Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Just When I Thought I Had Seen All The Scams...

By now, we all know there is no Nigerian princess in need of help. Our best friend has not been mugged in a foreign country, and we do not need to send money. We have figured out if we forward an email to 10 people we are not going to get a free iPad or an all-expense-paid trip to Disney World. We are too savvy to be taken in by those scams.

Just as soon as we get one scam figured out, however, a couple of more take their place.

You have a broken link...

If you found a broken link on a friend's blog, you would let them know, wouldn't you? But what if a total stranger communicated that same information? Here is an email I recently received:

Hi Dr. Buck, 
I came across your website and wanted to notify you about a broken link on your page in case you weren't aware of it. The link on frankbuck.blogspot.com/2008/02/blogs-in-plain-english.html which links to http://www.commoncraft.com/show is no longer working. 

I went to that post, and she was right. The link was dead. The first red flag, however, was that it was not a big deal. The domain was still good. Only that one page was no longer available.

Next comes the kicker:

I've included a link to a useful page on Pop Culture that you could replace the broken link with if you're interested in updating your website. 

Thanks for providing a great resource! Link: (I am omitting the link)

Best, 
Hannah Edwards 

Thanks, Hannah, for not only reading my blog and clicking through to other sites, but also for personally emailing me and doing my research for me to provide other resources. What a good neighbor!


When in doubt, Google it

A total stranger suggesting a link sounded over the top, so I did what I always advise others to do...Google the message and watch the fireworks. I copied the first couple of sentences and pasted them into Google. The results showed the exact same wording in other places. Here is one of them. Here is another. That second link provides good insight on what Hannah and her friends are actually doing. It's not malicious, just an attempt to increase their own page rank in Google.

Finding broken links in your own site can be done with Google Webmaster Tools. Once on the site, click on the "Crawl Errors" and then click to download the errors. You can even find broken links on other sites, but let's not even go there. I will leave that one to Hannah.

Bottom line: If you get the email I did, it's not a good neighbor. Fix the link and go on. No need to even send Hannah a thank you note.

The guest blogger
I have guest blogged for other people and offered the same opportunity in return. I was flattered when I received an email from a woman identifying herself as "Marina Salsbury." She complimented my blog and asked if she could submit a guest post. Her post was actually quite good and very much in keeping with the theme of my blog. You can read that post here.She did make a reference to "online school courses," which seemed a bit out of place, especially when it linked to one particular online learning site. However, I did not think any more about it. Perhaps I should have.

I recently received this email:

Hello, 
You currently have a link on your site pointing to our OnlineSchools.org website. We have recently received warning from Google that they are suspicious of link trading schemes surrounding this, and we want to make sure that you are taking the necessary precautionary measures so that your site is not adversely affected. 

We are requesting that you remove the link back to our site. The link to on your page can be found at the URL below 

http://frankbuck.blogspot.com/2012/02/guest-post-staying-organized-with.html 

This is the second time that I have sent this message. Please let us know once the link has been removed. Thank you in advance for your cooperation and sincerest apologies for any inconvenience this may have caused. 

Best regards, 
Eric Bergstrom 
ebergstrom@onlineschools.org 
OnlineSchools.org

Sorry, Eric, but this was the first time I had ever heard from you. I happily removed the link, but this little voice inside my head said, "Google it."

"Google it" I did
I pasted the first couple of sentence from Eric's email into a Google search. I got results such as this, letting me know that Eric, and others like him, have been very busy.

By the way, I emailed both Eric Bergstrom and Marina Salsbury to let them know what my Google results found and give them an opportunity to respond. Of course, I have heard nothing from either one.

Bottom line: If you get a request from a stranger to guest post for you, don't be flattered. There may be another motive. AS the old saying goes, "Fool me once, shame on thee. Fool me twice, shame on me." That's one I shall not fall for again.

The one that almost got me
During my days as a school principal, I encouraged teachers to Google a message to determine its validity before passing it on. I was pretty good at spotting hoaxes. This one, which arrived just prior to the holiday season, was one I almost passed on:

When you are making out your Christmas card list this year,
please include the following:


A Recovering American soldier
C/o Walter Reed Army Medical Center
6900 Georgia Avenue,NW
Washington,D.C. 20307-5001

The e-mail had come to me from an official representative of a respected institution, and my first reaction was not only to follow the suggestion, but to forward this message to everyone in my e-mail contacts. I do not forward mass mails, a personal decision I made years ago, and usually delete them unread. This one was different, or so I thought.
At that moment, a still, small voice somewhere inside said, "Check your facts." The voice was that of teachers from days gone by, teachers who had so carefully taught me and my classmates to think for ourselves. Instead of proceeding with the e-mail message, I used the same procedure that I have used and suggested to others for quite a few years:
  1. I highlighted a portion of the text in that e-mail message and copied it (Control-C). In this case, the first three lines of the message looked like something which would return on-point hits.
  2. I went to Google, clicked in the search window, used the "paste" command (Control-V), and hit "Enter."
Within seconds, the verdict was obvious. It was a hoax. The most compelling evidence was a link where Walter Reed addressed this topic, saying:

Walter Reed Army Medical Center officials want to remind those individuals who want to show their appreciation through mail to include packages, letters, and holiday cards addressed to 'Any Wounded Soldier' or 'A Recovering American Soldier' that Walter Reed cannot accept these packages in support of the decision by then Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Transportation Policy in 2001. This decision was made to ensure the safety and well being of patients and staff at medical centers throughout the Department of Defense.

In addition, the U.S. Postal Service is no longer accepting "Any Service Member" or "A Recovering American Soldier" letters or packages. Mail to "Any Service Member" that is deposited into a collection box will not be delivered.

The Walter Reed site goes to say:


Instead of sending an “Any Wounded Soldier” letter or package to Walter Reed, please consider making a donation to one of the more than 300 nonprofit organizations dedicated to helping our troops and their families listed on the "America Supports You" website, www.americasupportsyou.mil
Other organizations that offer means of showing your support for our troops or assist wounded service members and their families include:

http://www.usocares.org
http://www4.army.mil/ocpa/tooursoldiers

http://www.redcross.org

At a time of year when we are giving thanks for our many blessings and approaching a season of giving, perhaps the message from Walter Reed is the one worthy of spreading.

What would have happened had I not checked it out and simply forwarded the e-mail and sent a few cards. My cards would have never reached the eyes of any solider. Instead, my good intentions would have added an additional load to the personnel charged with disposing of the glut of mail which they currently receive. Rather than being part of something good, I would have only added to an already existing problem.

Bottom line: It only takes a couple of seconds to separate fact from fiction. Google it.

Scams are nothing new. People have been trying to deceive each other since the dawn of mankind. What is new is the forms the deception takes. Just as soon as we are wise to one, another will take its place. Generations of wise people have advised, "If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is." Perhaps the mantra for our time needs to be, "If it sounds too good to be true, Google it."


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