Miracle-cure and easy-money peddlers boost their products and schemes with phony news reports: Internet Scambusters #389
Fake news stories, bogus product reviews and even
satirical websites can all fool us into believing
something that’s simply not true.
Sometimes the intention is to turn us on or off to a
particular idea or purchase decision. Other times, it’s
supposed to be just entertainment.
In this week’s issue we explain the latest tricks and
techniques and offer some guidance on how to spot and
Before we get started, we suggest you visit last week’s
most popular articles from our other websites:
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Reduce College Student Credit Card Debt Now: Steps you can take to avoid college student credit card debt — before, during, and after college.
Give an iPad for a Gift: Here’s what you should know about the iPad if you’re considering giving it as a gift.
Top 5 Nutritious Foods that Save You Money: To save money and stay healthy at the same time, consider these 5 top nutritious foods that are both inexpensive and healthy.
Time to get going…
How Fake News Stories and Bogus News Websites Try to Deceive You
Fake news stories help crooks lure victims into all
sorts of traps. We’ve reported previously on how
scammers distribute emails with links to a sensational
but fake news article or with an attachment that
carries a deadly virus payload.
Either way, the aim is to install malware on your PC
when you click the link or open the attachment.
But in a new twist, con merchants are trying to pass
off their websites as genuine newspaper or TV sites to
convince victims about whatever it is they’re trying to
The really frustrating thing is that often they are not
breaking the law. They invent a legitimate-sounding
name for their “publication” or fake TV news station
and dress the web page up to look like it’s a real
Pretending to be impartial, the report usually either
promotes a particular product or explains how you can
easily make a fortune on the Internet.
Sometimes, they carry videos that purport to be
objective TV news reports explaining just how fantastic
this new product or money-making idea is.
The aim is to either get you to hand over a lot of
money for a questionable or even worthless purchase, or
join a pyramid or multi-level marketing scheme, in
which you then have to recruit others to buy from you
and they must, in turn, find more people to join. And
It’s easy to get taken in but you can easily spot what
these con artists are up to with two easy check steps:
* Be skeptical if the page is promoting a miracle
product (like health cures or how to run your car on
water) or an easy-money scheme. Remember that in real
life these rarely, if ever, exist.
* Do a search on the name of the TV station or
publication. If it’s a scam, you’ll generally find that
there are no other pages or news reports from the same
supposed newspaper or TV station.
In fact, you’ll more likely find someone else reporting
it as a con trick.
Satire sites — for entertainment or mischief
While we’re on the subject, it’s worth mentioning
another type of fake news site you might come across on
These are so-called satire sites in which the operators
just make up news stories — often about political
figures or celebrities.
Sometimes, their motive is to entertain — just like a
skit on a TV satire show like Saturday Night Live.
Other times people with an axe to grind or just a
desire to make mischief are at work.
There are several well-known and popular fake news
sites, the best known probably being theonion.com.
Their offerings can be very thought-provoking — as
long as you know what they’re up to. In other words,
“news” from The Onion is not true — but it can be very
More serious are sites that let people create their own
hoax stories, for example claiming that an individual
has been arrested. The user supplies the name and the
site generates both the story and a link to it.
The important point here is never to act on or pass on
any information you read or view unless you know for
sure whether it’s true or false. Then you can let the
Bogus product and travel reviews
Another sneaky and dishonest trick that’s become
increasingly common on the Internet is the creation of
bogus reviews for products and services.
A long time ago, we reported on web awards that charge fees. You pay your money and you get your five stars.
More recently, this sort of scheme has been used by
less reputable software producers to create the
impression they have one of the best products on the
And now, with the advent and widespread use of consumer
product reviews, a similar technique fools people into
thinking a book they’re considering buying or a hotel
they might visit is top-rated.
Authors and hotels have been known to pay others or
just invite employees or acquaintances to give them top
ratings online, to encourage more purchases.
They’ve even done things the other way — giving low
marks to competitors.
This year, for instance, on a trip to Mexico,
Scambuster Keith found among the reviews for his hotel
one describing it as “paradise” and another claiming it
was overrun with bugs, warning travelers never to stay
(He went anyway and, fortunately, found the first
description nearer the truth!)
Some big online organizations like Amazon (for books)
and Expedia (for travel) have introduced measures to
try to halt this phony review process — for example,
making it clear whether a reviewer has genuinely
purchased a product or stayed in the place they’re
Five review tips
If you use other people’s ratings to influence your
buying decisions, here are five things to consider:
1. If a review is written anonymously or uses a
nickname, don’t count on it. If a name is given, check
out the author’s other reviews. With some travel sites,
you can actually email the author to find out more.
2. If a product has only one or a handful of reviews
unanimously claiming it’s wonderful, be skeptical. Even
Olympic judges rarely give top marks across the board.
3. The more reviews, stars or marks, the fairer the
scoring is likely to be. If there are a lot of reviews,
sample comments from appraisers right across the
spectrum — from ravers to rubbishers.
4. Longer reviews and those written by experts in the
field are more likely to be honest appraisals. The
writer has taken the time to think things through
before delivering a judgment. Ignore the one-liners.
5. Remember the old saying “One man’s meat is another
man’s poison.” Just because someone else liked
something doesn’t mean you will. Purchasing decisions
are down to you — you can’t blame others.
It’s a well-known fact that you should never believe
everything you read. Since humans first started
committing their thoughts to writing, they’ve been
using their skills not only to record thoughts and
history but also to purposely mislead and dishonestly
influence our opinions.
The only difference is that in the old days they used
chisels and then quill pens. Today they use keyboards,
manufactured opinions and fake news sites.
That’s a wrap for this issue. Wishing you a great week!