We were recently on Reddit reading some of the conversations about scams and saw a post by a user named Poyr23. He said “Hello, I just saw this website as an ad on Facebook, and it seems to be selling very good laptops that had been opened, or used to an extremely low price, claiming it is black Friday. Does anyone know if this is a legit site, or is it a scam?” This immediately got our attention because the domain name selected for this laptop business seemed exceptionally odd… plainnessful[.]com? Do you think you know where this is going? We’ve truly got some surprises for you here. Quite frankly, we were shocked by the depth and breadth of what we discovered…
After determining that the website had no malware waiting for us, we paid a visit to plainnessful[.]com:
The website design appeared to be very simple and clean. It began with a small, unique green logo in the upper left corner, then a graphic, and links/images/information to 14 laptops. (We’ve shown the top 10 in our screenshot of the site.) Finally, the page ended with a clean black footer containing about a dozen links related to the site, including an FAQ section. As the Reddit user had noted, the prices offered for these laptops were a small fraction of their listed price. The smallest discount offered was 80% off list price and the highest discount offered was more than 92% off. This doesn’t seem realistic.
We visited the FAQ web page for more information and found these questions and answers…
Several items from their FAQ section also stood out and raised our suspicions that this was not a legitimate site, such as…
- Several suggested links were completely missing such as “Our warranty page is HERE,” “see Payment Methods,” and “Click HERE for a guide.”
- Their products come from “large corporate businesses” –which meaning absolutely nothing.
- For their question “What is in the box?” you are invited to contact them via email at a Gmail account! Not a business account. The email listed is Counseling.center9922 “@” gmail.com.
And finally, according to the FAQ section, plainnessful[.]com has been in business since 1995, and on the web since 1999. That’s 19 years! 1999 was the era of the bondi blue iMac from Apple, Yahoo was popular, and “AskJeeves” was a well-known search engine. Now we were convinced this site was a lie!
We decided to look at a Dell XPS laptop, model 9550 offered on Plainnessful[.]com’s site for only $129.99 though the list price was given as $1,199.99. We also noticed that the website was unsecured, meaning that that it didn’t appear to begin with https, which is always critically important when making online purchases. (Though it could have moved to https once you put a choice into your “cart”)
In addition, the web page provided several photos of a laptop along with this information…
About this product
Condition: Grade A
Details: These are in great condition with no major marks/scuffs on the casing, no dead pixels/pressure marks on the screen. Any imperfections will be minor and limited to wear and tear.
Processor Intel Core i7 6700HK
Hard Drive 32GB SSD+1TB HDD
Optical Drive No
Ports 2×USB3.0|HDMI|Headset/mic combo|RJ45|All-in-one card reader
Display 15.6″ Full HD 1920×1080
Dedicated graphics NVIDIA GeForce GTX 960M
Dimensions 1.1 x 35.7 x 23.5 cm
Operating System Genuine Windows 64 bit – 32 bit on request
Did you notice that the 3-month initial warranty could be extended by 2-years for just $5.00? WOW! That’s some deal! SquareTrade offers one of the cheapest 2-year laptop warranties we’ve ever seen, and they are listed on Amazon for $54, so this deal on plainnessful[.]com continues to be unbelievable!
Not having ever purchased a Dell XPS laptop before, we wondered what others might charge for it, even with a Windows Operating System installed. We copied the full product name from the plainnessful[.]com website and pasted it into the Google search field. What happened next completely shocked us! We just didn’t see this coming at all…
After 3 links to Intel, we found more than 2 dozen links to websites with oddball names like trustfulwonderful[.]com, joinedshop[.]com, joinedplaza[.]com, chancesale[.]com, innovativeplaza[.]com, usefulsale[.]com and notebookvip[.]com. There were so many links to these strange websites that they clearly dominated Google’s search results for several pages of link returns. We suspected we had just opened a sewer cover, only to discover a sewer so deep that our meager flashlight couldn’t illuminate the depth of the problem!
Here are screenshots of products from just six of the many oddball computer websites. Have a look and make note of the things that you find peculiar about this group of screenshots…
Don’t they look oddly similar? And four of them included the same small green logo in the upper left corner that we found on plainnessful[.]com’s website. Now they really had our attention and we wanted to know who registered each of these similar businesses that appear to be selling refurbished and new laptops. We turned to the WHOIS at GoDaddy.com because we learned that most of these domains were registered there between 10 days to about 5 months ago. Below are details we learned about each business and the lies about the person who registered the business. (If you want to see GoDaddy’s results yourself, click the domain name. When you arrive at GoDaddy, click the checkbox for “I’m not a robot.”)
Lies: Google maps is unable to find a Sweetwood Drive in Englewood, Ohio. The zip code “80112” is for Englewood, Colorado… not Ohio! (There is no Sweetwood Drive in Englewood, CO either.)
Lies: Google maps is unable to find any town in Nebraska called “Staten Island.” Zip code 10301 is for Staten Island, New York. There is no Anmoore Road in either Nebraska or New York, according to Google maps.
Registered: November 4, 2017
Registrant: Michelle Willis (see innovativeplaza[.]com)
Registered: November 4, 2017
Registrant: Michelle Willis (see innovativeplaza[.]com)
Lies: Google maps cannot find the street address above listed for Guangdong, China
Registered: October 9, 2017
Registrant: Cindy Holmberg
Registrant Address: 4754 Augusta Park, Scott Depot, Federated States of Micronesia, 25560 (Country: US)
Registrant Email: [email protected]
Lies: Let’s start with the obvious… The “Federated States of Micronesia” are not located in the United States. Zip code 25560 is for Scott Depot in West Virginia. Google maps cannot find any street named August Park in West Virginia.
Lies: The only “Frum Street” that Google maps can find is in West Virginia. There is no Frum Street anywhere in Tennessee.
Lies: There is no “Quarry Drive” in Dothan, Alabama. The nearest Quarry Drive is nearly 3 hours drive away in Elberta, Alabama.
As if we haven’t made it obvious enough that consumers shouldn’t trust these websites, ScamAdvisor.com gave Chancesale[.]com a “low trust” rating, citing the site was “high risk.” The report also says that malware was reported on the website as well. Read the full report here. And for the wonderfully named Trustfulwonderful[.]com, ScamAdvisor informs us that it is “untrustworthy” for multiple reasons. Read the full report here. ScamAdvisor.com also rates the following sites as “suspicious”:
An interesting note from ScamAdvisor…. It reports a “32%” probability that joinedshop[.]com may actually originate from a server in Czech Republic, rather than the U.S.
Sadly, the sites we’ve investigated above only represent a quarter of the deceptive sites we found. There are many more like these, claiming to sell new and refurbished computers. Website names and registrants include:
Likeplaza[.]com registered by “Michelle Willis” of Nebraska on November 4, 2017
Winningmill[.]com registered by “Michelle Willis” of Nebraska on November 4, 2017
Favoriteplaza[.]com registered by “Ruth Wynne” of Alabama on November 4, 2017
Stablemill[.]com registered by “Ruth Wynne” of Alabama on November 4, 2017
Derivedsale[.]com registered by “Ruth Wynne” of Alabama on November 4, 2017
Comprehensiveplaza[.]com registered by “Betty Armstrong” of “Los Angeles, Nevada” (which doesn’t exist) on October 23, 2017
Derivedmart[.]com registered by “Susan Trotter” of “Duluth, Nevada” (which stopped existing and became a ghost town in 1906) on October 17, 2017
Detailedplaza[.]com registered by “Dennis Coon” of “Fittro Street in Little Rock, Alabama” (a street that doesn’t exist) on November 4, 2017
Residentsale[.]com registered by “Michelle Willis” of Nebraska on November 4, 2017
Palmelectron[.]com registered by “Frances Guerra” of “Robinson Lane in Columbus, Ohio” (a street that doesn’t exist) on September 19, 2017
Absolumarket[.]com registered by “Sherri Hill” of “2000 North Street in Salt Lake City, Utah” (street numbers don’t leave the hundreds on North Street) on November 22, 2017
Grayplaza[.]com registered by “Dennis Coon” of “Fittro Street in Little Rock, Alabama” (a street that doesn’t exist) on November 4, 2017
A final observation for our readers…
We feel it is important to remember that this investigation began because a Reddit user saw an ad on Facebook that seemed too good to be true. Not all ads on social media are who they claim to be and recent events in the news has already demonstrated that Facebook does little to protect its users against fraud and manipulation. As one reader just recently described it to us… there’s a lot of “facebunk” on Facebook. Also, we wonder if you noticed, as we have, that each of these 20 bogus computer sale websites consists of a domain name created by combining two words together, as if randomly. Such as “innovative plaza” or “useful sale.” In our years of identifying online fraud and malicious content, we’ve seen this technique used a lot in the last year to create malware delivery websites that target Americans. We believe that these malware-delivery sites have been created by a criminal gang located in Eastern Europe or Russia. We can’t help but wonder if this same criminal gang is also responsible for these bogus computer sites.