Why we need WHOIS, as simply as possible.

There are big changes going on right now that will affect how antiscam sites work, including ours.  What I’m going to do in this post is explain what they are, and what damage they’ll do.  WHOIS is one of the tools we use in investigating fake sites.  Go to your WHOIS site of choice, put in the name of the site you’re investigating and you’ll be given a list of such things as the details about who owns the site name, when it was created, how long the site name was paid for, what companies they used to create the site and so on.  For antiscam groups like ours, it’s the best way to help get the evidence needed to report and close a fake site as well as information on other sites owned by the same person.  The most important parts for us would be the location, phone number and email address of the person.  Now here’s where the problem lies.  A law has come in that will make viewing that information much harder, if not impossible.  Some of the information will still be available to view, but not the essential stuff.  Not the stuff that REALLY matters.  What it boils down to is that, very soon a scammer can create a fake site safe in the knowledge that getting it shut down will become a whole lot more difficult.  While we’re fighting with our hands tied behind our backs due to the new rules coming in, the scammers will continue stealing money from people with their fake sites.  If you see #WhyWeNeedWHOIS on Twitter, you know the reason why now.  At least you know the basics.  If you want to know more, keep an eye on here as Firefly is going to make a much more advanced post about it fairly soon from the point of view of someone who uses WHOIS on a regular basis to report fake sites used by scammers.

A statement regarding future media interactions.

I was hoping for our latest blog post to be about a great TV program we’d worked with the company on all about romance scams.  Unfortunately, that isn’t what I’m going to be writing about.  I haven’t seen more than about 3 minutes of the show, and the reason is very simple.  They got our name wrong on it.  Seriously, they managed to spell the word “scam” wrong on a program all about scams.  I was furious, as I’m sure you can imagine.  When we work with the media, the only request we make is that the site’s name is mentioned.  We don’t get paid for doing it, in fact there have been occasions when I’ve covered the costs of getting to the interview out of my own pocket.  All we ask for in exchange is that the site’s name is mentioned, and say as much on our media contact page.  That’s not too much to ask for is it?  Apparently it is, and it’s not the first time it’s happened either.  On a previous occasion (not with the same company I should add), the site didn’t get mentioned at all.  Now I’m not saying this happens all the time.  In fact most times things go fine, but even once is too often.  There have also been instances in the past where we’ve been misquoted, or facts and figures posted that were incorrect.  Sometimes the article is online, and we can request the mistakes be fixed.  Sometimes however, once it’s out there it’s too late to do anything about it.

Due to this we’ve come to a decision.  We will refuse interviews unless we have the guarantee we can see the finished item before it goes live to make sure it’s all correct.  We would rather walk away at the start than see an article published with misinformation on it, and mentioning us.  It’s not a decision we take lightly, but one we feel has to be done from this point on.  We apologise in advance, but I’m sure everyone concerned would rather see a factually correct article than one  trying to raise awareness about a subject that could potentially make it worse due to mistakes.

Sometimes it has to be done.

I don’t like having to publicly tell off another antiscam site, but sometimes, as the title says, it has to be done.  We have always given “free, non-judgmental help and advice” on our site, so to see another site refer to victims as “dumb” boils our blood.  Victims are not “dumb”, “stupid”, “greedy” or any of the other insults often hurled at them by members of the public, and we struggle every day to try and shake that perception of them.  To see an antiscam site use any of those words makes our blood boil.  These are people who should know better, but apparently some don’t.  When we it, we’re going to call it out.

Time flies.

It’s hard to believe it’s been six years since we paid our 10 bucks and bought the ScamSurvivors name for that first year to create this site.  Since then, so much has happened.  I thought I’d share some of the funnier or more unique stories from that time in this blob post, in no particular order.

In one of the earliest incidents, we were kicked off our shared host after our site was the victim of a DDoS attack so big it took down our site, the entire node we were on, and several hundred other sites who had the misfortune to be on the same node.  Luckily they gave us 24 hours to make a backup and move elsewhere.  Ever since, we’ve been on our own server with DDoS protection.  We still get attacked, but thankfully we’ve not been down due to one since.

We were however down for 3 weeks a few years ago after we moved to a new host and were given a server with a dodgy hard drive.  There was lots of hair being pulled out, but thankfully we managed to find another host and Frankenstein together the site from various backups.  Thankfully we’ve had no issues since then.

Around 3 months into our existence, we were threatened with a takedown request after the webmaster of a site decided to take offence at our posting images of the model his site worked with, despite our contacting him looking to work with him in raising awareness of scammers abusing stolen images of his client.  I won’t name names, but when I did some research it turned out that www.josieannmiller.com was available to buy, so I did and had it redirect to our site.  A few weeks later, the webmaster actually joined our forum and let us know that the scammer problem had become so bad that he’d put a scam warning on his site and a link to us in it.

Another time we had a threatening email from a company because an email from a scammer pretending to be them was posted on our forum.  They demanded we remove all mention of them, which I respectfully did.  I also posted up their emails to us in order to explain why we’d made such a move.  The odd thing is, that meant the three mentions of their name made by the scammer were replaced with almost 50 mentions of their name from their emails.  How did this one end?  With an apology from them and a “keep up the good work” message.

Most recently, a major company came to us looking to work with us in dealing with the scammers abusing their service.  I can’t name names, but suffice to say it’s a BIG name!

The past sis years have been – interesting to say the least.  Would I do it all again?  Most definitely.  Would I do it any differently?  Probably not.  Where would be the fun in that?

 

Comparing apples to oranges.

If someone had their car stolen, it would be ridiculous to treat them as if they’d been in a car accident, right?  Both involve cars, but they’re different beasts and should be treated as such.  Likewise, if someone is mugged by a drug addict, rehab isn’t where they need to be sent.  The media loves the phrase “sextortion” as a “cover all” name for a number of crimes, and we expect that.  The media also likes the terms “vigilantes” and “scamming the scammers”.  It’s a necessary evil we’ve come to live with.  The problems rise when law enforcement does the same.  There are at least three distinct crimes under the “sextortion” banner that are all similar insomuch as they involve the abuse of images or video of the victim (sextortion, webcam blackmail and revenge porn).  After that, they become different entities and should be treated as such.  Sextortion victims wouldn’t get the help they need on a revenge porn help site in exactly the same way a victim of revenge porn would find the advice on a webcam blackmail help site irrelevant.  We can see the differences between the three and treat them as such, so why can’t law enforcement?  They after all have people who are paid to help, while we are a small group of just four people doing this for free.  If we can do it with our limited resources, why can’t they?

Time flies.

For those unaware of how websites work, here’s a quick rundown of what goes into owning a website.  The first part is the name itself.  This is the cheapest bit as it’s about $15 a year, including privacy protection.  After that, you need to find a place to host the site.  This is where it gets a lot more complicated, as there are myriad options out there, from free hosting to paying thousands a year, depending on what your needs are.  For the record, we pay so much for the physical system the website is kept on (basically a computer whose only purpose is to run the website) and so much again for the software used to manage all the behind the scenes stuff. The option we use isn’t cheap, as we need certain protections against people trying to attack us and get the site shut down.  We’re also able to host everything ourselves, right down to the images and videos we use.  That means we’re completely in control of all our own content.

Anyway, yesterday I had to renew the names part.  We own several site names.  Some are sites in their own right, while some are “redirects”, which come back to a page on scamsurvivors.com when you type its name in.  Names are paid for by the year, and a quick check showed that both scamsurvivors.com and stupidscammers.com will be 6 years old this month, while blackmailscams.com will reach its 4th birthday about 2 weeks earlier.  In that time, there’s been over 150,000 posts on our forum, over 20,000 blackmail forms filled in and millions of pairs of eyes checking out our sites and hopefully protecting themselves from being scammed.

It’s my new obsession.

With the new server, we have a new version of the file editor that checks for errors in the coding.  You would not believe the amount of time I’ve spent going through pages and fixing the errors that were there.  There was nothing serious, just some silly mistakes, but seeing those red crosses bring out a primal urge to fix them.  At the same time, I went and made sure our site shows up as 100% HTTPS.  A lot of the pages were written before we had an SSL certificate, so most of it was simply putting that S after HTTP on image links.  Now that’s done, it’s time to check on some other areas of the site.  The work never ends.

No turning back now.

Here’s a quick update on what’s been happening lately on the site.  The switch to the new server is 100% done, and the old server has been wiped ready to go back to the hosting company tomorrow.  It’s a good thing too, as to do a switchover you need both servers and for both servers to be running the same admin software.  That meant, for one month our expenses doubled.  Still, it’s worth it to have a new, faster server with a lot more space on it.  We were featured in several media outlets this month, and there are more in the pipeline.  One I believe is to be shown within the next few weeks.  We were also a part of the BBB’s study into romance scams, which we were thrilled about.  All in all, it’s been an incredibly busy few weeks here and it’s not likely to slow down any time soon.

Sometimes love just ain’t enough.

It’s almost upon us.  February 14th is Valentine’s Day.   Of course the search for love isn’t confined to a single day of the year.  People join dating sites every day in their droves.  So do the scammers, looking to make money from people whose only crime is the desire to find someone to share the rest of their lives with.  We appreciate that we have so much information on how the scammers work that it can be daunting even trying to find a place to start, so we’ve made it easier to learn the basics.  Our first link is HERE and is a stripped down version with the bare essentials.  For a more advanced version that has examples of scammer profiles taken from dating sites, go HERE.  If you still need more, or you want to post up the details of a scammer, HERE is the place to go.  Stay safe online, not just on Valentine’s Day, but every day.