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'Nudder Scam: The Fake Schoolteacher Request
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Written by Paul D. Race for Family Garden Trains

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'Nudder Scam: The Fake Schoolteacher Request

As a very-very-small-business owner, I get people trying to scam me every month. When the scam is particularly noteworthy or amusing, I post it on my Blog-Like Content pages. Here's one that's entirely new and might win my award for originality, if I had one: a request from a fake teacher of a phony middle school for one of my Christmas sites to post a free link to a commercial site for the supposed benefit of her student(s). Even better, the request is backed up by a phony school web page set up to fool anyone who wants to "check out" the letter's claims before providing free links to strangers.

In cyberspace, an unpaid link from a quality site is as good as a free advertisement. True, I do link to a few other sites whose owners have supported my sites, helped my readers, and provided specific, quality information relate to a page's content. But when it comes to advertising commercial products, I only advertise items related to each page's content, from suppliers I have reason to trust. I don't post any kind of link, free or otherwise, that I don't perceive as having value to my readers. Sadly that rules out about 98% of so-called Christmas sites.

Based on past Google searches there are probably 100,000 or so "Christmas sites" that have some value. Another million or two seem to have useless "articles" that their authors hope will come up in searches so people will see the ads for unrelated merchandise once they get to the site. ("How to Decorate a Christmas Tree: Put the tree in a stand. Put lights on the tree. Put decorations on the tree. Put a star or angel on top. Buy a widescreen TV. Try this diet pill for seven days free.")

And there seem to be another forty million or so that are just long, unvetted lists of links to resources on other sites. Like the useless "articless," the whole purpose of such pages is JUST to lure web-surfers so they'll fall for the advertisments for unrelated merchandise.

With millions of potential links and dozens of requests a week, you can see why I have no interest in cluttering our actual content with links to pages of little value, much less to the worthless fake article pages or to pages that only list unvetted links to other pages. The logic of such requests is almost always: "You have a Christmas site; I have a Christmas site. If Christmas is as important to you as you claim it is, you owe it to me to link to my Christmas site." (BTW, this is not far removed from the scam I get most often - something like "My children will not have Christmas this year unless you wire me $1000. You claim that Christmas is important to you; it's time to put your money where your mouth is.")

Small as they are, our Christmas sites contain original quality content (they'd contain much more if we had more time). If the requestor's so-called "Christmas site" is just a fake article or a list of links to other sites, surrounded on all four sides by advertising, nobody but the person asking for free advertising would benefit from a link to it.

Someone has apparently figured out that we always ignore requests from strangers for free links to unrelated, low-quality, or commercial sites. Because he/she just sent me a far more elaborate request: and e-mail in which the author pretends to be a middle school teacher who needs me to provide free advertising to a commercial site for the supposed sake of his/her supposed students.

Here's the text of the message:

    Reply to:

    Subject: Christmas/Holiday activity guide

    My name is [fake name withheld] and I'm writing to you on behalf of our school. As our Media Specialist, I wanted to say thank you for making your Christmas page -'

    Currently, I'm updating our Special Events pages. With the holidays upon us, our school holds community activity nights; students and their parents can attend craft making, themed parties, fund raisers, bake sales, etc...It's fun for everyone!

    My student volunteers asked me to pass this page along -

    If it's at all possible, could you incorporate their suggestion on your web page? I would love to show my helpers that her efforts have reached others outside of the community.

    Thank you again for making such a great page! Let me know if you get a chance to update!

    Happy Holidays,

    - [Fake Name Withheld]

I had to read this twice to sort out what the poster was saying. On the surface it's a request to post a link that a teacher's student(s?) want(s) to see published on a popular Internet page to make them feel better about something the student(s) is/are supposedly working on.

And I'll admit - I like posting student projects and links to student projects when they are legit and related to the site they're posted on. But the requested link seems to have nothing to do with any sort of student project. Several other things about this note were confusing as well. I actually started to reply to the sender for clarification, but then I realized that nothing in the request made sense.

How Many Students Are There? - Early in the note, the "media specialist" refers to students. Later, he/she refers to the supposed beneficiary of this request as a "her." If he/she had spelled out "there" instead of "their," that would be understandable, if ungrammatical. But almost nobody ever types "her" when they mean "their." People do make that kind of mistake when they're editing, though, using phrases and organization from an earlier, different request.

Wait, Paul, are you saying that this well-meaning "media specialist" is actually a scammer who has nothing better to do than to forge one request after another, changing the circumstances, the beneficiary, and even the requestor's name with every request? The answer is, it's a centuries-old tradition, especially at Christmas. In fact the few folks who've actually read all the way through Les Miserables know that it's one of the ways the scumbag innkeeper/con-man/extortioner/corpse-robber Tennardier made a living.

Usually such scammers ask for money, true, but I'm sure the sender has already negotiated some form of recompense from the site owner. In fact, having a supposed commercial enterprise rewarding scammers for this kind of activity is even creepier than if the scammer was asking for money. Most scammers are in it for themselves. What kind of people hire scammers for this sort of thing?

Wait, Paul, how can you get from a potential typo to a modern-day Tennardier? Well, I didn't at first. Read on.

How Can a Media Specialist Have "Student(s?)" - Come to think of it, "media specialists" are almost never teachers - they tend to run what we used to call the AV (Audio Visual) room which in most shools has been replaced by the Computer Room. Some are really mostly computer techs these days. In other schools they work with the librarian on projects. But they don't teach. So how could this writer have student(s?)? Maybe he/she leads a "web club" or something? But there's no reference to such a club on the "school page" site he/she gives me.

The School Must Be Real - It Has a "Real" Web Page - On examination, the "school page" the poster links to isn't actually a school page at all - just a dummy page set up in case some suspicious web-site owner wants to check out the fake claims.

When I checked out the "school page," I noticed that it was clean and professional-looking, the sort of thing you build in first-year web programming classes - but there is a total lack of specifics. For example, the page announces activities but has no contacts, dates, or location information. In fact, there is nothing to indicate what state the school is supposedly located in, or even what year the activities are supposedly scheduled.

To people used to working with public schools, the .org address would also send up a red flag. Official school pages tend to end with the state initials or .gov or some such. True, some schools have lax policies that permit employees to set up their own pages. But if that's what we have here, why isn't there a link to the official page or even basic contact information for the school?

In other words, my would-be scammer has not only sent out fraudulent e-mails requesting free advertising for their client, they have gone to the length of setting up a fake home page in case a suspicious recipient wanted to do a "background" check.

I guess I should count myself lucky that when I went to the fake school page, it didn't load up my computer with some virus that would steal my credit card numbers or something. Ooops, maybe it did. Time for another scan.

But Mightn't the Commercial Page Have "Some" Value to My Readers? On inspection, the page he/she wants me to link to is only one of about 40 million commercial pages with an unvetted list of links to "Helpful Christmas Resources," surrounded by advertising for the hosting company's services.

Not only is this page even less useful than a random search of Christmas sites on Google, why would I want to give free advertising to a business that resorts to fradulent means to get it?

Other clues - The sender didn't even bother to list the correct name of MY site in the opening paragraph. He/she listed another site altogether, which I take to mean that I'm not the first person he/she has tried to scam. In fact, since he/she hacked the site contact information in the header, I don't even know which of my four Christmas-related sites he/she wants me to post the link on.

BTW, hacking the header was another givaway. . . .


True, this appeal doesn't have the nostalgic seasonal pathos of the traditional "I'm a single, underemployed mother of six whose children will not have Christmas unless you wire me a thousand dollars" request, but that's part of its charm. They're really not asking for all that much. Except that their request (assuming that I didn't take the link down December 31), would translate into thousands of dollars worth of free advertising a year.

One of the creepier aspects of this is that the company behind the scam seems to be a legitimate company. I wonder if they know their advertising dollars are being spent this way?

Come to think of it, they probably do. I thought of leaving the company names, etc., in the note above so the rest of you would know to avoid them. But, on second thought, any company that uses criminal means to get free advertising might be criminal in other ways, too.

After I wrote most of this article, I contacted a software supplier and self-proclaimed anti-fraud firm that was listed as a supplier on the company'shome page. The rep did not even know the site existed, much less that the company was practicing fraud. The more I "chatted" with the rep, the more sinister and organized this thing seemed to be. So I've left all identifying information out of this article.

If it's any comfort, the company isn't appearing on the first ten pages of Google today for any relevant searches, and it's not anyone you've probably ever heard of. If you think you know who I mean and you google the company name and "reviews" you'll see some nasty reviews on the first page, followed by dozens of pages of five-star reviews from "review sites" that anyone can pay to get a good review.

At any rate, if you own a web page, this article should help you avoid this particular scam.

And by the way, if you use ANY provider this Christmas season that you have never used before, be very careful to check your credit card statements for the next several months, or you might find that you're buying more "services" than you thought you were.

Best of luck, and have a great, but safe Christmas, all.

Please let me know if you have any feedback, and have a great holiday season.

See you online, or in the back yard!


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