Your Latest Trick (With Bonus Lawyers)


Today:

I saw that your website http://blog.bennettandbennett.com has accepted guest posts in the past and I would like to write one for you as well. I looked at your site, but I did not see a link to any submission criteria for guest posts. If I missed it, I apologize.

I am willing to write an article for your website on any topic you choose. In exchange for the article, I would ask that you allow me to place a discrete link to my website in the signature line at the bottom of the post.

You do not need to do anything. I will research and prepare a unique article with great content that your readers will find timely and relevant. Then you can evaluate my writing and article and make sure that it fits your website’s style, content, and quality. I am confident that it will.

If you are interested in seeing the kinds of articles that I have written in the past, I can send you some examples.

Best regards,

Amy Reynolds
Email: Amy Reynolds
Outreach Coordinator

Website: Gay Dating Sites
Houston, TX

Amy Reynolds is a proud member of WUFSD and has been a member since 2011.

“Get In S.T.E.P. Community Safety Takes Every Person.”

28 October 2011:

I am one of the volunteers for the United States Center for Consumer Finance Education. We are currently working to get the word out about our website http://www.FirstCreditCardResource.org. This website contains unbiased, objective information to help young people make good financial decisions.

I saw your page http://blog.bennettandbennett.com/2008/03/guest-post-jury-nullification-a-prosecutors-view.html/comment-page-1 and I think that I would be able to create an informative article that your readers would like. I am emailing you to find out if you’d be interested in accepting a guest post from me. A guest post, in case you’re unfamiliar, is where I will write an article on your behalf that you can publish to provide additional content for your site. I will be happy to write an article about any topic that you would like. It will only be used on your website.

We will put our link at the bottom of the article so that regular readers of your site who enjoyed my article might follow the link back to my site and consider becoming regular readers of my site as well.

If you think this is something that you might be interested in, I’d appreciate you getting back to me, perhaps with an article idea, or if you prefer I can just come up with one.

Thanks for your time,
Amy Young
[email protected]
Outreach Volunteer
United States Center for Consumer Finance Education
Houston, TX
832-499-0470

‘It is today we must create the world of the future.’ Eleanor Roosevelt

Aside from the boldfaced similarities (there might, after all, be two real people named “Amy” with common surnames in “outreach” proposing guest posts), the two solicitations refer to supposed nonprofit organizations (WUFSD, or “Webmasters United for Safe Dating,” and the United States Center for Consumer Finance Education, or USCCFE) that use near-identical websites, following the same design and using paraphrases of the same language. For example:

Webmasters United for Safe Dating (WUFSD) was originally founded in Kingwood, Texas by a group of volunteers who believe that the proper way to prevent the victimization of individuals involved in online dating is through shedding light on the problem and educating people about how to minimize the risks.

and

The USCCFE was originally founded in Houston, Texas by a group of volunteers who believe that the proper way to improve the financial education of consumers is to meet them where they are–online.

It’s like not-for-profit Mad Libs. (Kingwood, by the way, is a suburb of Houston.)

The basic “guest post” racket goes like this: person with crappy little website (or no website), no talent, and nothing to say emails person with less-crappy and more-popular website offering to write a guest post. If the person with the more-popular website assents, the guest poster writes a post that links to his crappy little website  or whatever he wants to link to. The linked-to sites get the benefit of a link or links from the more-popular site. Law bloggers get lots of such solicitations from people with common anglo-saxon names sites pimping sites like criminaljusticedegree.com:

Hi Webmaster ,

I’m the creator of http://www.criminaljusticedegree.com.  I am trying to get our name out there as an objective source students looking to find info on Criminal Justice Schools.

I am emailing you to find out if you’d be interested in accepting a guestpost from me on your page of http://blog.bennettandbennett.com/2008/01/new-harris-county-criminal-justice.html. A guest post, in case you’re unfamiliar, is where I will write an article on your behalf that you can publish to provide additional content for your site.  I will be happy to write an article about any topic that you would like.  It will only be used on your website.

We will put our link at the bottom of the article so that regular readers of your site who enjoyed my article might follow the link back to my site and consider becoming regular readers of my site as well.

If you think this is something that you might be interested in, I’d appreciate you getting back to me, perhaps with an article idea, or if you prefer I can just come up with one.

Thanks for your time!

Chris Jacobson

Notice the text in bold, which matches that used by “Amy Young.” “Amy Reynolds,” “Amy Young,” and “Chris Jacobson” (as well as “Nancy Farrell” and “Emily Jones” and “Laura A. Wright”) are writing from the same template.

I call it guest-post solicitations a racket, rather than a scam, because it has been a harmless nuisance: sure, they’re trying to promote themselves using my years of work, but if I don’t want to post a guest post by some person unknown to me, I can just ignore the email. If some lazy blogger wants to publish a ginned-up post by some nobody, that doesn’t affect anybody else. This guy, though, sees it as more pernicious:

My guess is that later they can be redirected to other sites, or even worse to phishing sites to gain peoples’ personal information. I’m certain the guest poster is more of an “advertiser in disguise” who will want to put some sort of  advertising link(s) into the post. You wouldn’t want to post somebody’s article only to find out the whole thing was a scam or advertisement, would you?

One of the distinctive features of guest-post solicitation emails has been the keyword-rich URLs that they are trying to tout:

Hi ,

I’m the creator of http://www.mastersincounseling.org.  I am trying to get our name out there as an educational source for students looking to find info on a Masters in Counseling degree.

I am emailing you to find out if you’d be interested in accepting a guestpost from me on your page of http://blog.bennettandbennett.com/2011/01/the-referendum-a-former-chief-disciplinary-counsels-view.html. A guest post, in case you’re unfamiliar, is where I will write an article on your behalf that you can publish to provide additional content for your site.  I will be happy to write an article about any topic that you would like.  It will only be used on your website.

We will put our link at the bottom of the article so that regular readers of your site who enjoyed my article might follow the link back to my site and consider becoming regular readers of my site as well.

I would certainly appreciate any opportunity to write an article. Feel free to suggest an article idea, or if you prefer I can just come up with one.

Thanks for your time!

Lindsey Webber

Criminaljusticedegree.com, mastersincounseling.org, onlineparalegaldegree.org, forensicsciencetechnician.org, and so forth. A blogger who gets a guest-post solicitation mentioning one of these sites at least knows what he’s dealing with: a for-profit site trying to quickly increase its page views (and therefore its profits) on the backs of people who have built up their readerships over years of writing.

The new trend—illustrated by the WUFSD and USCCFE solicitations—appears to be something much more insidious.

USCCFE presents as a nonprofit public service. It claims to “certify” other sites. But there’s nothing there: it’s a brand-new entity consisting of little more, it seems, than a domain name. Amy Young’s email promotes FirstCreditCardResource.org, which sounds like the same sort of keywordy marketing site as criminaljusticedegree.com, but which claims to be certified by the USCCFE:

It’s hard to see how a link to that site would be harmful. Other USCCFE satellite sites, including howdoesrenttoownwork.org, smallbusinesscreditcardsresource.org, securedcreditcardsresource.org, and creditcardsforfaircredit.org appear innocuous as well. But the “certification” is belied by Amy’s, “We are currently working to get the word out about our website…”, and the identicality of USCCFE and WUFSD should raise a red flag.

(Smallbusinesscreditcardsresource.org is registered to “Megan Adkins” of Oklahoma City, with a Houston telephone number: +1.8327675376. So is FirstCreditCardResource.org. And securedcreditcardsresource.org. And five others in a similar vein, mostly “certified by” the USCCFE (search for “credit” on this page).)

Because of that red flag, I dug a little deeper. And lookie here:

usccfe.org is a small but fast growing web technology company. Our company creates and maintains a number of websites related to consumer finance education. Our websites match interested consumers with our clients which include over 50 financial insitutions.

(Also here.)

That’s a far cry from how USCCFE describes itself on its website, “not affiliated with any finance industry or government entity.”

I guess a for-profit web technology company is technically an NGO, though it’s not much like Doctors with Borders.

$34,000 a year with two weeks paid vacation isn’t exactly “volunteer” status, though. (Is “Amy Young” a sucker volunteer, or a liar? Maybe people with distinctive names gravitate away from jobs like hers because of the danger of Google to people with distinctive names.)

USCCFE is an LLC (Limited Liability Corporation) headquartered at 100 Jackson Street, Suite 120 in downtown Houston and owned by Charles D. Brown and James R. McIver. (According to this guy, though, Megan Adkins was the altruistic volunteer founder of the USCCFE.) And—wouldn’t you know it?—they’re lawyers. (Or lawyerish—”cases likely referred to other counsel.” Brown claims membership in this organization, but isn’t listed as a member, which is trebly ironic.)

(Creditcardsforfaircredit.org, incidentally, is registered to Brown’s law partner James McIver, with a telephone number of +1.8327671673. Weird, huh? And it gets better: McIver was the registrant of constructionmanagementdegree.org. The registered address? 2403 Willow Point…Kingwood (“Home of WUFSD”) Texas 77339 and the telephone number 1.7133194196. That number also shows up on a batch of other domain names. Oh what tangled webs we weave… Howdoesrenttoownwork.org is registered to Charles Brown of “Atlantis Commerce,” +1.7132403814, [email protected] And secondchanceloans.org is registered to “Anne Brown” at USCCFE, with the same telephone number, which leads back to TakinGoutaLoan.org, CreditcardSnoCredit.org, CreditcardCashBack.org, DatingInHouston.net, and DatingAndLoveOnline.com.)

This, the introduction to a “comprehensive list” of small business organizations, is from one of USCCFE’s satellite sites:

And this introduction to a “comprehensive list of active Christian singles groups”, containing much the same language, is from one of WUFSD’s satellite sites:

You can tell me that there are different people behind WUFSD and USCCFE. I’m not buying it.

WUFSD is linked to by bestseniordatingsites.org, gaydatingsites.net, christiandatingsites.net, and adultdatingsites.net among others (all registered through GoDaddy’s Domains By Proxy). Each claims to be “certified” by WUFSD; they all share the same format, and all contain lists of links to for-profit sites. It’s easy to see what WUFSD’s profit motive is: to get readers to go to its satellite sites and click its paid links.

So what are USCCFE and its “50 financial institution” clients getting from USCCFE? Nothing obvious at the moment, but Charles David Brown and James Richard McIver III apparently think that whatever it will be is worth paying “Amy Young” or some other “volunteer” $34,000 a year. My guess is that once they have snookered a few legitimate bloggers into squandering their Google authority by allowing guest posts linking to USCCFE satellite sites, the other shoe will drop and the already-linked-to sites will be populated with ads from the financial-institution clients. (More likely “over 50 financial institutions” is another lie.)

Outsource your marketing, outsource your ethics: that’s what we keep telling lawyers about marketing online. Marketers don’t know or respect the ethical rules that lawyers should follow, so lawyers who let the marketers lead them can wind up going astray, paying for unethical marketing, and losing their reputations down a sinkhole. USCCFE demonstrates that lawyers can, without any help, match the marketers step for step.


6 responses to “Your Latest Trick (With Bonus Lawyers)”

  1. While I’m not usually interested in your attempts to police the internet, I was impressed by your detective work on this one, Mark. What I want to know is: Who ARE these people? –The normal follow-up is, “And what do they want?” but we already know they want our money. What I’d really like to know is how they intend to get it. What is in it for them? Advertising revenue from somewhere? Are they just trying to generate web-traffic to impress potential advertisers? Either they are casting a really wide net (gay singles…Christian singles? –Why not Muslim singles, too?) or I’m just not seeing the overall marketing plan. And yet, I presume there is SOME plan or scheme to make money somehow if they have gone to this much effort. What is their mechanism for generating revenue? Your thoughts, after having sleuthed it out?

    • I’m impressed by how you start snotty and shift so fast to earnest.

      The plan is to build the sites up with links from sites with higher Google PageRank, and then, once the now-innocuous sites have PageRank of their own, to sell ad space on them (as, for example, with the links on the -datingsites.org sites, which undoubtedly generate a little income for the sites’ owners whenever someone clicks on a link).

  2. Many thanks for your post. I too was contacted by Amy Young who wrote an article for my website which was not very good but I understood her wanting to promote her website, however I was subsequently approached by Amy Reynolds wanting me to post a link to WUFSD. Well since my website has, among other things, a Dating Service, I was intrigued and agreed to post a reciprocal link to her. I found however that her link for me was on a page that could not be accessed from their website, and after further investigation I decided that a link to them would not be beneficial in any way for my readers. After finding your post I wrote her the following letter: Just wanted to thank you!

    Dear Amy,

    Thank you for the link but after reviewing your website I have decided not to become involved for the following reasons.

    1. You have my link on a page which is not linked to any page from your website. What is the point of that?

    2. You say that “the WUFSD creates awareness by supporting and help achieving exposure for affiliated websites”. Where is the exposure when I can’t even find my own link on your website? What exactly do you do to promote or expose my website?

    3. What does PoetPatriot.com, My Colleges and Careers, and Bible Teaching About have on their websites that is related to dating? These sites are totally unrelated to a website called “Webmasters United For Safe Dating”.

    3. I think your concept is great but sadly lacking in content and substance. When I provide a link to a website it’s because I believe that people will benefit from checking out the link. When I look at your website I really wonder what it is that people are going to derive from it. There are no guidelines, advice, reviews of recommended websites, websites to stay away from, discussion of rates, what to expect – ie there really is NOTHING on your website that accomplishes what your mission statement states. On the contrary, if anyone does find your links page, there are websites that having nothing to do with dating. Your lack of substance of any value, and your insertion of “filler” links that are unrelated really sound like some kind of scam to me.

    Thanks but after further investigation and careful consideration I see no benefit in linking to your website.

    Mary Pearson
    ChristianGays.com

  3. I’d like to say that I love your attempts to police the internet. Us young lawyers who are just starting out and starving for clients are obviously more susceptible to pitches from marketing outsourcers. Also, we’re less likely to comprehend the gravity of the ethical ins and outs, or the consequences of a violation.

    So, that being said, I’m grateful for your posts (and other lawyers as well) outing marketing scams, rackets, and ethical violations for three reasons: 1) its funny as hell to see someone get caught red handed, 2) it keeps me honest, 3) it lets me know I’m not the only one out there staying honest…which also, ummm….keeps me honest.

    thanks!

  4. It’s interesting because I run a website about free and open source software, and I have been getting emails from Gina Holstead and Sara McDowell asking to write guest posts on my blog using the same language as the ones you received. Google brought me to this article. They wanted me to link to a site about “law enforcement degrees” (because I wrote an article about The Pirate Bay) and “video game design schools”, both of which contain a bunch of links to online universities.

    I must admit that since my site is relatively new, I was tempted to accept the first offer, but in the past I have received poorly-written guest posts even from people I knew. There was no chance I would accept one from someone who seemed so shady. Thanks for digging a little deeper and confirming my suspicions.

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