A strategy for dealing with Twitter spammers

Part 5 of a series

Writing a series of posts on Twitter scams has been pretty depressing.

I found there is a thriving subculture of deceivers that is bizarre and disturbing. The scammers exploit the elderly, the vulnerable, the under-educated, and the desperate.  This is typical: A Twitter page of a friendly looking man who is a “Husband, Dad, Blogger and Entrepreneur” peddling this product: From Food Stamps To 7 Figures Online Free Video.

The scam sub-culture blogs about dodging regulations and adjusting tactics to capitalize on loopholes.  “Best practices” spread at the speed of light and the pyramid schemes can vanish behind the social web’s cloak of anonymity, free access and fake accounts. The scum has become more powerful through the recession, persistent unemployment and evolving technology that feeds their need to deceive.

The mere fact that I wrote articles containing the words “MLM” attracted automated spammers that nearly snowed me under with deceitful tweets.   I am sickened by the vast resources devoted to tricking us into clicking.

What can be done about it?

On a macro-level, very little.   Most regulations or policies could also hurt legitimate enterprises.  We have to take the fight to the streets.

Here are some ideas to help you fight back and at least take control in your part of the blogosphere.

Use Twitter “report for spam” option.  Any time I am spammed by porn-peddling, teeth-whitening, Trump Network sludge, I hit the report for spam button. Twitter seems to be processing at least some of these requests manually to avoid mob-rule against legitimate but unpopular tweeters, so I don’t really know what it takes to get people kicked out.  Just do your part. If enough people take the time to do it, it is in Twitter’s best interest to figure out a way to handle it.

There’s an app for that? — There is a new app called Stop Tweet that may provide hope to the idea of automatically blocking some spammers.  This utility allows you to tweak your personal settings to block and report people based on two tell-tale characteristics – no or low number of tweets and a high following-to-follower ratio.  It can also show you who among your followers who is a known spammer.  I tried this app out and unfortunately it did block several legitimate small businesses just starting Twitter accounts.  Play around with the settings and let me know what you think.

Separate email addresses — I have one email address I try to keep “pure” for correspondence with real people and another one I use for ANY app, service, or website. I even use my “spam” address when posting comments. Face it, it is only a matter of time before a database is hacked and all your identification and passwords violated. Minimize this inevitable risk by containing it to one account.

Mind the basics — You know the routine. Use strong passwords that are long, a mixture of letters and numbers, and nonsense words unrelated to any personal information. I just did research for a client project that showed the number one password for elderly people is “password.”  Help educate your loved ones, too.

Ignore them — Don’t be tempted to do what I did and explore the spam underworld. Don’t visit their sites or ask for more information, even in fun. If you respond to their spam, you’re encouraging them to continue, and they only need a tiny response to be profitable. Take my advice based on experience — ignore them completely!

What are YOUR strategies for dealing with the spam tsunamai?  What could Twitter do to step-up to the problem?

Part 1 in the series on Twitter’s Biggest Scams: Multi-level marketing

Part 2:  The teeth whiteners

Part 3: The Twitter follower scam

Part 4: The Trump Network

Twitter’s Biggest Scams Part 4: The Trump Network

Part 4 of a series

Yes, it’s THAT Trump.  “The Donald” is actually behind this Multi-Level Marketing (MLM) program.  A key difference between this and the other MLM programs explained this week is that there is an actual product exchanging hands – nutritional aids.

The Trump Network was launched in the fall of 2009 — actually a re-branding of a pre-existing 12-year-old company — apparently endorsed by Trump himself.

They sell vitamins and supplements, which are popular with many other recruiting MLM companies. It costs $48 to join the program, and then you buy a marketing kit for $497 to start selling. Trump pitches it as a “gift” to the recession-wounded America, and says it is geared toward making Americans healthier.

Like a lot of MLM companies, it’s light on product information and heavy on buzzwords (the recession, the national debate over healthcare, green/organic product popularity). The actual product being sold is an afterthought on the website, highlighting opportunities in the “explosive health and wellness wave” instead.

Becauset they sell vitamins, The Trump Network can skirt being called a “pyramid scheme” but it still looks that way in practice.  People who join the network earn most of their money from enrollment fees and maintenance costs. The independent “distributors” are then pushed to recruit more distributors of their own. In many schemes of this kind, they are required to buy more inventory than they can probably ever sell, shifting focus toward recruitment as a means of re-couping their investment, which is unlikely.

One MLM resource website did a “review” of the Trump network and explained the “get rich” process:

“You call your sponsor, and they tell you what they were told, which is basically useless, and so you fall for the most gullible, stupid strategies that you could possible engage in – depending on your friends, neighbors, and relatives to make you rich.”

I think one of the most disturbing aspects of this initiative is the judgment of Donald Trump to lend his name to something that is built on such shaky ground. Here’s a guy whose brand is synonymous with the gold standard of quality – why jeopardize his brand by implying  riches are at hand to people who are probably suffering?

Note: some of the debate in the comment section of this post focuses on the real value of the Trump brand name. This is addressed in WSJ article on a court case on this topic: click for article

Part 1 in the series: Multi-level marketing

Part 2:  The teeth whiteners

Part 3: The Twitter follower scam

Part 5: What to do about Twitter scams

An experiment in crowd-sourcing

This blog references a tweet I sent out today (Feb. 10, 2010) asking for help on a crowd-sourcing experiment.  Here’s the skinny:

I will open a voice and web meeting today at 4 p.m. Eastern Standard Time as an experiment to “crowd-source” a brainstorming session. To attend this meeting, all you have to do is click this link: 

https://www1.gotomeeting.com/join/710449008 

You can use your computer microphone or call in at  312-878-0206      ( Access code: 710-449-008) 

If you plan to attend, please link in at least five minutes early to assure your computer is on the Citrix meeting app. 

Here is the purpose of this meeting: 

  • My client is a company that installs, services and maintains business voice and data systems in the Southeast U.S.
  • The 30th anniversary of the company is April 1.
  • The founder of the company is still active as CEO
  • They do not currently have a high public profile. In fact, brand awareness is a very big problem.
  • With a budget of $5,000 or less, what creative PR activities could mark this milestone anniversary?

Hope to see you at 4 … Trying something new — we’ll see what happens! 

 Mark

Twitter’s Biggest Scams, Part 3: Building Wealth Through Twitter Followers

Part 3 of a series

“EXTREME traffic and EXTREME income!”  the tweets scream at you. How is anybody making money off of this ridiculous offer?  Let’s investigate the “Build Twitter Followers” scam:

There are many sites dedicated to this scheme, but the one I investigated was The MLM Mastermind System.

After submitting your name, email address, and phone number (we used fakes), you are redirected to one of the longest, strangest web pages I have ever seen. It goes on for miles! There are dozens of testimonials, anecdotes, and metaphors to explain why it’s imperative for you to expand your network, create new leads, and brand yourself to start earning money.

The spam-meisters explain that if you use their system, you can do all of these things on “COMPLETE AUTOPILOT” and start raking in the cash for free, with zero effort.  As you work your way through the page, there is not a single mention of a product of any kind. You grow your business by suckering other people into growing their business, which is growing more people to grow their business, ad infinitum.

There are all the telltale signs of a pyramid scheme—promises of get rich quick, low risk, high gain, work from home, etc. The system they describe for building this network consists of software tools that will perpetuate the type of spam Twitter messages we frequently receive. These are the terms to buy into the system:

“So here’s the thing, After your 7 day trial period for only $1, the ENTIRE system is still only a measly $49.77 a month. And you don’t even have to pay that until you’ve already started USING the system, and seeing how profitable it really is. After that, for literally a buck and a half a day you will be at THE cutting edge of this industry, and using technology to build your business easier than most could imagine.”

Unwilling to surrender my credit card or Twitter account information, I can only guess at what happens next. There are volumes of reports across the web about how companies like this use your information — charging exorbitant fees, signing you up for other similar services, and other types unsavory exploitation.

Since it’s all automated, as their network expands, they can tweet these messages every few seconds, and only a very small fraction of the people that receive the messages need to click through and sign up for it to become profitable very quickly. As it grows it creates a large, viral, financial ecosystem of its own.

Tomorrow: The Trump Network.

Part 1 in the series: Multi-level marketing

Part 2:  The teeth whiteners

Part 4: The Trump Network

Part 5: What to do about Twitter scams

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