Over the past few years I have received a number of emails and phone calls from various groups offering me varying services from digital marketing to book-to-screenplay conversion. Many of these groups don’t pass the initial “sniff” test when I check into their histories.
You find a full list of groups, what they’ve tried to sell me, and what I found when researching them here.
I’m sad to say that after researching some of my more recent contacts that it seems they are making a greater focus on giving a more legitimate appearance. Back in the beginning, some would contact me using gmail accounts with no website and using company names that had very little online presence, if any. These things were considered deficiencies as how can you sell digital marketing without a digital presence, how can you claim to have been in business for many years only using a gmail account, and things of the like. The details didn’t match the sales pitch. Similarly, you could often find where a company with one name today was the same as another company that had acquired a negative reputation so they rebranded to try and shake that stink from their sales efforts.
However, a lot of the gaps from older groups seem to have been filled. Groups today are creating websites that give an appearance of being a company with years of experience and often include vague references that imply involvement with project despite there being no evidence to support it (but similarly no evidence against it), and some even use names of real people and real companies in the industry knowing that most people can’t or won’t attempt to verify the authenticity. I’ve even found some with LinkedIn profiles with the same name and profile picture of the person associated with the website that may or may not be authentic.
To the average person, looking at these websites, social media profiles, and even profiles on corporate networking sites like LinkedIn makes these companies look valid. Luckily for me, I’m a bit more IT oriented than the average user and I know how to check beyond the surface.
If there’s a social media page, I dig into the social media page to see how many followers they have, what their post history looks like, how long the profile has been in existence, etc.. What I commonly find is that these profile pages on social media are only a few months old despite the company’s stated years of existence. I find that they don’t have many followers or that the bulk of their followers all hail from a specific region outside of the company’s area of operations or target demographic. I see posts or reviews from others tagging that page that seem to mainly be from right around the time the page was created but little since. What information is posted on social media is vague and generic, and in many cases there isn’t a single post related to the service I’m being sold.
When I look at the website, not only do I look at the content of the website but I look at its construction and flow. With a background in programming and web design, I understand how websites work, hosting options, website builder tools, etc., that let people build basic websites quickly and without much effort. These tools are commonly used by smaller companies that lack the capability or funds to have a professional website built, mom & pop type stores or small companies with relatively no noteworthy profit margins. Companies that are “industry leaders” with “years of experience” in that field should be able to afford more professional websites with better editing, better content, and not the templated designs I see reused with many of these contacts.
Likewise, websites have to be registered. When you go to www.yahoo.com, that domain name (yahoo.com) has to be registered. Only registered domains are listed for public browsing. Think of it as signing up to be included in a phone book. And because these domains have to be registered for public browsing, you can lookup a registration’s details to see basic information about when the registration was first created, when the registration is set to expire, and sometimes even information about who registered it and from where. Similar to how I often see social media profiles created months or even just days before receiving my contact from the group, I routinely see websites created in a similar fashion. One of my most recent contacts had registered their website’s domain less than 24-hours before emailing me claiming to be a company that was formed nearly 20 years ago and formed by people who have been in the industry since the 90s. That just doesn’t compute with me.
Here recently, I’ve even started seeing growing associations between these profiles and paid services like IMDB Pro. Is this a strategic gamble or a legit connection? It’s hard to say. What are the odds that Indie authors like me pay for services like IMDB Pro that costs ~$20/month. I’m an author, not someone involved in the film industry. Why would I have that service, especially if the only reason for having it is to verify company details when sporadically contacted. I mean, I get maybe an average of 1-2 contacts per year that this service would be of any value but often times my research reveals the groups to be less than ideal and I never reach the point that I would really need that service. It just isn’t financially practical for me to start or maintain that membership given my role in things and the value such a membership would provide to me.
The thing that does give me some concern is what appears to be duplicated LinkedIn profiles. Much like how people create fake Facebook profiles using the names and pictures of real people for the purpose of getting the real person’s friends to engage with them for potential identity theft and fraud, I worry that these duplicate LinkedIn profiles are being created for the purpose of pretending to be a real person for a real company but being manipulated by someone only pretending to be that person in order to defraud someone out of money.
It seems that these groups are learning from their past mistakes, evolving, and adding new elements to their personas to combat the growing hesitation and resistance to their presence. I have spent a good portion of my time since the release of my first book in 2020 researching these groups, writing about my findings, discussing with other authors about their negative experiences, and I will continue to do so for as long as I can. My fear though is that these groups are rising to the level of hackers. Back in the day, hackers were of little concern to the average user but nowadays anyone with a computer, tablet, or phone has to be concerned about hackers and take proactive measures to protect themselves. Software developers have to take a proactive and constant reactive approach to addressing security issues in their products because hackers are constantly looking for the next exploit. As we wise up to the tactics of groups out to rob us of our money, these groups constantly look for the next exploit. They examine the complaints and concerns voiced about their offers and find ways to provide simple solutions that on the face address their previous weaknesses. These groups don’t seem to be out to steal our identities or intellectual property but our money, which is just as precious and needs protecting.
We must remain vigilant if we are to protect ourselves from falling victim to our own desires and passions that are being preyed upon by the unscrupulous. We just want to share our stories with others and do what we can to foster some level of success from our passions but these days we are forced to spend our time researching everything anyone tells us because we can’t trust that anyone is who they say they are or can deliver in what they say they can. These bastards rob of us not only of our money but of our ability to enjoy our own works and our ability to have faith in others. They’re disgusting individuals.