraged, thinking “I’ve been overcharged by nearly £10 by a system that’s programmed to let me through a gate and then secretly charge me more than double the fare!!”

Well, apparently, it’s much simpler than that.  I found out today that if you take a train (main line) to Richmond – as I did – you either have to exit the train station with your mainline ticket and come back in with your OysterCard or find a machine to ‘touch in’ to start your journey.

Apologies to TfL.  I got it wrong.  I’ve obviously had to learn the hard (expensive) way :-) . But what the lady at the ticket office said worries me. Does the system really allow people in through the gates without properly registering the start point of their journey?

Churchwood Financial facebook ad: look closer

Is the company behind this ad trustworthy?  You decide…but, as usual, we’ll help you.

It’s a recession and people are struggling with debt.  Perfect time to offer help, right?  I spotted this ad today and, being the grumpy online policeman I am, couldn’t resist poking it a bit.

The ad links to http://bankruptcy.friendlydebtadvice.co.uk, a page that’s neither reassuring or professional looking.  Nothing to identify the company on the home page.  A bit unusual, hmm?  [NOTE:  This site has since been removed] The contact page reveals the company behind this site as ‘Churchwood Financial’.

A web search shows page after page of neutral results for this company.  My sensors were tripped straight away. You see, I know when a company has pre-flooded the top pages of Google with neutral, nondescript directory entries.  It smells like a smoke-screen to me.

A smoke-screen to hide what, you might ask?

Perhaps to hide this. Or this. Or this. Or this. Or this. Or this. Or this.   (Tip: if you want to find out bad stuff about any company, just add words like ‘scam’ and ‘ripoff’ and ‘complain’ at the end of your search phrases. There’s nothing they can do about it).

Whether you think that this company is trying to hide a very bad smell or not, one thing’s for sure: they will sell on your email address to other companies if you’re silly enough to fill in their online form.  How do I know?  Because they themselves say they will:

Personal Information
In making an enquiry on this website, you are accepting our need to share your information. We may need to contact other companies within our Group or we may need to share your information to our finance suppliers, agents and/or other third parties in order to answer your enquiry.

You can make up your own mind up about Churchwood Financial.

While you’re at it, you can also make your mind up about Facebook’s continuing indifference about where its revenues come from.

Dominos pizza YouTube PR disaster?

Dominos goes truly viral with a pair of unsavoury lackeys trying for their 15 minutes of YouTube fame

Well they’ll get it. Along with their marching orders.

It’s a pretty depressing watch.  It’s not exactly a PR disaster though.

Why not?

Because everyone already knows that fast food joints all over the world are full of disgruntled and unwilling lackeys shoving shit, snot and other nastiness into the food.

So on one level, it’s just the truth.  But there is a serious point here – as a Dominos spokesman points out:

“Any idiot with a webcam and an internet connection can attempt to undo all that’s right about the brand,” Mr. McIntyre said, adding that Dominos has 125,000 employees in 60 countries and a loyal following. “In the course of one three-minute video, two idiots can attempt to unravel all of that.”

That’s social media for you, folks.

twitter blogspot.com phishing DM

If you get a Twitter direct message containing a blogspot.com link, don’t click it – it may be a phishing scam

Read this, says Twitter.

For the few people who don’t know, ‘phishing’ is the attempt to obtain personal data from you usually via emails or messages pretending to be from your bank, PayPal, mobile phone provider or other supplier or utility.  These links take you to a fake site and encourage you to ‘validate’ or ‘unblock’ your account by (re)supplying your personal details which can then be used fraudulently by the ‘phisher’.

More from Wikipedia on phishing here.