Dissection of a scam

Most internet-savvy people develop a kind of natural resistance against spam, obtrusive advertisement, and online scams. Stopping for a second to ponder the state of things reveals a wealth of information not only on the scammers themselves, but also sheds light on the people being scammed. A few days ago I noticed at the end of an article a box with recommended readings. I can’t tell why, but I could intuitively tell that they weren’t really recommendations, but fishy ads that pointed to other domains.

Let’s ignore the fact that whoever wanted to display on their website such blatant scammy ads doesn’t have much respect for their own readers, and let’s focus on the most intriguing scam I found out clicking on one of those links. Here’s the Above The Fold of this “article”:

Things to notice abound. Top Left: the name of the website is Business news – setting the tone for the rest of the page. This is about serious stuff! Let’s grab the attention with the picture of the most famous and reputable of the entrepreneurs: Elon Musk. He’s only involved in huge projects, so what is this “new” thing? I want to know more about it. Oh, and the mention of Portugal. Since I accessed this page from Portugal, it’s a nice touch that it would be targetted to Portuguese people specifically. Will I be one of the Portuguese millionaires? Let’s see. Oh! It involves a leak of information! Interesting! And what is this? Machine learning? I heard that’s super-sophisticated stuff that will change our lives. Oh, now I am hooked.

The “article” continues with a fake interview. Frankly, it’s just baffling that Mr. Musk doesn’t have a whole department of publicists involved in cleaning the web from all the invented things exploiting his name.

Here we start seeing what the goal of the poor scammed is: he wants to achieve financial freedom and live in a luxurious apartment in the heart of the city! Isn’t that what we all want? Unfortunately, the regional customization doesn’t go as far as telling us what this “city” is. Lisbon? Porto? Never mind that living in the heart of both those cities is perfectly achievable without reaching financial freedom – the apartment looks very much un-Portuguese, but there is only so much hand-tweaking of your scam you can do.

The lucky <insert_nationality_here>, <insert_regional_name_here>, actually lost his job…

Classy. Again, they go short on customization and decide it’s safer to leave currencies to USD.

In the spirit of the most successful of the Start-up pitches, we now drill down in the story of this guy and how unlucky he was. We are creating an emotional bond with this poor fellow and are relieved to know his life has turned for the better. Maybe there’s hope for us too!

 

Seven paragraphs into the article we finally reach the plug. Scamming people is an art for the Patient Ones, you can’t sell it before reaching suspension of disbelief. It takes time. So what is this Blazing Trader? Doing trading online? Sounds complicated. Oh, but it can be done with only $300! This is perfectly acceptable, I can risk losing $300!

 

 

I like how here, in order to add legitimacy to the article, there’s an actual screenshot of a Paypal account. It must be all true! Never mind that Paypal has changed its interface months ago, we are not aiming for the sharpest tool in the shed here, only gullible people that are likely to pass in front of those things without noticing them. I am starting to think that those mistakes are actually intentional and serve as filters to reach the bottom of the article only with the very best of the gullible people. Sad.

Again, we have a bunch of screenshots that confirm the veracity of the claims. Look at this guy! Moving hundreds of dollars like they were peanuts! What an exciting opportunity this must be. Here we have renewed promises of riches, $30k for just four weeks of work! Oh, this must be Heaven! And look at this green and red numbers! This is like a game that can be lost or won. I want to give this a try! Oh, here’s another link to Blazing Trader. Still not convinced? Let’s keep on reading.

Here’s another display of what does the gullible man want. Become a new man after a complete metamorphosis from which he emerges with a brand new look and of course a new car, the ultimate status symbol for the rich one and the insecure.

A nice new mobile phone too! After all, important people only need to look at their mobile phone every once in a while to make money.

At this point, Blazing Trader drops another link. For those who are still not convinced, the only possibility is raising the bets. Let’s have our hero an almost-millionaire! Three months ago he was a nobody, now he’s drowning in riches. This program must turn people in modern Midas, turning everything into gold. Could this be true? Oh, Rodrigo too was skeptical and in disbelief. So I am not the only one thinking that this is too good to be true. That gives me the motivation to keep on reading. Oh and here’s another dream-coming-true: Paying off my whole mortgage. What a wonderful world this would be.

The article is now close to a wrap-up. In these last 2-3 paragraphs, we have the last chance to convince the reader that he can be like Rodrigo too. It’s a combination of FOMO and “I can do this too”. Let’s splash here a few numbers that look credible enough. How can we make this look even more realistic? Let’s tell them that these kind of opportunities are standard, but not long-lasting. Let’s create a sense of urgency. Shut up and take my money! This could only last a few weeks only!

Nothing better than some self-deprecation. The author of the “article” did try Blazing Trader, but she couldn’t turn a large profit. I bet I can do better than her. After the CTA there’s a fake update that explains The Most Gullible Ones how to create an account and pour money in the pockets of these scammers.

 

Yadda yadda yadda, here again, we have the very reasonable amount of $250 – I bet this number was determined to yield the highest amount of profit – “what’s the highest sum we can ask that will be considered expendable by the largest amount of credulous people?”

And that’s it. Follow a series of unlikely comments that have the only function of persuading the really hard-core-diffident-gullible ones, a species at high risk of extinction.

Facebook comments are closed, probably the social network is down for maintenance. It’s kinda sick to see how customer stories add validation not just to legitimate Startups, but to scoundrels too. Also funny how all these guys have a mix of Portuguese, Italian and typically American names.

This goes on for like 3 pages, so to cut it short I’ll just link the screenshot of the entire article here.

The con-artists of the digital age are among the most despicable people of our times. Taking advantage of ingenuous minds, they create multiple layers of pain. The scam:

  • destroys individuals who want to keep on believing the story they bought in: once you are committed it is even harder to pull out; much easier to go all in until you’re ruined;
  • creates distrust in our society; the next fraud can be behind the corner, better be vigilant; stop believing thy neighbour;
  • ultimately, it creates an unhealthy mental categorization of people: those who give away precious information are regarded as either fools or scammers; keeping information for yourself is thus a non-zero-sum game.

In the classic Argentine movie Nueve Reinas the protagonist is a con-artist that seems unscrupulous, but by the end of the story it’s revealed that he acted following a worthy moral code. I wish in reality things were as pretty, but I’m afraid scam “artists” are simply the scum of the scum.

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