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Keeping yourself safe from "Spammers"

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Keeping yourself safe from "Spammers"

Postby Butterfly_Dawn » Thu Oct 28, 2010 8:59 pm

It's sad but true that whatever we do to keep the spammers out of here, they will simply evolve, like viruses, to get around the defenses we put up. My take on the latest 'evolution' seems to be that seemingly real people are being used (possibly paid?) to log on to forums that use 'bot' prevention measures, then systematically post seemingly helpful and on-topic messages, that just happen to contain a signature to their product. Or, more recently not even a link, they just mention the wonderful product that helped them lose X amount of weight. Some of these are quite "spotable". Some are more obscure and harder to notice. It gets to the point that moderators aren't sure whether it's just a really zealous convert to a particular diet/treatment (hey, we've all been there when we start losing the kg's right?) or a real spammer.

Unfortunately what this means is that some products may appear to be very well backed by enthusiastic "see what I lost on this product" testimonials. Here's a few tips to help you sort the wheat from the chaff - it's applicable both to spam, and to just generally making decisions about what to look for when you're weighing up the evidence for or against something. These are based purely on my skepticism and critical nature.

1) If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. If you ever actually witness someone lose 30kg in one month, you will know why this is NOT a good thing. Rapid weight loss is associated with yo-yo dieting and has very low long term success rates, and when you get into the 30kg in one month territory, you're talking serious health issues.

2) Can you find reputable recommendations/reviews? No, the front page of loseweightfasttheeasyway.com does not count as a reputable source. I'm talking sources that systematically review products, medical institutions, government recommendations, even places like this that are there for the users, not the promotion and selling of a product. Let's face it, if they want you to buy it, they're hardly going to say "oh, yeah, the rate of cardiac failure on this product is 30%". If you're really keen, look it up on google scholar - not there? Hasn't been investigated scientifically yet.

3) do they tell you what it is? Yeah yeah, patents and all that, BUT anything that is sold as a medication or therapeutic good SHOULD tell you what is in it, what the active ingredient is. Why? What happens if you're allergic to an ingredient? What happens if an ingredient interacts with something you're already taking? If they're not telling you what's in it, I'd be skeptical, and concerned, and run a mile.

4) Is the claim truthful and sensible? This relates to point number 1, but here I'm thinking particularly of the side effect claims and the "no exercise or dieting required" claims. ANY medication that plays with things like your metabolism will have side effects. This is because the way any psychoactive substance works is on systems that affect parts and functions of the brain, nervous and endocrine system that work in multiple places. It's extremely difficult, if not impossible, to target only one bit. You affect one bit, it'll have effects on others. "No side effects"!? I think not. And as for "no exercise and diet required", lets get this straight, you can eat all the cake you want, sit around on your bum and get skinny? That's one funky pill - WHAT IS THAT DRUG GOING TO DO TO YOUR BODY!?

5) Do you have to "buy it now?!!!!!! Genuine health products should provide you with information to help you decide if you are a suitable candidate and give you the time to make a decision. Suspect ones will try to get you to make your mind up fast and impulse buy with claims like "Hurry! Buy one now! These won't last!" (in fact you see this frequently in tv commercials, only to find the same product advertised in next month's "run out sale" - there is a lamp shop I pass on the bike track who has had the same "Hurry, sale ends Sunday" sign out for the past 4 months. They never specified which Sunday...)
35kg lost. (November 2005 - October 2006)
15kg gained again (as at October 2010).
Back to the drawing board - Let's do this thing!

"You can't change the winds, but you can change the sails"

"Reach out and take control of what lands in your lap"

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Re: Keeping yourself safe from "Spammers"

Postby Metalcharm » Thu Oct 28, 2010 10:34 pm

excellent post!!!

Everyone should be made to read it when they join up! :)
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Re: Keeping yourself safe from "Spammers"

Postby EvilWombatQueen » Fri Oct 29, 2010 8:34 am

I agree. This is a great piece of advice. I've changed it to a sticky post so it appears at the top of the board from now on. I think everyone should read it!
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Re: Keeping yourself safe from "Spammers"

Postby Butterfly_Dawn » Fri Oct 29, 2010 6:53 pm

Thanks for the praise guys!

I should note that I've heard reports recently about people being stung buying products like these on "trial" from companies on the net. They give their credit card, the product arrives, all looks fine until money starts being charged to the credit card. Call to cancel only to find the company doesn't exist /they can't refund because of some clause / the agreement they signed (typically abut 100pages long) has some fine print somewhere stating that by agreeing to this trial purchase you agree to direct debit a certain amount ever week/month for X amount of time. Because the agreement was a legal contract there is then no way for the person to get out of this.

Moral of the story:

If you're going to buy something like this READ THE FINE PRINT and KNOW WHO YOU'RE GIVING YOUR DETAILS TO.
35kg lost. (November 2005 - October 2006)
15kg gained again (as at October 2010).
Back to the drawing board - Let's do this thing!

"You can't change the winds, but you can change the sails"

"Reach out and take control of what lands in your lap"

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Re: Keeping yourself safe from "Spammers"

Postby CronicBadger » Fri Oct 29, 2010 10:48 pm

I'm very interested in this sort of thing - it's often referred to as "Stealth Marketing", in which marketers infiltrate forums and pretend to be "fellow travellers".

I work at a company that develops a computerised expert system (a more practical, business-oriented offshoot of artificial intelligence) and part of my professional AND personal interests lie in creating software that makes decisions and expresses information in restricted domains just as a human does. Part of this involves understanding networks (information networks, social networks) and the use of software bots as well as software-based augmentation of knowledge and decision-making.

The new wave of stealthy human spammers uses a number of techniques that are used by computer expert systems. I find this fascinating. I am such a nerd.

But, some basic principles can be applied to recognise a fake because they, like software systems, must constrain themselves to a set of basic rules in order to remain viable. Here's a list of my own observations:
1) Identify posting patterns that show the marketer is using a path of least resistance to deliver their "payload". Posts without a payload are usually be created with the least effort and expenditure, such as a generic and useless responses - "Wow, great information. I will use it!" and "Yes, eat less and you can lose weight". In isolation these are fine, but if they are part of a trend in conjunction with the other points below, then it' should raise suspicion.

2) Posts with a payload will be targeted at a specific message thread or person, such as a response to diet pills in which a brand is mentioned. However, just one occurrence may not be spam, but it will be revealed as a trend if the same or related product placements appear over a period of time in similar subjects.

3) Generic, easily created information, often copied from posts on other websites and passed off as their own work (I don't mean properly quoted and attributed articles, but simple responses that have been copied).

4) Very little personal information about their own weight-loss efforts (because that's not what they're here for, obviously!) and little "awareness" and insight into other people in the social network (because we are their "market" and nothing else). Spammers will not have any time or inclination to develop true social links on a community forum like this because the expenditure will outweigh the monetary renumeration. They're not here for fun or to share their journey or to obtain assistance.

Finally, there are always exceptions. Some people are shy and not very outgoing, or English is not their first language, or they're just enthusiastic about a particular product that worked for them. Even stealthy, lying and deceptive spammers are people, though slightly lower on the evolutionary ladder.
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Re: Keeping yourself safe from "Spammers"

Postby EvilWombatQueen » Sat Oct 30, 2010 2:31 pm

Great points, CronicBadger!

The other one I've noticed is that their first post in the introductions section usually expresses a keen interest in sharing their tips and information with the forum. Most genuine posters are more interested in what they can get out of the forum: support, motivation, advice, information (nothing wrong with that - that's why most of us signed up!) Online marketers don't want to listen to anyone else. They just want to shill their product so they try to make it sound like a generous gift they're bestowing on we poor, ignorant, unwashed masses.

The other tell is the stealth blog. Personal blog links are allowed in signatures so online marketers will often link to their blog, thinking it complies with forum rules or it won't be noticed as a business blog. Blogs are no longer just blogs, though. Any business worth their salt with an online presence will also have a blog to increase the number of external links they get and to have constantly updated information to please the search engine bots. So as a moderator I will visit the blog of new members. If I think it's a business blog I will contact the member to remove their link.

Sometimes the online marketers slip by us, though. Forum members can help keep the board free of spam by using the Report This Post button at the top right of the offending post (the button with the exclamation mark). :D
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Re: Keeping yourself safe from "Spammers"

Postby CronicBadger » Tue Mar 01, 2011 12:03 am

I've just spent the last few hours researching the latest "forum spam" news.

Some of the websites visited were the big SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) sites in which discussions were being held as to the best types of marketing. Of course there were plenty of articles about how to market to forums like ours. Actually, I was surprised at how one of the larger professional marketing forums dissuaded forum spamming and encouraged their members to abide by forum rules and add value to the forums. Part of the reason is that they are more interested in building up a person's name as an "authority" rather than selling things. You'll see this in magazine article-style posts that have a specific name tied to it.

I also checked out the website administration forums. Many sites and forums have experienced dramatic increases in increasingly human-like bots and real humans from Indian and Chinese "spam shops" joining forums. It's partly due to the large Russian botnets being dismantled late last year and their owners trying more lucrative spamming techniques.

The latest forum bots go some way to explain the behaviour of spammy messages. One Russian product in particular, which sells for a LOT of money, can get past most forum protection and simulates people by analysing existing forum messages in the target then searching for similar posts in other non-related forums and copying those into the target along with a payload of spam. It runs automatically, after a few hours of "training" by an experienced human operator.

It also has a delayed payload - adding members to a forum but not posting until months later. Or adding members, adding a dozen or so simple one or two-line posts, then returning months later and EDITING the messages to include spam links. This is all automatic. One important warning for any forum can be inferred from this - never allow members to edit their own posts, or only allow a very small window of time after the initial submission for an edit.

The product boasts a database of common sentences that can be dynamically adapted with the forum subject keywords. For example, "thanks for your interesting post about diets. It is very helpful. I will try it soon." The keyword "diets" is the forum subject keyword that is inserted into the text.

Most human forum spammers are recruited from India (due to the prevalence of English-language skill) for around $1 to $3 per day. Other forum spammer sweat-shops are located in places such as China and The Phillipines.
You can read a discussion about an advertisement for professional forum posters here:
http://metalmonstermarketing.com/blog/l ... organized/

Another subtle spam technique is Member-list spam. Automated software, such as the Russian one I mentioned earlier, can be programmed to add members with email and website links to lists and do nothing else with them. Search engines such as Google, Bing and yahoo crawl and find these and increase the link count and ranking of these websites, mostly drug and porn.

Since the major web search engines seem to be registered users of this forum and can access the memberlist, and of the 9700 registered users perhaps 9000 are member-list spam items, it appears the site might contribute to the search engine rankings of the spammer sites unless the pages' o-follow directives are honoured by the search engines. In light of this I think it's probably time for removal of zero-post members.

It's not all doom and gloom, however. There are some excellent articles out there on how to minimise the damage of this relatively new breed of spammers, plus excellent anti-forum spam sites like "Stop Forum Spam":
http://www.stopforumspam.com/

Hopefully someone will find my notes on this fascinating problem of some interest.
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Re: Keeping yourself safe from "Spammers"

Postby dragonfly » Tue Apr 19, 2011 5:00 pm

true!!!
some are real people, and they even send private messages, with a link to a wonderful new product. loose 5inches in 45minutes. so if i leave it on for 3 hours, I can be a size 10 HA HA HA HA HA.
I often see the replies from that person is a 1 or 2 post count value, and think people need to get a life!!! must get boring to spam websites all the time to promote some diet pills.
karin
mum of 5
loosing by eating low fat, natural, organic and fresh

heaviest weight: 189kg
goal weight: 89kg
currently: 143.5kg
TOTAL LOST: 45.5kg
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Re: Keeping yourself safe from "Spammers"

Postby Metalcharm » Wed Apr 20, 2011 8:38 am

The best thing I've seen on a craft forum I visit is that new members have to post five times before they're allowed to post links. Seems to help.
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Re: Keeping yourself safe from "Spammers"

Postby EvilWombatQueen » Wed Apr 20, 2011 11:58 am

dragonfly wrote:true!!!
some are real people, and they even send private messages, with a link to a wonderful new product. loose 5inches in 45minutes. so if i leave it on for 3 hours, I can be a size 10 HA HA HA HA HA.
I often see the replies from that person is a 1 or 2 post count value, and think people need to get a life!!! must get boring to spam websites all the time to promote some diet pills.

If you receive an email like this please inform a moderator. That way we can ban the offender and spare others from getting hassled by spammers!

People can find a link to the list of Global Moderators (those who can ban spammers permanently) down the bottom of the Board Index (forum home page). Send one of us a personal message and we'll deal with the offender. :twisted:
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Re: Keeping yourself safe from "Spammers"

Postby CronicBadger » Sun Jul 17, 2011 2:47 pm

There is an increasing number of automated spam robots posting to the forum. Some of them may be human-assisted. But all of them come close to passing the Turing Test by copying messages from the results of WWW searches of the topics.

For example, the member "Steadam2011".
All of Steadam2011's posts are copies from other websites.

One of the Weightloss forum topics here is titled "Am I eating too much?"
viewtopic.php?f=3&t=26680&p=212104#p212104

It appears that the topic was used in a Yahoo search, because Steadam2011 copied a message from the Yahoo topic "Am I eating too much in one day:
http://au.answers.yahoo.com/question/in ... 954AAl0Hs1

This is a violation of copyright (Yahoo Australia owns those messages) and being copies of messages from other conversations they should be deleted. But for now I'll leave them up so people can get use them as practice for spotting messages posted by a robot or human-assisted script for the sole purpose of creating a "friendly" profile from which commercial advertising or malicious links can be inserted at a future date.

I keep a list of all such accounts for regular monitoring and often it is months before a bot begins to insert spam into signatures of existing old messages or creating new ones with links. They do get deleted, but some may get missed for a short while.

Recently some real human members of the forum have been conversing with these messages copied from other websites. If you have then don't feel too embarrassed, they can be quite sophisticated. Besides, it's just human nature to exploit others, and we all do it to some extent, but with a bit of knowledge these "stealth spammers" can be recognised and dealt with.

For more information:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Forum_spam
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Re: Keeping yourself safe from "Spammers"

Postby CronicBadger » Wed Sep 14, 2011 7:46 pm

Just a quick note to any spammers browsing this forum:

We know your tricks.
We monitor your behaviour.
We delete your posts and ban your accounts.
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Re: Keeping yourself safe from "Spammers"

Postby CronicBadger » Sun Oct 23, 2011 12:18 pm

From now on I'll be adding ISP address ranges to the ban list as well as submitting it to the blacklist databases.

Of course discretion will be used, but there are networks from which the only messages posted are spam, and these generally originate from Russia, Ukraine, Pakistan, India and China.

If anyone does discover that their ISP is blacklisted, which could conceivably happen if IP ranges change hands or used for routing, then contact the admin and the list can be altered.
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Re: Keeping yourself safe from "Spammers"

Postby wants2loseWEIGHT » Sun Jan 01, 2012 7:21 pm

I make sure that I don't click on the pop up box that appears on my window when i'm online. Sometimes, it triggers spamming. :D
To lose weight is to change your lifestyle to a healthy one - Marga

01/11/2011 = 102 kg
06/02/2012 = 93 kg
26/03/2012=91 kg
16/04/2012=88.4 kg
01/05/2012=85.1 kg
17/06/2012=78.1 kg
01/07/2012=76 kg
22/07/2012=72.5 kg
20/08/2012=68.5 kg
03/09/2012=67.8 kg
30/09/2012=66.1 kg
30/10/2012=64.9 kg
30/11/2012=62.1 kg
09/12/2012=62.2 kg
23/12/2012=61.9 kg
05/01/2013=62 kg
24/02/2013=59.9 kg
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Re: Keeping yourself safe from "Spammers"

Postby SugarandSpice » Wed Feb 29, 2012 11:03 pm

Excellent thread!!

I have hit 'report' on two posts today as I have just been getting sick of the spam...

I know you guys monitor and do a great job of removing it - but does it help for us to hit the report button or make your life harder?

Thanks

Vicki
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