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Deceptive Marketing

bag over head(UPDATED: February 5, 2017 below)
For the Top Story of our June 29, 2016 newsletter we wrote an article titled Innocent Offer to Help or Likely Threat? You Decide.  We have new information about this supposed scam and it came to us from Dr. Anita Saalfeld, an Assistant Spanish Professor most recently at Nebraska Wesleyan University.

In our article we reported on an odd case of two different emails to  employees of a school just 30 hours apart. Both were about broken links or suggested links for the school's website.  It was a very strange coincidence and so we smelled a rat.  What we learned from Dr. Saalfeld is that this was a different kind of rat!  Not malicious, but clearly deceptive.  Read on....

A reader named Natalie  recently sent us this email she received at the same time that Dr. Saalfeld contacted us.  Once again the email was remarkably similar to the emails that went to the school employees from people identified as Jo Carpenter and Albert Parker.

From: Terry Chapman
Date: 21 July 2016 16:08:44 BST
Subject: Non-Working Resources

Hi [name removed],

I had slight troubles with your webpage since some links to external resources weren't working. I've made a list of them and I'm wondering who'd be the right person to assist on this matter.

Thanks,
Terry

This email from someone calling herself Terry is nearly identical to the email from Jo Carpenter to the school employee.  According to Dr. Saalfeld we are being duped by a marketing firm.  She explains...

Your site came up in a Google search for "Jo Carpenter." I received an email about some broken links on my site, which was almost identical to an email that I'd received some time ago from 'Alexa Gunn.'  I don't think these are malicious, but I do find them to be quite annoying.

They appear to be employees from a marketing firm, trying to get people to post links to their clients' pages. I maintain a resource page of links for learning Spanish, so I regularly get these types of emails. For a while I got requests from people saying they worked with children, and the children would receive a treat if I posted their resource to my list. Now I'm getting ones like the one I received from Jo Carpenter. They send two links; one is from a legitimate organization, and the other is their client's link. The client's link appears to be some kind of beneficial information page (quitting smoking, ceasing addiction), which I assume is to improve the odds of success when their marketers ask people to post the link. But the real content is buried elsewhere in the site. In the case of the links from Jo Carpenter, it took a little digging, but the purpose of the page appears to be to sell drug-testing kits.

I can't be certain, but I believe that the email address domain [edu-collaboration.org] is not a free domain for student email addresses, but rather is another site owned by the marketing firm to make the request seem more legitimate (in other words, not from a paid marketing firm). Although I didn't take a screen shot, the page for edu-collaboration.org appears to be exactly the same as the page for a previous domain with a similar type of request (student-email.org, now defunct). The earlier version said that it was created in partnership with Hofstra University, until I tweeted at Hofstra asking if it was true (https://twitter.com/Profesora_Anita/status/585118540002365440).

I have two blog posts about some of the marketing schemes I've received...

http://www.profesoraanita.com/2014/06/kelly-graves-and-morrow-community-center.html
http://www.profesoraanita.com/2015/04/more-marketing-garbage-now-from-tobacco.html"

 

And then on July 27 we received yet another email from a gentleman named Nick who also received an email from "Jo Carpenter."  It read...

Subject: Broken Resources
Date: Wed, 27 Jul 2016 22:20:59 +0200
From: Jo Carpenter <joc@edu-collaboration.org>

Hi Nick,
I'm on your website now and I see that you have some links that aren't working. Do you know who'd be the correct person to take care of them?
Thanks!
Jo

We would like to thank Dr. Saalfeld for her insight and clarifying these odd emails.  They may not be malicious, but they are certainly deceptive, and annoying.  Once again, it is so easy to deceive others on the Internet.

UPDATE:
On February 3, we received an email from a school administrator asking if this email, which she had just received, was legitimate:

February 3, 2017    9:59:15 AM
From: "Stephanie Lowe" <stephanie@mrslowe.com>
Subject: [NAME REDACTED] School Social Studies web inquiry

Hi there,

How are you? I hope I'm not being a bother, but my daughter, Dakota, wanted to reach out to you about your web page, [LINK REDACTED]/social-studies/links. Your page has links that we were able to explore and bookmark for our social studies website compilation. 🙂

During the school year, Dakota and I, like to do fun mother/daughter projects.This is a great way to help Dakota brush up on her social studies as well. 😉 Anywho! While googling for some more resources, Dakota found this geography resource - [DOMAIN REDACTED]/take-seat-road-trip-geography. She was thinking that it'd be a valuable replacement for your broken link, "Immigrant Journey". Do you mind adding it? I know she'd be delighted to make a valuable contribution and maybe useful to other kids. 🙂

Looking forward to hearing back,
Mrs. Lowe

It didn't take us long to discover this nearly identical email using Google and posted on this South Dakota Coalition blog in June, 2016:
http://www.sdcedsv.org/blog/thank-you-dakota-for-the-great-resource-on-cyber-laws-and-safety/

Mrs. Lowe's email, and her entire website, had us wondering if this was another example of a clever marketing firm trying to promote someone's website so we dug deeper.  Apparently there are several other people calling "Mrs. Lowe" and her "children" a clever marketing ploy.  Here are 3 links that believe we're all being manipulated:
https://partsgeek.pissedconsumer.com/internet-scam-20150309605734.html
http://smokylabs.com/blog/drive-traffic-build-links/
http://durval.com/masqueraded_link_begging_seo_email_scam.html

Apparently the marketers have no shame.

Learn how Steven got scammed out of $2500 using Airbnb so you can avoid this scam!

And thanks to Free Digital Photos.net for use of the nifty graphic above!

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