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Beware Of Fraud

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  • Beware Of Fraud

    article taken from Computer Times:,2637,00.html?

    Be wary of forum frauds
    July 28, 2004

    Posing as satisfied customers, unscrupulous merchants are signing up on local niche forums to tout their wares. Chua Hian Hou reports

    From a wedding forum to a dog lovers' site, local forums are being hit on by unscrupulous merchants who tout their products or services, posing as satisfied customers.

    They do this in the hope that forum users will believe their "authentic" claims and go out and buy the merchandise.

    Take a popular local wedding forum - one of two major ones here. Forum moderator Jeffrey Ng did not want the site named, but told Computer Times that he found three satisfied customers singing the praises of an interior decorator recently. They raved about his design, affordable prices and workmanship in the discussion thread so much that the thread bulged with daily postings.

    Oddly, all three customers had registered for the forum within days of each other, used Singlish and had the same patterns of poor punctuation.

    Suspicious, Mr Ng checked and discovered that the three "customers" were actually the same person posing as different people to promote the interior decorator's services.

    "Such abuses occur because unscrupulous merchants think of forums as a good - and free - way to promote their products and services to a targeted audience," said Mr Ng.

    Mr Ng was unable to tell if it was the interior decorator himself who was responsible for these posts. When queried, the interior decorator declared his innocence.

    But Mr Ng estimated that such hawking makes up one per cent of the total forum traffic on his forum.

    Other forum moderators tell the same story.

    Pet product companies have tried similar tactics on pet forum DoggieSite. Restaurant and food stall owners have hit on Makansutra, and car workshops and dealers go into high gear on automobile forums.

    In fact, "such things have been happening since the day we started the forum three years ago", said Makansutra spokesman K.F. Seetoh.

    Typically, the scams are sniffed out by moderators or by hawk-eyed forum regulars who then alert the moderators. (See section below).

    So far, though, the hawking attempts have been amateurish.

    "Many unscrupulous merchants are not as tech-savvy as the real forum users and get exposed," said one of the Doggiesite forum moderators who did not want to be named.

    Penalties, so far, range from "gentle cease and desist reminders", he added, to outright account bans and removal of the threads, said others.

    "Unfortunately, there is no real way to stop unscrupulous users from doing this - we gag the ones we find mercilessly, but they can simply create more accounts and start again," said Mr Julian Chia, a former car forum moderator.

    Why have the moderators not taken the fakers to task legally? After all, people could have bought expensive stuff and made costly mistakes. Moderators felt it would be difficult to prove their case. Also, they gain nothing in seeing the merchants prosecuted.

    The Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) is aware of such abuses, but has yet to receive official complaints, said its executive director, Mr Seah Seng Choon.

    For now, it is caveat emptor or buyer beware. Said Mr Seah: "Users need to realise that they can't believe everything they see on forums."

    Moderators agreed.

    "People should not immediately trust something they see on a forum, just like they won't trust someone they meet for the first time in real life," said Mr Ng.


    Forum moderators said they try to spot bogus users quickly to protect their genuine members.

    The moderators analyse the discussion threads and the profiles of the users for suspicious signs.

    Some even call up these "customers" to provide proof that they had actually bought the raved-about goods.

    Moderators also use web-forum software to sniff out illegal hawkers. Such software tracks the Internet Protocol (IP) addresses of the posters. Someone who signs in under different identities but uses the same IP address, is usually suspect.

    And consumers should wise up. They can do the following:

    :note: Check the date the user registered on the forum. Scammers usually register multiple user names at one go, so they can start their nefarious activities quickly. Genuine forum members do not do that.

    :note: Check the post history. Real users usually post across a variety of topics. Scammers usually post only to hawk their wares or slam competitors.

    :note: Compare writing styles. Look for tell-tale signs such as similar phrases, sentence structure and spelling errors.

    :note: Report possible scammers to the forum moderator immediately.


    Merchants who pose as customers are breaking the law. And victims can take them to task because the law is on their side.

    "Causing someone to do something - like buying your product - which he would not do if he had known the truth, is a cheating offence," said Mr Bryan Tan, a technology law specialist with legal firm Tan and Tan Partnership.

    The culprit can be fined and jailed for up to a year.

    Make sure, though, you have proof of the false testimonial.

    For instance, you must have bought the product directly because of the postings and only from the retailer who made the false posting.

    "If you have proof that the merchant was doing such activities and that your buying decision was influenced by these posts, you can go to a lawyer to get the contract cancelled, or to the police to report this as a case of cheating," said Mr Tan.

  • #2
    CozyCot will like to take the opportunity to highlight to cotters the seriousness of the issue. We have always strongly frowned upon advertising of any kind and CozyCot is pleased to find that others are taking a similarly firm stand. Sales staff and business owners out to make a quick buck by deceiving cotters, do beware! CozyCot will not hesistate to take action against you. Ignorance is NOT an excuse.


    • #3
      While shopping is an enjoyable experience, beware of scams! Read up on my experience with @ADreamyShop . Nothing but a scam! Check out my experience (with screenshots) all here:

      I am planning to make a police report on this.