Have You Heard that the Internet Can Be a Shady Place?
April 17th, 2013
Remember the days when landline long-distance telephone service was profitable and highly competitive? Back then, even the major carriers would engage in a practice known as “slamming”, which generally consisted of mailing out solicitations that appeared to be invoices, often accompanied by a check that you were encouraged to sign and deposit into your bank account. The fine print indicated that the solicitation was not actually an invoice, and that, by endorsing the check, you were agreeing to transfer your long-distance service to another company. That check was a token to lure you into the offer, and they would more than recover that small cost in your first month’s fees. Nowadays, with the dramatic adoption of cellular phone service, the carriers protect themselves from this type of deceptive competition by locking their subscribers into two-year contracts in exchange for the latest phone models. Not to worry, there are infinite numbers of fish waiting to be caught in the Internet Ocean. We are all swimming in that ocean, and you simply need to learn to recognize a hook in order to avoid getting caught!
Check them out before signing a check.
If an unsolicited communication from a company seems suspicious, I always advise doing a search on Google or Bing for the company name followed by the word “scam” or “complaints”. The results could save you from being the next victim. The most recent scam involves a company called DNS Services. For the last 6 months, if not longer, they have been sending out mailings to the owners of just about any and every website. The mailings look like invoices in the amount of $65.00 for “backup DNS service” – something that nobody needs. Only the fine print reveals the disclaimer that, “This is a solicitation for the order of goods or services, or both, and not a bill, invoice, or statement of account due. You are under no obligation to make any payments on account of this offer unless you accept this offer.” Most people do not read that fine print, and many people unwittingly mail in the $65.00. The mailing looks particularly legitimate because it includes your name, domain name, and the name servers where your website is hosted (all public information). If 1% of the people who receive these solicitations pay the $65.00 fee, these scam operators are making a fortune! What about a Google search for “DNS Services scam”? At the time of this post, there are 2,900,000 results!
Another scam that has been making the rounds for a long time involves mailings from a company called Domain Registry of America. If you are the owner or administrative contact for a website domain name, you can expect a mailing from this outfit about 5 months prior to your registration renewal date. This is a spin on the old long-distance telephone service “slamming” from years ago, except that in this instance, they don’t send you a check and it is your domain name registration that is being “slammed”. Nobody wants to lose their domain name, so many people pay the fee out of fear of that possibility. The letters, which include the disclaimer, “This notice is not a bill”, ask for a response within 30 days – presumably before the recipient might learn the truth behind the mailing. A Google search for “Domain Registry of America scam”? Only 39,900 results at the time of this post (probably because Google considers this scam to be “old news” and has decided to display fewer search results.)
Finally, there is a phone-based scam from an outfit called Main Street Host. This company employs telemarketers out of offices in Buffalo and Amherst, New York and Las Vegas, Nevada. It is basically an SEO (search engine optimization) scam, where they promise you top search engine placement for a very low initial fee (sometimes even free). It is once they have their victims hooked that they get many people spending thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars on their worthless services. There are 987,000 results in a Google search for “Main Street Host scam” (which is a 50% increase within the last week alone!), including links to complaints filed with the Better Business Bureau of Upstate New York. The Buffalo office has a C- rating, based upon a total of 32 consumer complaints over a variety of deceptive practices. Don’t be their next victim!
There is one interesting thing in common among these three companies. DNS Services is located in Vancouver, WA; Domain Registry of America is located in Buffalo, NY; and Main Street Host is also located in Buffalo, NY. The common element is the Canadian border. In all likelihood, these addresses are simply mail drops for businesses that are actually located in Canada, making them difficult to prosecute. In fact, the Federal Trade Commission actually ruled against Ontario-based Domain Registry of America nearly 10 years ago, in December of 2003. The result? The language of their solicitation letters was modified slightly, but the mailings continue to this day. Ripping people off is a very profitable enterprise.
This post was written by Peter Pelland
An Award Is an Award, or Is It?
June 11th, 2011
We all know that there are some very legitimate awards and competitions. Probably the first to come into mind are the Nobel Prizes. Since 1901, the Nobel Foundation, presents awards for achievements in physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature, and peace. The Nobel Foundation has a nominating committee, and recipients receive a significant cash award (that many recipients, in turn, donate to charitable causes). There may be public disagreement regarding the worthiness of individual award recipients. For example, I find it incongruous for Henry Kissinger and Yasser Arafat to have been awarded the same Peace Prize as was far more deservedly presented to Mother Teresa and the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. That aside, the Nobel Prizes are very real. If you are a journalist, the Pulitzer Prize is the ultimate recognition. If you work in the film industry, it is an honor for your film to be presented in a major film festival from Cannes to Venice to Tribeca to Sundance, and one of the ultimate honors is to be presented an Academy Award.
Yes, there are many very legitimate awards; however, for every legitimate award, there are probably 100 scams, and scams breed on the Internet. The scams have been proliferating recently. If you are told that you or your business is being nominated for an award – or is being presented with an award – it is probably best to think twice before you run out to buy a new tuxedo or evening dress.
How do you know if an award is a scam?
Follow a few guidelines, and ask a few questions.
Who is presenting the award? Do a Google search for the award. As you are typing in the name of the alleged award, is Google suggesting that it be followed by the word “scam”? I remember being called a few years ago (not coincidentally, during an election cycle) and being told that I was a small business leader who had been selected to be part of a recognition ceremony to be held in Washington. Sounds great, doesn’t it? Not exactly. It turns out that the “award” had been concocted by a PAC (political action committee) that was designed to generate support (in other words, financial contributions) for the National Republican Party. (Anybody who knows me realizes that dog was barking up the wrong tree!) Ironically, I know people who fell for the “award” and took the trip to be exploited in Washington, DC.
Is there an entry fee? We received a direct mail piece a few weeks ago, inviting us to enter our work for the Davey Awards. The direct mail piece looked like it was designed by an untalented 9 year old, but that was just the first tell-tale sign that something was fishy. To enter the competition, you need to pay a $99.00 single entry fee, a $185.00 campaign entry fee, or $270.00 to enter a so-called integrated campaign, or go all out and pay $305.00 to enter a marketing effectiveness category. The “final entry deadline” is July 29, 2011; however, you can request a deadline extension (presumably as long as you are capable of paying the entry fee or fees). Adding insult to injury, if you win one of the dubious awards, you will be billed a $175.00 “acceptance fee” for your statuette and certificate. We also received a similar direct mail piece from the Telly Awards. According to their website, they received 14,000 entries last year from small agencies that were hoping to promote their businesses, each paying a minimum entry fee of $85.00. Do the math. That means that this questionable award generated at least $1,190,000.00 for its promoters! Want to, once again, add insult to injury? If you “win” one of these dubious awards, you will be automatically charged an additional $170.00 for your award statuette (probably plastic) and your certificate. I guess this is a bargain compared to the Davey Awards, since the minimum entry fee is slightly less, and you will pay $5.00 less for your statuette if you “win”. It is no surprise that, if you search for “Telly Awards scam” on Google, there are currently 24,400 search results. The Telly Awards and Davey Awards are not alone in preying upon start-up companies that are eager (or desperate) to broaden their exposure. They are joined by the Webby Awards and many, many other questionable enterprises that appear to be in the business of generating entry fees and selling statuettes. Do you think that anyone who wins an Emmy, Academy Award, or Grammy pays for their award?
Are winners asked to make purchases? In addition to obvious scams like the Telly Awards statuettes and the RNC PAC, there are many other so-called “awards” where the winners are presented with the opportunity to spend money with the award presenters. Among my favorites are the various Who’s Who directories. Do not be thrown off by what appears to be a recognizable and once-respected name. For years, I have been asked to validate my nomination to “Who’s Who among Executives and Professionals”. The congratulatory letters read, “The Publishing Committee selected you as a potential candidate based not only upon your current standing, but focusing as well on criteria from executive and professional directories, associations, and trade journals. Given your background, the Director believes your profile makes a fitting addition to our publication. There is no fee nor obligation to be listed. As we are working off of secondary sources, we must receive verification from you that your profile is accurate. After receiving verification, we will validate your registry listing within seven business days. Once finalized, your listing will share prominent registry space with thousands of fellow accomplished individuals across the globe, each representing accomplishment within their own geographical area.”
I do not know a single successful businessperson who needs to be included in a directory of this nature. Despite what the promoters say, there will be a fee to be listed and, of course, you will be presented with the opportunity to purchase one or more of the (very expensive) printed directories. As useless as these directories are in these days of online reference sources, even public library reference departments no longer purchase these worthless volumes. About the only buyers are the same suckers who are proud to be listed therein. Go to Wikipedia to learn more about various Who’s Who scams. There are also 21,100,000 search results for the term “Who’s Who scam” on Google.
Does the award require a reciprocal link to the award website? If you remember the early days of the World Wide Web, there were an abundance of website awards that stroked the egos of early webmasters. Others attempted to enhance the SEO of the award-winning sites. In fact, in its early days, my own company presented the “Campground of the Month” awards. These were only presented to our clients, and they helped to enhance the recipient’s search engine ranking “back in the day”. We discontinued this site years ago. Today, if you search for “website awards” on Google, there are 350,000,000 search results. Most of these awards are totally worthless, randomly selecting “winners” who are encouraged to “proudly display” the award badge on their website, linking it back to the award website. Basically, these award sites are link farms that are trying to enhance their own SEO through a network of links. As time goes on, Google and the other search engine robots have gotten much better at ignoring these sites – and even penalizing the sites that are linked to or from them.
Is the award organizer the primary recipient of value from the award? Many regional newspapers, magazines, and radio and television stations present annual “Best Of” awards, covering a wide range of categories. The categories all happen to consist of potential advertisers, and the awards are almost universally run by the advertising departments of the publications or broadcast organizations. The awards that are compiled based upon the votes of readers or viewers at least carry a bit of credibility. Even in those instances, the voting process may require a visit to the sponsor’s website (and all of its accompanying self-promotional messages). In almost every instance, the business that is presenting the awards will supply certificates that winners are encouraged to display at their places of business, badges that may be displayed on their websites, and award icons that may be added to their print advertising. All of that awareness does more to promote the businesses that are presenting the awards than the award recipients themselves. Is it any surprise that these awards have been concocted by advertising departments, and that winners are encouraged to buy advertising to help to promote their awards? This type of award is not an outright scam, but I would caution recipients against being overly manipulated in the process of engaging in their own part of the self-promotion.
Is the award presenter and the award recipient the same organization? There are also many thinly-veiled attempts to cross-promote one’s business ventures by having one organization present an “award” to what is essentially another arm of the same organization. This is somewhat along the lines of having General Motors present an award to its Buick division as the “Automobile Manufacturer of the Year”. Nobody would fall for that. Or would they?
Let the Winner Beware
The bottom line is that we all like to be recognized for our efforts, but beware of being exploited by people who prey upon that fact. At my company, our efforts are acknowledged on a daily basis by the success that we generate on behalf of our clients. This is the best recognition possible … and all that we need.
This post was written by Peter Pelland