One reason it’s easy to identify spam in Europe is the challenge of writing in a local language. In one early spamming attempt here in the Netherlands an email purporting to come from a Dutch bank began with the Dutch equivalent of “Darling client”, which put the unsentimental Dutch immediately on their guard.
But today’s spam attempt took the language challenge to a whole new level.
For added fun there are at least a couple of errors in those languages.
So who clicks on the link? There’s a theory that spammers deliberately make their emails bad because they only want to attract gullible people. But I think even the most gullible would spot this!
This scam has a few variants but the general steps are simple;
The fraudster advertises an apartment for rent in a desirable area for lower than the market rate
The victim responds
the fraudster is unfortunately out of the country/away so asks for the victim to send a deposit to secure the apartment.
The victim sends the money
The fraudster is never heard of again.
The advertisement could be placed in a print newspaper, an online site, or on a fake site built for the purpose. Sometimes a legitimate bank or insurer is mentioned in the advertisement or subsequent emails to reassure the victim.
In more sophisticated versions the fraudster uses a real apartment for rent and copies the information from legitimate advertisements just changing the contact information. In some cases the scam has gone as far as letting the victim move in – and be kicked out or arrested for trespassing.
It’s become a common scam yet still seems to trap people regularly. Many sites have created lists of warning signs, but one rental company, apparently tired of the scams has created a nifty online tool for assessing rental ads, answer a series of ten questions and see a probability that the ad is a scam. They show you some simple online tricks you can use to assess the ad, and there’s also an email look up tool.
But the summary is; if it sounds to good to be true – it probably is.
I posted last week that Asia Expat Guides used fake testimonials on their website to which I got this rather interesting response.
Which is a fair point, sometimes people do look alike. I had a very confusing conversation with a woman in a hairdresser’s once, I was convinced she was a former colleague. Turns out, we’d never met.
This is not sixty of those cases. I’m not confusing a likeness, I am saying that Asia Expat Guides has copied photos from around the internet, invented names, and created a glowing review of their own services.
This is unfair on the people whose photos were stolen, it’s unfair on people considering Asia Expat Guides’ services; it’s lying, it’s fraud.
Here’s a slideshare of some of the ones I’ve identified so far, including the those Asia Expat Guides have removed. You’ll see a screenshot of the content Asia Expat Guides invented, alongside a screenshot of the image from the original site, with a link to that site.
Despite my blog post and tweets throughout last week, Asia Expat Guides continues to use photos of people assigning random names and endorsements to them. It’s clear that permission was not given. It’s also clear that they have done this knowingly, since they’ve removed the endorsements of some of people that I have pointed out.
But the fake testimonials remain, so I am presenting here a selection of the testimonials Asia Expat Guides publish with screenshots of the real person that I could track them down.
With more and more business being done online websites will often add customer testimonials to their sites, a real face and a real story add credibility.
Unless those testimonials are fake.
I recently received an email from Asia Expat Guides promoting their expat services, helping people relocate into Asia. I went to their site and started checking out their testimonials. First surprise – there were a lot of them; 64 in total. Seemed to be a wide range of people from lots of countries, but something about the sameness of the testimonials raised a red flag.
I found very little online using the names and information given so I started digging into the images; here’s where it got really interesting.
“Jeff” is really happy about the help he got moving to Vietnam, only he turns out to be John Franklin, of John Franklin Ministries, in Kentucky, USA.
“Eugene” has a lot of spare time now that the cleaning of his apartment is sorted out in Vietnam, so much so that he’s apparently started moonlighting as John Price, the Director of the International School Monaco. Hell of a Commute.
Ibrahim is finding it so much easier to get around in China and chat with his neighbours, luckily he found time for an interview, looks like the interviewer was confused though – he keeps calling him Samir Ahmed.
Jessica’s worked really to get this job and is loving the challenges and excitement of the expat life. It was a refreshing change from her job as Rosanne Paul, Real Estate agent.
I’ve checked every image from the testimonials, sixty of which I could track to a real name, none of them match the information Asia Expat Guides provide.
Asia Expat Guides say they’ve helped hundreds of expats; if that’s true why couldn’t they find 5 or 6 real people to write a testimonial?
They also say they’ve been in business for four years. Four years – and the website domain was only registered this year?
I smell a rat. A big one.
PostScript September 2018, Asia Expat Guides website is now offline
Right now there is a video hosted on YouTube that is part of a real estate scam.
How do I know this? Because the real estate scam uses my company’s name, and someone emailed me a complaint.
The scam works by posting an advertisement online offering an apartment in a great location at a low rental rate. If you respond you are asked to send two or three months rent/bond and promised the keys once the money is received. Of course the apartment doesn’t exist, and you will never see the keys. Or your money for that matter.
So I tried to alert YouTube to this legal problem, but because my company’s name does not appear in the video I alerted them to a scam. I sent my email in English. For some reason I got two responses in Dutch. Fine. I responded to one explaining that the video was part of a fraud, and attaching the original complaint email.
I got another answer in Dutch, telling me that YouTube has developed a number of channels where I can report an issue with a video. The option most closely matching my question is “For other potential abuse or security issues please visit our Abuse and Safety Center”
So I click on that option, which takes me to a set of country links… but only five countries. Which is weird, but the underlying information is about what spam/phishing are, than any tool to allow me to report an issue.
So I’ve tried twice to alert YouTube to a video that is part of a fraud, but it does not appear that a real person has read the emails or certainly no action has been taken. Meanwhile the video has got another two hundred views.
Of course I am taking responsibility for resolving this because there is a reputational issue for my company, but how can I get YouTube to take responsibility for what is also a reputational issue for them?
And for the 900+ viewers of the video, how many of them will lose money before YouTube wakes up and takes action?
post script one week later; video still there with 1322 views
post script one month later; video still there with 1705 views
post script June 2013; video still there with 1948 views, reporting system improved and incident reported once again.
post script September 2013; video still there with 2499 views, reporting system improved and incident reported once again. YouTube say 24 hour review. I’ve been trying this for almost a year.