We all know that the internet is just one big scheme to get us to buy penis enlargement pills by clicking on the link for singles in our area. But if you think you're safe from the hustle on social media, where it's just you and your 400 closest friends hanging out, you're mistaken. Con artists are constantly coming up with creative ways to squeeze you for more than just likes and reposts. For example ...
Twitter is currently infested with swindlers using stolen pictures of young women to set up fake accounts, and not for the typical catfishing of lonely dudes. Instead, these fake ladies attract lots of attention by writing long threads detailing bittersweet tales of overcoming abuse ... which then slowly transition into stealth ads for diet pills. One of the more egregious examples was the tale of "Ashley," a "woman" who got over 300,000 likes for a 32-tweet thread about a controlling ex (very relatable) who wanted her to eat lots of food (not so relatable), and how glad she then was to regain control of her life through magical tapeworm pills.
To add injury to insult, the skinny "thinspo" photos used by "Ashley" to prove the effectiveness of her snake oil were stolen from a cam model who at that time was struggling with anorexia and cocaine use -- which she was in danger of relapsing into after people mistakenly started harassing her over the scam posts. Twitter barely lifts a finger to punish these full-fat ghouls, often refusing to take down these threads until long after the damage has been done (and the ad money from all the engagement has been counted). And even then, these scammers just set up a hundred other new fake profiles, ready to inspire thousands of new young women into eating disorders.
If you're from Philadelphia, you probably know Adrian Rubin, the esteemed climatologist who runs a website "combating pseudo-science and climate change denial." Or maybe you know Adrian Rubin, writer for the Philadelphia Weekly. Or what about Adrian Rubin the noted tech philanthropist? Or his favorite real estate agent, Adrian Rubin? No, Philadelphia isn't the global capital of Adrian Rubins. In fact, there's only one real Adrian Rubin in Philly, and he's currently doing time for running several payday loan and telemarketing scams.
But from prison, the real Rubin created and maintained several fake online identities, all also named Adrian Rubin. Through aggressive search engine optimization, these Rubins would pop up first whenever someone Googled that name, pushing all mention of the real Rubin's scummy exploits to the second page of search results. And since nobody ever visits that wasteland, this technique can effectively hide one's true identity and keep their reputation squeaky clean. (Since this story emerged, the true Rubin has been pushed back to the top of the search results.)
This was also the tactic used by infamous fraudster Ian Leaf, who stole $50 million from UK taxpayers, then escaped across the Alps on foot to extradition-resistant Switzerland. There are dozens of British newspaper articles that expose his name and his crimes, but for a time, in order to get to those, you'd have to skip past several pages about "Ian Leaf," a writer who's very active on Twitter, Medium, and LinkedIn. Ingeniously, Leaf made his SEO cloak a "fraud expert," which took care of any Google searches that included both "Ian Leaf" and "fraud" (which are most of them).
And in case people would search for him via the name of his shell company, HFC, a fake Leaf also wrote a book titled Ian Leaf's Starting A HFC Business At Home, with "HFC" obviously being the well-known acronym for "high fashion clothing." At least Scotland Yard will have an easy time figuring out which crime Leaf is about to pull next. All they have to do is wait until his namesake releases his next book, Ian Leaf's Complete Guide To NOT Robbing The Zurich Diamond Exchange On November 20th."
During the bloody Sudanese protests of 2018-2019, many turned to social media to offer help to Sudan's brave citizens. In came @SudanMealProject, a self-proclaimed charity which promised to send one meal to Sudan in exchange for every repost it got on Instagram. The account exploded to 400,000 followers in less than a week, despite not explaining how, when, or where it was sending meals. Nor did it explain why it's so important to send food to Sudan, since the place was dealing with mass protests, not food shortages. Or why, at the very same time, about a hundred other nearly identically named Instagram accounts popped up offering the very same deal.
When the similarly named scam account @sudanese.meal.project reached tens of thousands of followers, it quickly pivoted to promoting some terrible streetwear site. Similarly, during the Standing Rock protests, a huge Native-American-oriented Facebook page was revealed to be run by two guys in Kosovo, who were using it to drive loads of traffic to their BuzzFeed knockoff site. And the biggest Black Lives Matter Facebook page, which garnered 700,000 followers and over $100,000 in donation, also turned out to be a scam perpetrated by a white guy in Australia.
Luckily, other social media users have made it their mission to root out these accounts. And all you need to do to support these charitable efforts is follow and support them on social medi- huh. Yeah, we see the problem there.
For years, YouTube has operated a strict "three strikes" copyright policy, which means that three claims of intellectual property theft against a channel cause it to be automatically shut down. The site claims this empowers small creators with no other legal options, and that it definitely isn't an excuse to save money on support staff. But when you combine this ill-monitored system with YouTube's harsh algorithm, which punishes creators for not constantly churning out new content, crooks quickly discovered a ready-made way to hold channels hostage.
The tactic is depressingly simple: Report somebody twice, then send a threatening message saying that if they don't pay up, a third strike will be fired off and they'll lose the whole channel. This was the case for two smallish gaming channels which were targeted in 2018. Operating from an empty channel with no personal information, these goons nonetheless were still able to launch a slew of copyright claims unchecked, then demand payment via Bitcoin or PayPal in exchange for making them go away.
It was only after one of these channels went viral exposing the con that they got YouTube to pay attention and make things right. But it wasn't just the threat of having their accounts suspended that scared small-time YouTubers. In order to file a counterclaim and get your account privileges restored, YouTube demanded you share your real name, address, and phone number -- which the company would then pass on to the copyright claimant. So in order not to get screwed over by shadowy con artists, you were required to give them all your personal info. Way to look out for the little guy, YouTube.
New Zealand journalist David Farrier co-directed Tickled, a documentary about the sinister side of the online tickling community. He's made something of a career out of exposing seedy underbellies. That's how he stumbled upon the worryingly common practice of people using the internet challenge craze to trick others into fulfilling their niche fetishes.
We're talking tricksters like @hotelbedjumping_community, an Instagram account that encouraged people to send in videos of themselves jumping on their beds to boost a charity that gave free mattresses to the homeless. Except there were no mattresses, or a charity for that matter. Just a porn site for the bed-jumping fetish community. Which explains why this "challenge" encouraged a dress code that included wearing "gym gear" and a "cocktail dress."
Oleg Shelomentsev/Adobe Stock
Then there was the wacky website Splathq.com, which featured videos of paid participants getting "gunked" (being doused in slime, like in the classic kids shows), all in the name of good wholesome fun. Are there people who get turned on by seeing people covered in slime? You know it, and so did the website, which claimed it was "not an adult website," but hid its slime videos behind a hefty paywall, used specific porn and fetish jargon, and even had different sections for men and women. All without checking if their gunkees first agreed to be fetish sex workers, of course.
In 2016, Farrier documented the predatory YouTube account "Ally & Maddy," which got hundreds of underage kids to do things like the "shrinking challenge" or the "honey I shrunk my ex tag" -- all for the horribly specific enjoyment of pedophiles with a shrinking fetish. So remember, whenever someone on the internet dares you to do something, there's a real chance you'll end up becoming big in Japan ... and not in the good way.
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