hCG spammers descend on SEB in less than 24 hours.

Pic of homeopathy poster.

It's an obvious implication of the theory, but no one mentions it.

As if to drive home the point of how profitable the hCG diet supplement scam is, it took less than 24 hours from the time that I posted that entry to the arrival of a spammer trying to submit entries promoting that “product.”

After registering with the username hcgdietinsight5 he or she then submitted two short entries the first of which carries the title: Drastic Weight Loss with HCG-HCG Dangers. I present it to you now, with my comments added in.

Are you still tormented by your fat body and which had made you too fat to move? And have you found a fast way to lose weight? There are lots of questions about this but do you know why? Why people are looking for a fast way to loseweight? Now let’s start the journey for body shape slim.

Yes, I do know. Because people are basically lazy and would prefer a solution that involves no real effort and no real change to their lifestyle and which works almost immediately. Being someone who falls into the category of obese myself I can attest that it takes a lot of willpower to motivate oneself to get off their ass and exercise and to push oneself away from the table. If someone ever does manage to come up with a pill or spray that could magically induce weight-loss they’d be a billionaire overnight. Alas, it’s highly doubtful such a pill is possible.

Now I will tell you HCG diet can help you. First you must know why you are fat. There were generally three different types of fat stored within the body structural fat which is stored between the organs, normal fat, which is available freely as fuel when needed and abnormal fat, which is locked away and cannot be used by the metabolism until all other fat has been burnt. The truth is we can run out of these abnormal fats so that give back a sexy body by using HCG products. But we should pay attention to the HCG dangers.

What a crock of shit. In actuality there are two types of adipose tissue, or body fat, as it is technically known. They are white adipose tissue (WAT) and brown adipose tissue (BAT). WAT is the stuff we want to get rid off as it’s basically fat stored in a cell for later energy use. BAT is used primarily for non-shivering thermogenesis, probably better known as body heat. BAT actually makes use of WAT as part of that process which could lead to a method of weight-loss through the stimulation of BAT growth. Something scientists have accomplished in mice already.

If you do a Google search for “abnormal fat” you won’t be surprised to see that most of the sites that mention it are selling, you guessed it, this hCG bullshit. There’s no such thing and no evidence that hCG has any effect on fat deposits of any kind.

Many people are surprised by it. They don’t know the HCG dangers. What you should know is HCG works at the metabolic level to discharge these stores into the bloodstream so that they can be used as fuel, and this is why a very low calorie diet must accompany the HCG dosage.

The HCG dangers are very little. The content of HCG dieters is very natural, which is not man-made products. So many people using HCG will not feel the bad effect of HCG. This is the evidence of the safety of HCG.

I’m surprised that anyone falls for this nonsense. You’ll note that this helpful person doesn’t bother to describe how hCG supposedly works at the metabolic level. Nor do they specify what the danger actually is. The low calorie diet is so that you actually experience some weight-loss making you think the product is working, but it’s not doing a damned thing. You’re just starving yourself.

The specific physiological effects of the HCG make the body feel as if it’s getting plenty of food. But in reality, dieters are only eating approximately 500 calories. This limited caloric intake is simply not enough to support an intense workout.

You will never be distressed by your double chin and your fat body because you have HCG without dangers.

Here’s a question: If hCG is releasing the calories in the fat stores to be used as fuel then shouldn’t an intense workout even at only 500 calories a day be perfectly OK? Presumably the body is making up for the lost calories from the fat stores being released by hCG so why should an intense workout be a problem?

I’ll tell you why: Because you’re only getting 500 calories a day and your body is slowing down its metabolism to try and prevent you from starving.  You simply don’t have the energy needed for an intense workout without causing major problems.

Which brings us to the second attempt at an entry titled: HCG Works Well, But Please Notice HCG Dangers.

HCG(Human Chorionic Gonadotropin) is a hormone produced in large amounts by pregnant women to control metabolic functions, but is found in both men and women. HCG diet works directly with the Hypothalamus gland. This gland actually controls body fat, emotions, and helps to develop the reproductive organs during puberty. Each and every person is given HCG at birth. Many people don’t notice the HCG dangers because of this.

Quite a bit of the nonsense that’s endlessly repeated about hCG comes from the work of British endocrinologist A.T.W. Simeons. It was his theory that hCG must be programming the hypothalamus to protect the developing fetus by promoting mobilization and consumption of what he called abnormal, excessive adipose deposits. He believed that an ultra-low calorie diet (high-protein, low-carbohydrate/fat) in conjunction with daily low-dose hCG injections would promote WAT loss without losing lean tissue in the process, something that often occurs on starvation diets. He was wrong, but that didn’t stop unscrupulous “alternative therapy” advocates, such as the infamous Kevin Trudeau, from promoting it as a weight-loss miracle.

An important point to make is the fact that Simeons’ theory involved daily injections of hCG. The vast majority of hCG products being sold on the internet are “homeopathic” which means they contain little to no amount of the hormone at all. That makes them a doubly stupid purchase.

Recently Most of the food has been overloaded with chemicals. These chemicals are designed to remove HCG from your body. So we use HCG products can supply you this element. But you must know that each medicine has side effect, so does HCG. This means that there are no HCG dangers at all. We all know that HCG will reduce your craving for food and metabolize stored fat. You will not experience irritability, headaches, weakness or any hunger pains as with other low calorie diets, but you will lose abnormal fat, reshape your body and look the way you are supposed to. Particularly, it works regardless of whether you exercise or not. Nonetheless, you will not lose abnormal fat so much if you do a mass of exercise rather than use HCG diet.

I can only assume that whoever wrote this doesn’t speak English as their primary language. At least I hope that’s the case because otherwise they’re a babbling idiot.

Ignoring the obvious contradiction for a moment, it’s worth mentioning that diet alone will not “reshape your body” to “look the way you are supposed to.” All of those diet plans that show someone going from fat to ripped neglect to mention that you don’t get ripped without exercise. I also like how they claim that you won’t lose “abnormal fat” with massive exercise. Which is technically true seeing as there’s no such thing as abnormal fat.

There is also no appearance for HCG diet’s dangers and HCG side effects, maybe there are some but the property are incredibly rare!

Gotta love this bit. There are no side effects except maybe some but you’re probably not one of the very rare people who do experience side effects that never happen anyway so don’t worry about it.

The HCG diet is widely available over the Internet and often cheap. Nowadays, peoples are researching of HCG diet to make a medical breakthrough on how we can control the body’s fatness. The results shows that HCG diet is effective, completely safe, having little dangers. The HCG weight loss diet consists of either a 23 or 40-day protocol. Don’t be hesitate anymore and just say “bye-bye” to your fatness without pains of exercise. This answer is HCG diet.

The only true claims in the above paragraph are the very first two about hCG being widely available over the internet and often being cheap. Every other claim in that paragraph is false. The research that has been done does not indicate that hCG is effective or safe and, according to the FDA, isn’t even legal.

It says something that this spammer considered it worth their time to show up here and submit a couple of cut-and-paste entries despite the fact that just the day before I posted an article trashing their product. The desire for a quick and easy weight-loss solution encourages lots of wishful thinking and, even with bad publicity sitting right next to it, they know that some folks are going to buy into it regardless of how badly their article mangles the English language.

The best defense against these scumbags is education. Don’t take my word for it, look this stuff up yourself. Preferably from sites not trying to sell you on it. If that’s too much work then just read what they’re saying very carefully. If you break it down like I did it’s pretty clear they’re full of shit.

FDA says hCG weight-loss products are nothing but bullshit.

Pic of bottles of HCG.

You wanna lose weight? Try eating less and exercising more.

Well, not literally bullshit, but bullshit as in they-don’t-do-what-they-claim-to-do. I know, I know. A diet program that doesn’t work? That’s unpossible!

HCG weight-loss products are fraudulent, FDA says – USATODAY.com

HCG weight-loss products that promise dramatic results and claim to be homeopathic are sold as drops, pellets and sprays on the Web, in drugstores and at General Nutrition Centers. They are supposed to be used in combination with a very low-calorie diet of 500 calories a day.

The fact that they claim to be homeopathic is your first clue that the claims are full of shit, but who doesn’t realize that any weight-loss they experience is because they somehow managed to stick to limit of 500 calories a day?

Hell, if you can manage that without gnawing your own arm off in a fit of hunger then, yes, you’re probably going to lose weight regardless of whatever bullshit supplement you’re taking. Assuming, of course, that you don’t spend 24 hours a day just laying on a couch someplace.

Consider that experts recommend between 1000 – 1200 calories a day for women and 1200 – 1500 a day for men. Then add in the fact that consuming less than 800 calories a day can actually interfere with weight-loss as your metabolism slows because it thinks you’re starving. A limit of 500 a day is just stupid.

Many of the labels indicate the products contain HCG, or human chorionic gonadotropin, a hormone made by the placenta during pregnancy. The hormone itself is approved as a prescription treatment for infertility and other conditions.

There is no evidence the oral over-the-counter products are effective for weight loss, says Elizabeth Miller, FDA’s leader for the Internet and health fraud team. While they may not be dangerous, they’re at least “economic fraud,” she says.

Because the products do not seem to be “a serious direct health hazard or a serious indirect health hazard,” they have been a lower priority for FDA action than other products. Still, Miller says, “they could be subject to enforcement at any time.”

While the “drug” itself may not be harmful, sticking to such a diet probably is. If for no other reason than it’s actually undermining your goal of losing weight plus you may be burning up lean muscle as your body struggles to deal with the huge decrease in caloric intake.

Apparently the idea of using hCG in combination with a ultra-low calorie diet has been around for a long time:

Miller says HCG began being used for weight loss in the 1950s when a British physician had a theory that it could help people on a near-starvation diet not feel hungry. “Since then, a lot of research and clinical trials debunked that theory.

Samuel Klein of Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis agrees: “Data from most randomized controlled trials show that HCG is no better than placebo in achieving weight loss or reducing hunger.”

Stephen Barrett, a retired psychiatrist who operates quackwatch.org, says, “The bottom line is there is no reason to think the product works.”

Even experts in the supplement industry say the products aren’t legal and don’t work. Andrew Shao of the Council for Responsible Nutrition, an industry group, says HCG is “not considered a legal dietary ingredient and therefore cannot be sold as a dietary supplement. I am not aware of any scientific evidence that supports its use when taken orally.”

Think about that for a moment. What this product is supposedly doing for you — if it actually did anything at all — is mask the fact that you’re starving yourself. That’s like taking morphine so you can walk on your broken leg without bothering to get the bone set. Sure, you can do it for awhile, but you’re not really helping to solve the problem.

A simple Google Shopping search reveals that there are still plenty of sites out there offering this product with prices ranging from $10 a bottle to $600 for multi-person diet kits. (Because if you’re going to starve yourself you may as well share the misery!) The number of books on the topic, including an entry in the venerable “For Dummies” series,  is amazing and shows that this is a big seller. Which means that until the FDA actually starts cracking down on some of the vendors out there they’ll probably continue to offer hCG for as long as they can.

UPDATED: Do not apply for jobs with “TTJ Property Management” as it’s just a scam.

[Update 7/14/2010: Another update from a commenter. This time the site is appearing as ELL Property Management and it just went live today. See the comment thread for details.]

[Update 7/4/2010: A commenter dropped by and told us these assholes are still trying to run this same scam under a new name. Do not apply for jobs with VOV Property Management either. See the comment thread for details.]

I’ve been out of work just over two months now and, as you would expect, I’ve been spending a good portion of my time trying to find a new job. One of the resources I’ve been using to try and find something local is Craigslist. It was there that I came across this ad on June 24th:

Pic of Craigslist ad for TTJ Property Management

Looks legit enough, if somewhat brief.

So I sent an email with a short cover letter and my resume. Yesterday I got the following email:

Hi Les,

Thank you for your interest and your recent resume submission. My name is Armanda and I am the Human Resource Manager that is in charge of the hiring process for our company TTJ Property Management. I’ve look over your application and due to the high amount of replies that we’ve gotten regarding our recent classifieds posting, I wanted to contact you as soon as possible and see if you would be interested in setting up an interview with us.

Before I continue let me tell you some background information about TTJ Property Management: We are an established Rental Company that was founded back in 1984 and we’ve grown immensely since then. Unlike other rental companies, we hope to foster a fun yet efficient environment for our employees since we have the firm belief that if we provide our employees with a welcoming work atmosphere we will see an increased return in productivity. Candidates should consider themselves self-starters and be able to work efficiently with minimum supervision. Other skills like great interaction with employees of all levels of the firm, strong communication skills, organization skills etc. are also valued very highly.

Our company aims to build a strong bond with its employees and therefore we offer benefits packages for you and your family plus we thrive to pay our employees a higher hourly wage than any of our competitors. We will be discussing compensation and benefits a little bit more in detail during our interview when we are in a more private environment instead of public emails.

Now due to our policies I will not be able to schedule an interview with you until you have filled out one of our online applications which can be found on our company website. Please visit http://ttjmanagement.com/application/ and fill out our short application so we can move on with the interview process. Each applicant is required to have a personal application code in order to fill the application.

Your code is: [Code Deleted]

Since we have received such a high number of replies to our job posting I will only be able to hold your application on my desk for 1-2 days more so please do not wait too long to fill out our online application! I will contact you as soon as I receive your online application!

Now if you have any questions please feel free to contact me!
Hoping to see you here for an interview soon,

Armanda
Human Resource Manager
TTJ Property Management

It all looks legitimate enough and I was oblivious that anything might be amiss until I tried to click on the link in the email. My browser sat twiddling its thumbs and then finally announced that it could not resolve the domain name.  That seemed a bit strange so I tried a Google search which came up with a big fat nothing. Well, not entirely true. It found results for companies with similar names, but if you put TTJ Property Management in quotes to force it as a literal result you get the dreaded “No results found for “TTJ Property Management”.”

I thought that was odd for a company that’s been around since the year before I graduated high school. Even if they never had a web presence themselves surely someone in the past 26 years would’ve said something about them on the Internet. No company is so perfect that someone somewhere doesn’t bitch about them at some point. For that matter any of a number of online Yellow Pages and business directories would have an entry about them someplace. That is, if they actually existed.

My curiosity piqued by this interesting turn of events I did what all life-long computer geeks do when confronted with such an anomaly: I did a WhoIs on the domain name. You can imagine my surprise when I discovered that the domain belonged to someone in Moscow, Russia and had been registered for the first time the day before I got the email above:

Pic of TTJ Property Management WhoIs info.

Noooooo. This doesn't appear suspicious at all.

Now the klaxons in my head were going off at full volume, but I thought I should reply just to see what kind of response I might get. So I sent the following reply back to “Armanda” to see what she would say:

Armanda,

I seem to be having some trouble accessing the website you have listed in your email. The domain name doesn’t appear to be resolving properly and I’m not sure if it’s an issue with my ISP or not. I tried pinging the address and got no response so I did a WhoIs and it appears the domain is registered to someone in Russia and was just created yesterday.

I have to admit that for a company that’s been around since 1984, the above facts strike me as rather odd. Seeing as I am unable to fill out the online application as you requested is it possible I could contact you by phone to set up a time for an interview? I’d also like to verify the address I’d be going to when the time comes.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,
Les Jenkins

So far I’ve yet to receive a reply, but the webpage address is resolving properly as of today. If you go there today you’ll see this:

Pic of TTJ Project Management main page.

Again, looks legit enough on first glance.

Looks OK, right? There’s plenty of pages to poke around on and if you take the time to do so you’ll soon be struck by how there’s so much text that isn’t really telling you anything. Sure, it all reads like what you’d expect on a property management site except that there’s no staff information, something which is pretty common on business sites offering services, and no information on where this company is located. If you click on the Contact Us tab you’re presented with a simple web form with no indication as to who the message will go to and absolutely no other information on how to contact anyone at the company.

It was about this time that it occurred to me to check the header on the email I received from “Armanda Elliot” and got the next clue that this was a scam. The email address the message was sent from was fezuqaxyxyfyq646818@hotmail.com. Now why would a legitimate Human Resources manager for a company so well established use an obviously randomized email address through a Hotmail account? Checking the originating IP address shows that it came from Amsterdam, NL. Website in Russia and emails from the Netherlands?

By this point I was pretty well convinced that this was possibly an attempt at ID theft, but before I started blogging about it I thought I should be thorough. So I went ahead and clicked on the link for the application “Armanda” had sent along and it took me to this page:

Pic of the TTJ application screen.

Starts off about how you'd expect.

You’ll note that I put a red box around the section that claims this is a secure page. I did this because it’s a flat out lie. The URL for that page was a standard http address and not the https of a secure page. Also most browsers will change the address bar to indicate when you’re on a secure page and Firefox gave no indication that the page was secure. I also took the time to ping the domain name and got an IP address of 217.23.10.25 which, when you look it up, is registered to the RIPE Network Coordination Centre in, you guessed it, Amsterdam. The same place the email originated from.

The next several pages were very surreal as they were filled with all manner of questions that seemed more like one of those find-out-your-personality-profile quizzes that are all over the internet than anything a company would put up. Some of the questions were OK such as “You see a fellow employee stealing from the company. What would you do?” followed by three answers — do nothing, tell a supervisor, confront employee — that I’ve seen asked before, but others seemed totally irrelevant to a job such as whether I consider myself a liberal, moderate, or a conservative. Right in the middle of the second page was where the next big red flag popped up as squeezed between the surreal questions was this:

Pic of TTJ application form.

Why would they need to know my credit history?

I can’t recall an employer ever asking me for my credit report before. What’s interesting is that if you click on the check box to get your “free” credit report the form launches an entirely new browser window which cycles through two or three URLs in rapid succession before landing at ID Complete.com which, ironically enough, has the following for its webpage title: Identity Theft Protection & Identity Theft Prevention by ID Complete. The URL goes to a specific sub-page and includes some codes that are probably affiliate indicators. Here’s what that site looks like:

Pic of ID Complete's page.

This also looks fairly legit.

We’ll talk about these guys in a minute, but first let’s finish up with the TTJ Property Management folks. The last page of the questionnaire asks you to attach your resume and upload it to the site, which is odd because they already have my resume from the initial email I sent them so why would they ask for it a second time? More surprising, though, was the fact that they weren’t doing something obvious like asking for my Social Security number, which is what I had expected to have happen. I didn’t upload my resume again so I’m not sure what the screen after that would’ve been like, but I was feeling pretty confident at this point that I had investigated the site itself far enough.

Now as for the ID Complete.com folks, well, I’m not sure about them. Doing a Google search on IDComplete.com reveals they are all over the place with over 2,000 mentions mainly because it appears that they have an affiliate program which pays for traffic to their site. Having gone through the first dozen or so pages of search results I’ve been unable to find anything in the way of complaints and trying various search queries specifically looking for complaints doesn’t turn anything up either. Which is suspicious in itself as it suggests they’ve done everything they can to bury anything negative about them out on the net. That said, as near as I can tell, they are legit. Or at least as legit as any other company that attempts to sell you ID theft prevention and credit reports. You can bet your sweet ass that the “free” credit report involves signing up for their ID theft prevention service which will probably be very difficult to cancel once you’ve signed up.

Finally, to be on the safe side, I contacted the Better Business Bureau to see if perhaps they had any info on TTJ Property Management. Not surprisingly, they don’t and the representative I spoke with on the phone agreed that it sounded like a scam. He suggested I contact the Internet Crime Complaint Center and the FTC about it. The thing that is puzzling is that it appears they aren’t trying to steal your ID at all. Rather it’s a very involved affiliate marketing ruse. If that’s the case then what they’re doing may not even be illegal.

The phony job application above says they’ll need a copy of your credit report at the interview, but they never ask you to send it to them. It’s designed specifically to get you to go to ID Complete.com website and sign up whereupon the owners of the phony job site will earn an affiliate fee. Seems like a lot of work for a few pennies, right? Naturally that made me curious to see how much they could potentially earn from this ploy.

Doing a Google search for ID Complete Affiliate Program returns just two results both of which point to oDigger.com which is a site for finding affiliate programs to join. The first points to an offer from Cactus Media for joining an affiliate program promoting ID Complete.com that apparently offers payments of $36 per conversion! Now I’m not sure what a conversion is, but I’d guess that it means for every person who signs up with ID Complete. The second points to an offer from Cpaway that offers payments of $19 per lead. Not as impressive as Cactus Media’s offering, but still not bad.

Interestingly enough, the Cpaway listing has the following description:

Identity Protection and 3 Bureau Annual Credit Report. Converts on a 2nd page submit with order of 30 day free trial. (Please be aware that his offer may not be ran on Craigslist and publishers found promoting it through CL will have their fund forfeited)

A prohibition against promoting on Craigslist! Now what would be a clever way to get around that prohibition and guarantee that at least some of the chumps applicants actually sign up for the service? How about a phony job listing that leads to an application that does the push to ID Complete? It’s brilliant! There’s also probably nothing illegal about it. It’s just a shame that they posted the fake job ad on Craigslist before they registered the domain for their phony company website and then were dumb enough to respond to an applicant before the IP address had time to propagate from Russia leading one overly skeptical job seeker to do a little digging. That would be me.

There’s not much more I can do to put a stop to this ruse, but at least I can blog about it. Considering that Google doesn’t have any search results for TTJ Property Management that means that this little blog entry will be the first it will index, probably before it ever finds the original page. And that means that the next poor schlep who decides to Google the company name will read all about it here.

If you’re that poor schlep and you haven’t applied with TTJ Property Management yet then you probably already realize that you shouldn’t bother.  If you have applied then just ignore any emails you get from them as it’ll just point you to this phony website. More importantly, however, is knowing that this sort of scam is out there and to be properly skeptical when considering ads for jobs on sites like Craigslist. You can bet I’ll be looking at them a lot more closely from now on.

Skeptic busts psychic’s “evil money” scam.

This is a dual purpose story. First, it’s about dumbasses who believe psychics are real and end up allowing themselves to be scammed out of their money. Secondly, it’s about how a little skepticism can make all the difference.

It takes place in ***Dave’s neck of the woods and it involves a Denver-area psychic named Nancy D. Marks:

Lafayette police say the investigation began after receiving complaints about possible fraudulent activity. The accusations involved the loss of large amounts of money that police say were given to Marks for “psychic readings” and other psychic services.

Marks was arrested on three charges including two counts of Theft Over $20,000 and one count of Criminal Impersonation. She was being held in the Boulder County Jail on $250,000 bond.

It seems Ms. Marks, which is a surprisingly apt name in some ways, was telling folks that their money was possessed by evil spirits which was the cause of their suffering. I bet you’ll be able to guess what her solution to that problem was. That’s right, they needed to give her their money so that she could make the money suffer instead of the idiots clients.

Amazingly enough, more than one person actually bought into this bullshit. One gave her $50,000 and another upwards of $240,000.

It all came to an end, however, when someone with just a bit of skepticism decided to visit the psychic on a lark. You’ll have to watch the news report to get the full details:

Kudos to Linda, who’s last name wasn’t given for some odd reason, for her skepticism and dedication to getting this fraud busted. I especially liked how she rolled her eyes when recounting how Marks told her she had a number of evil spirits around her that required a butt load of money to banish.

For the record I am not a psychic, but if you are stunningly credulous and are troubled by evil money spirits then I would be more than happy to accept your money and make it suffer so you don’t have to. I have come up with a number of ways I will punish the evil money spirits by forcing them to do good by buying food with it and paying my rent. Being that I am already evil the evil money spirits will have no power over me so my safety is insured. I will also further my evil by forcing evil spirits to do good things which is the ultimate in suffering for them which insures my evilness will be maintained.

See? It all makes sense. So long as you have the brains of a grapefruit.

This is a new take on an old scam…

Got the following email earlier today:

From: “Mrs. Mellisa Lewis” <info@rcweb.net>
Date: Tue, 19 Jan 2010 14:00:52 -0200
To: undisclosed-recipients: ;

Hello,

My name is Mrs. Mellisa Lewis . I am 59 years old and I was diagnosed for cancer for about 2 years ago. I will be going in for an operation later today.I decided  to WILL/donate the sum of (Fourteen Millions Two Hundred Fifty Eight Thousand  United States Dollars) to you for the good work of the lord.

Contact my lawyer with this email: Name: Mr Jay Mchenry
Email:(jmchenry@rcweb.net) (+44 792 435 0212)

Tell him that I have WILLED 14.258M to you by quoting my personal reference  number JJ/MMS/953/5015/GwrI/316us/uk. As soon as you contact him with this details quoted above, he should be able to recognize you and help in claiming this amount from my Bank.Be informed also that i have paid for the state tax on this money to be transferred to you.

Meanwhile you are advised to keep this mail and it contents confidential as i really want my wish accomplish at the end of the day.Please do pray to God for my recovery.

God Bless
Regards,
Mrs. Mellisa Lewis

First, one has to wonder why the recipients are undisclosed if this email was supposed to be directed to me. How many other people is she willing her money to? The second thing one notices is that this person clearly doesn’t know anything about me or she wouldn’t be hoping I’d use the money for “the good work of the Lord.” Then there’s the whole oddness of being instructed to claim this windfall before she’s actually undergone the, presumably destined to fail, operation. If she was clever enough to suss out my email then you’d think she’d just have the lawyer contact me after she’s dead. And while I must give these scam artists credit for a much more literate sounding letter than the usual bunch that show up in my inbox, there’s still some telling typos and odd phrasings that give away the game.

Well, other than the obvious cockup of suggesting I’d be doing the good work of the Lord.

Mike Hickmon of besthomemadenergy.com is a comment spamming asshole.

This is going to be very long so bear with me.

A little under two weeks ago I got the following email:

Subject: Link spam issues
From: Mike Hickmon

les

You probably do not realize it but your site has spam linked my site with hundreds of links causing my rankings to drop.

can you please remove all of the links from your site pointing to my site:  http://besthomemadeenergy.com

sincerely
Mike

He’s right, I didn’t realize it as I can’t recall ever linking to a URL that at first glance sounds like it’s at best full of dubious claims and at worst a scam. So I did a few searches on SEB’s entries and comments and there weren’t any links to http://besthomemadeenergy.com to be found. So I sent back a reply asking Mike to supply me with a specific entry to look at as I wasn’t finding anything at all. Here’s the reply I got back:

Les

Go to:  http://siteexplorer.search.yahoo.com/search        and type in:  http://besthomemadeenergy.com

click on the inlinks button and this should come up:  http://siteexplorer.search.yahoo.com/search?p=http%3A%2F%2Fbesthomemadeenergy.com&fr=sfp&bwm=i

as regards to how the links got put there i am not sure, but it is hurting my rankings

Thanks for the mega fast response!

Mike

So I tried that and there are, indeed, several links to http://besthomemadeenergy.com from SEB listed there. Entries included one about a Spiderman comic, one about the fourth season of Doctor Who, one about Microsoft’s web-based version of Messenger, one about the PS3, and one about a true believer murdering an atheist. All of which were clean of any links to http://besthomemadeenergy.com.

There are other links from SEB back to http://besthomemadeenergy.com listed in that Yahoo! Site Explorer search and you have to go through quite a few of them before you find one where the topic might somehow have anything to do with energy production. I was at a loss as to why so many unrelated entries would be showing up in the search, however, as all the links were clean. Then a possibility occurred to me and I sent the following reply:

Mike,

I’ve checked every link on every page that shows up in your Yahoo listing. There aren’t any links in any of the content I’ve produced or that my commenters have left that point directly to your site.

The only thing I can think of is you must be using Google AdSense for your advertising in which case ads for your site may have popped up on SEB from time to time. For example at least one of the ads that popped up while I was checking was for http://www.power4home.com/ for reasons I cannot begin to fathom as the topic of the entry it was on had nothing to do with energy.

You probably need to check things out with Google AdSense. They probably have some way for you to define URLs you don’t want your ads to show up on. The links aren’t from anything I’ve put on my site so I can’t help you.

Les

At this point I was satisfied that I had done all that I needed to do. Mike felt otherwise:

Les

That is weird, i have nothing to do with google AdSense.  Well Keep looking to it.

Mike

Keep looking into it? To what end I wondered. It wasn’t really my problem in the first place and I was merely being courteous checking into it. OK, I have to admit I was also satisfying my own curiosity, but the point still remains that I have very little reason to give a shit if I’ve checked my entries and found them to be clean.

So today I get the following email in my inbox from Mike:

Les

I found out how this started.  I hire a guy from India to do blog posting and on 9/9/09 he posted to the below page.  you must have erased it which is OK but somehow i got 250 links from your site.  i don’t want to beat a dead horse but if there is anything that you can do i would appreciate it.

https://stupidevilbastard.com/index/seb/comments/guy_who_invented_the_super_soaker_has_a_new_high_efficency_solar_power_cell/

Mike

Holy jumping Christ on a pogo stick! This fucker just admitted he’s a comment spammer! OK, technically he’s not doing the spamming himself, but he is paying someone else to do it which is just as bad in my book. Without people like him there’s nothing for the comment spammers to spam. The reason so many entries linked back to his site is probably due to Yahoo! crawling SEB before I got around to removing the spam and the comment showing up in the recent comments side bar on every page Yahoo! hit.

I don’t know why this possibility didn’t occur to me beforehand, but I didn’t stop long enough to think about it. It was at this point that I took a look at http://besthomemadeenergy.com itself. It’s a small site consisting of links to other websites that are selling DIY energy creation kits such as solar panels and windmills with outrageous claims about how effective they are and how little they cost. Mike’s site includes “reviews” of each of the five sites he links to and, not surprisingly, they’re all rated five stars. Mike Hickmon is an affiliate parasite comment spammer.

It’s a simple concept: You find a bunch of websites that offer affiliate payments for every click you send them and then you set up your own website with said link backs and glowing reviews of the sites in question. Then you spam the living fuck out of every website you can in hopes your page rank goes up and generates enough click throughs to make you a millionaire for little real effort. It looks like Mike is making use of ClickBank which a lot of scam websites make use of for their affiliate programs. Not every affiliate program ClickBank handles is fraudulent, but it tends to be very popular with the people running hustles and they have enough people using them that I’m sure policing all the accounts has to be a nightmare.

Needless to say I was now pissed off and I sent back the following reply:

Mike,

So, in other words, you hired a spammer to spam a bunch of blogs and he picked one you don’t want to be associated with? I’ve got two words for you now: Tough Shit. You deserve what you get for hiring an unscrupulous asshole in the first place. Comment spam is something I am constantly cleaning up after and I have absolutely no sympathy for anyone who makes use of it. Here’s a suggestion: Stop using spammers to advertise your site and you won’t have to worry about which ones your link shows up on.

Not only do I not give a shit that it’s hurting your page ranking, but now I’m highly motivated to look into what you’re selling and see if it’s a scam itself and then writing a nice big post about it with links back to your site just to make sure the page rank is nice and high. You want links to your site from blogs? I’ll give you some links. I am literally stunned at the unmitigated gall you’re exhibiting here.

Les

A Google search for http://besthomemadeenergy.com returns some 67,700 websites that link back to it. A good portion of which is because they contain comment spam left by Mike’s Indian spammer. They made sure to hit any site they could find dealing with topics such as green energy or home improvement or do it yourself, but they also hit any site that so much as mentions in passing anything to do with energy such as SEB.

Of course there is a chance that the sites Mike is pushing on his affiliate parasite page are legit so I took a look at one of them. He ranks Earth4Energy as the number 1 best site so let’s check it out. Right on the front page we get the following in big bold type:

How to make your own solar panels for less than $200

Did you know? The cost of solar panels can be slashed by making them at home? You have probably read about it or seen it on TV, but have you tried it yourself?

“I made my own solar panel. It was simple and saved me a lot of money!”

Right there you should have a shit load of red flags waving and it should only get worse the further you read down the page.  If you’ve been to similar websites before then the pitch is very familiar. Lots of noise made about the cost of “traditional” solar systems for your home being in the $28,000 to $30,000 range followed by claims that you can make your own solar panels for $200. Testimonials interspersed between from people who claim to have made upwards of 2 panels for $100! Amazing! Eventually you get to the pitch for the “instruction kit” they’ve put together which they claim to sell for $246 but which you can get through a (supposedly) limited time deal of only $49.97! HOW AMAZING IS THAT?!?

It’s bullshit is what it is and they’re pushing it hard. If you try to close your browser or navigate away from the page it pops up a window pleading with you to reconsider that you have to close before you can leave the site. If you’re skeptical, like me, the next thing you do is type in earth4energy scam into Google. The very first link is to this page: RIPOFF REPORT: Earth4Energy Scam – Earth4Energy Review – Revealing the truth about the Earth4Energy product. Sounds like a skeptical look at the Earth4Energy claims, right? Except that it’s not. They don’t even try to maintain a skeptical tone for more than a paragraph and it’s clear by the time you get done with the page that this site is probably constructed by the same folks who own the Earth4Energy website. You’ll find several similar supposedly skeptical reviews such as this one at Ezine@rticles. Speaking of which: Has anyone seen an entry at Ezine@rticles that wasn’t spam of some sort? It seems to be a favorite of spammers as I’ve removed literally hundreds of comment spams that link to that site. So much so that I have since blacklisted Ezine@rticles completely.

As it turns out this is a technique for selling questionable products called Internet Saturation Marketing. The basic idea is that in addition to the site you’re selling your craptastic products on, you go out and register a whole bunch of other sites that you then use to make your craptastic product site look legit. In particular you want to snap up any variations on your sites’ name with the words “sucks” or “scam” added onto it to ensure any of your unsatisfied customers don’t get them first. Then you install a blog or a generic website that claims to be skeptical of your craptastic products and is surprised to find they really do work. Then you sign up with the ClickBank people so you can have an affiliate program that will help to spread your garbage even further. Even with all that effort it doesn’t take too long before you can find a few sites that are actually critical of Earth4Energy, but it really shouldn’t take much more than a read through of the site to determine this for yourself.

But all of that is getting away from my good buddy, Mike Hickmon. It seems trying to push DIY energy scams isn’t enough for old Mikey as I learned from his Twitter page. Mike’s been a very busy affiliate parasite with websites devoted to cats, fish, dogs, and pets in general all of which use a variation on “The X Whisperer” to cash in on the popularity of that particular phrase. You’ll just love the disclaimer he has for his pet sites. Here’s the disclaimer for his The Pet Whisperer site:

Pet-Whisperer.com provides articles and information for educational and entertainment purposes only.

Furthermore, by using this site, you agree that Pet-Whisperer.com cannot be held responsible – directly or indirectly, in full or in part – for any damages or losses that may be suffered as a result of taking action on the information published on Pet-Whisperer.com

You assume any and all risks associated with any actions taken as a result of reading Pet-Whisperer.com

Due Diligence

Pet-Whisperer.com provides “reviews” and “recommendations”, as well as outgoing hyperlinks for a variety of People and record finder products & solutions, including a direct link to the company’s website.

Every effort has been made to accurately represent the third-party solutions, products and websites referenced on Pet-Whisperer.com, and ongoing efforts will be made on a consistent basis to ensure that the accuracy of this information remains current and up-to-date.

However, Pet-Whisperer.com is ultimately not in control of any third-party company or website, and cannot necessarily guarantee that a given review, recommendation or opinion of a third party website or product is going to be accurate at any given time due to a number of factors, including – but not limited to – the third-party’s website hosting conditions, changes in ownership or staff, changes of the company’s policies or activities, and other unforeseeable factors.

Therefore, by using this site in any capacity, you agree that it is your sole responsibility to do your own due diligence in order to protect yourself prior to using any third-party (non- Pet-Whisperer.com) product, service or advice.

Pet-Whisperer.com is not responsible for any damages or losses that may potentially result by accessing/using a website URL published on Pet-Whisperer.com. You must do your own due-diligence when visiting another company’s website or using another company’s product.

In other words: “I know the products I’m helping other people to sell in hopes of garnering a few pennies in affiliate fees are probably bullshit that are most-likely harmless, but on the off-chance you kill your pet with any of them I put this disclaimer here so you can’t sue me. Yes I am ironically telling you that you should seek out information on whether the products I’m pushing are any good while at the same time putting out misinformation claiming that they are good and then covering my ass just in case they aren’t any good. Funny old world, ain’t it?” The disclaimer also lies in suggesting that it provides, and I quote, “a direct link to the company’s website.” Mike doesn’t provide a direct link as all his links go through the aforementioned ClickBank service. He can’t directly link to the company’s websites because he wouldn’t garner any affiliate fees that way.

Based on his Twitter page Mike Hickmon has dozens of affiliate parasite websites set up for all manner of craptastic products. I know they’re all his because he shows up in all the domain registrations I checked:

Registered through: GoDaddy.com, Inc. (http://www.godaddy.com)
Domain Name: PET-WHISPERER.COM
Created on: 05-Jan-09
Expires on: 05-Jan-10
Last Updated on: 05-Jan-09

Administrative Contact:
Hickmon, Michael goebusiness@gmail.com
12019 herman dr
riverside, California 92505
United States
(951) 687-2129

I’m half tempted to give Mike a call and tell him how I feel about his business undertaking and comment spamming ways directly, but I think this rather amazingly lengthy blog rant is more than enough. I’ve made a point of linking to his http://besthomemadeenergy.com site repeatedly to ensure that Yahoo! and Google know that I’m linking to it. I think others should know about Mike Hickmon’s businesses and how they push questionable products. He’s not exactly a scammer himself, but he’s helping the scammers and cluttering up websites with spam in doing so. There’s certainly nothing illegal about what Mike is doing, but that doesn’t mean it’s legit.

So yeah, as you can tell, I’m pretty pissed off about this and I’ve spent probably way more time and energy looking into it and then ranting about it than I should have. However, if it stops one person from falling for the bullshit being pushed by assholes like Mike Hickmon then it’ll be worth it.

“Psychic” cleanses $140,000 from several families.

In our continuing series on the question of “what’s the harm in letting people hold onto stupid beliefs” we bring you the following news item. It seems several families in Lakewood, WA have fallen for the old your-money-is-infected-with-evil-spirits-but-I-can-clean-it-for-you scam to the tune of $140,000:

The victims told Lakewood police they met Señora Monica at the nearby swap meet or heard her advertisements on a Spanish-speaking radio station, Hoffman said. She advertised that she could help with “all your problems.”

On her business card, Señora Monica listed her services as: Reads cards, reads palms, performs cleansings, interprets dreams, reunites loved ones, sexual deficiencies, cures nervous disorders, employment problems, alcoholism and drug addiction. “Don’t suffer anymore. If you can’t have children, call me,” the card reads. “Performs spells, counterspells and love spells.”

Some victims had Taro card readings with Señora Monica and decided to have her cleanse their money. Some of the sessions occurred with the victims at the store on South Tacoma Way.

The victims had set up a final meeting Sunday night during which they would receive their cleansed money and would pay a gratuity – whatever they felt was appropriate – to Señora Monica, Hoffman said.

“Señora Monica never showed up,” Hoffman said.

Big fucking surprise. I could’ve told you that was bound to happen and I don’t claim to be a psychic. Once again I am torn on this issue. On the one hand stealing is wrong so I sympathize with the people who lost their money, but on the other hand these people must have Cheez Whiz for brains to be that fucking credulous and as such arguably deserve the fleecing they were given.

Repeat after me: No one is psychic. Anyone who claims to be able to tell you your future based on Tarot cards or tea leaves or chicken entrails is lying to you. If they try to tell you they can clean your money of evil spirits that are ruining your life you should punch them in the mouth and run away with your hand firmly on your wallet. If you give them your money you will not get it back.

And if you still insist on handing it over because you’re afraid it might have evil spirits then send it to me instead and I promise you I’ll spend it on stuff I could really use, like a new couch, thus protecting you from the evil it contains by spending it on stuff I want.

Watch out for the Scratch Card Scam.

I’ve not seen this one before, but I’ve heard of it. Scammers set up a booth in a local mall that purports to be selling chances at winning fabulous prizes while raising money for a charity, but what they’re really selling are tickets to the poor house. Check it:

As always it’s pays to be aware of the scams you might come across.

Via Geeks are Sexy.

How ATM skimming is done.

There’s been a lot of articles over on The Consumerist about ATM skimming, how it’s done, and how you can protect yourself. Today they linked to a clip from a UK show called The Real Hustle that lays out exactly how the scam is done. I’m not sure if the increase in the number of articles about ATM skimming is due to it happening more often or because folks are just more aware of it, but I thought it’d be useful to post that YouTube clip here for folks that don’t follow my shared Google Reader notes:

In short, pay attention to the ATMs you use. If you suspect it may be tampered with alert the bank and/or the police and don’t use it. At the very minimum you’ll want to shield the input of your PIN number when doing the transaction.

As I watched this clip all I could think of was why don’t we have a show like this here in the States?

The Contempt of Court judgment Kevin Trudeau Doesn’t Want You to Know About!

Who is Kevin Trudeau? He’s the “alternative medicine” slimeball who sells books full of miracle cures that the Powers That Be supposedly hope you’ll never find out about. With titles like Natural Cures “They” Don’t Want You to Know About and The Weight Loss Cure “They” Don’t Want You to Know About this asshole has made millions off the gullibility of desperate people with cancer and other serious illnesses. The FTC finally broke down and successfully sued his ass back in 1998 for making false and misleading claims in his infomercials getting him barred from making such claims again and a $500,000 fine. In 2003 the FTC charged him with violating the 1998 order by making claims that a product called “Coral Calcium Supreme” would cure cancer and got an injunction barring him from making said claims, which he promptly ignored resulting in a contempt of court finding which fined him another $2 million and banned him from appearing in infomercials. If you’ve spent any recent time flipping channels in the wee hours of the morning, however, then you’re probably aware that he ignored that ruling as well. 

Which brings us to his latest run-in with the courts:

A federal judge has ordered infomercial marketer Kevin Trudeau to pay more than $37 million for violating a 2004 stipulated order by misrepresenting the content of his book, “The Weight Loss Cure ‘They’ Don’t Want You to Know About.”

In August 2008, Judge Robert W. Gettleman of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois had ordered Trudeau to pay more than $5 million and banned him, for three years, from producing or publishing infomercials for products in which he has an interest. The ruling confirmed an earlier contempt finding, the second such finding against Trudeau in the past four years.

Urged by both the FTC and Trudeau to reconsider aspects of its August order, on November 4 Judge Gettleman amended the judgment to $37,616,161, the amount consumers paid in response to the deceptive infomercials. The judge also revised the three-year ban to prohibit Trudeau from “disseminating or assisting others in disseminating” any infomercial for any informational publication in which he has an interest. On December 11, the court denied Trudeau’s request to reconsider or stay this ruling.

You’d think by now Trudeau would have gotten the message and taken the money he’s already earned and run, but he’s apparently not that smart. Probably doesn’t help that he has past convictions for larceny and credit card fraud, but it does show he has enough brains to move from outright theft to a form of fraud that apparently carries much less risk of going to actual prison (he spent 2 years in prison for the credit card fraud).

Think this one will slow him down any? I doubt it. The folks who put out the craptastic “Airborne” just modified their packaging to make any beneficial claims as vague as possible after their settlement with the government and the CEO of the company that produced the equally useless “Enzyte” dick embigginer product went to prison and yet their infomercials are still on the air with the company doing better than ever. In fact at the time that the CEO of Berkeley – parent company to Enzyte – was put on trial the company had regular customers in the tens of thousands who apparently thought the pill was doing something for them.

The simple fact of the matter is that you can sell just about anything as a cure for, well, just about anything so long as you make your claims as vague as possible while doing so. The CEO of Enzyte didn’t go to prison because his product doesn’t work, a fact he pretty much admitted to in court, but because the company was automatically signing people up for ongoing purchases under the guise of a “free trial” and then refusing to cancel their orders or fulfill the promised money back guarantee. Now that he’s out of the way the company has turned all credit card processing over to an outside company and is honoring any money back refunds it receives and has had no further problems with the government since. The product still doesn’t do a damned thing, but there are enough people out there who think it does that they’re making plenty of money off of it.

Given all of that, and the fact that Trudeau doesn’t seem to give a shit what the courts tell him to do, I suspect we’ll be seeing him again very soon indeed.