Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Spammers Dog Iran Twitter Activists - Again

A mass spam campaign is again flooding the #iranelection topic on Twitter. The last major spam campaign was pushing a scam called "Turbo Cash Generator", this time well organised spammers are promoting a dubious offer of a $1,000 Visa gift card at a website called e-researchcenter.us.com.

The e-researchcenter site identifies itself as a Top Notch Media, Inc. website. Top Notch Media is a ValueClick company. ValueClick is a publicly traded, international internet marketing and advertising firm, founded in 1988 and based in Westlake Village, California. Besides the e-researchcenter its subsidiary operations include Commission Junction and Shopping.net. The company is reported to have 2008 sales of $628 million.

That level of presumed reputable corporate operations does not sit well with Top Notch Media -whose online reputation, frankly, stinks. Complaintsboard.com has this warning:
These are complete crooks.... Don't fall for this scam. I did. They take your money and run... Run, run as fast and far away from this site as you can. Liars, scumbags, scam artists, crooks... I lost hundreds of dollars trusting them.
RipoffReport.com carries this warning about another Top Notch Media operation:
"This company clearly has no credibility and cheats consumers out of money they are due."
But perhaps any assumption of corporate responsibility is misplaced. In March of 2008 ValueClick offered to pay $2,9 million to settle charges by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) that ValueClick subsidiary Hi-Speed Media used deceptive emails, banner ads and pop-ups to drive consumers to its websites. The company's campaign offered gifts, such as laptops and iPods.

But the FTC said consumers had to navigate “a maze of expensive and burdensome third-party offers which they were required to ‘participate in' at their own expense in order to receive the promised ‘free' merchandise”.

Given the reasons for ValueClick's prior penalization, the FTC might well be interested in the current Twitter spam campaign directing consumers to its e-researchcenter.com subsidiary.

After all, the new offer to consumers visiting that website seems identical in form to the offers which cost the corporation a close to $3 million penalty last year.

To benefit from the $1,000 Visa gift card, consumers lured via Twitter to e-researchcenter.com must purchase 2 Silver offers, 2 Gold offers, and 8 Platinum offers from a range of products including online credit reports, teeth whitening products and Botox.

They must also recruit two others to do the same. Tellingly, the terms and conditions note that the credit card offer may require consumers to activate the card by transferring a balance or taking a cash advance.

It all looks like what the FTC described in its prior charges against ValueClick as: "a maze of expensive and burdensome third-party offers which they were required to ‘participate in' at their own expense in order to receive the promised ‘free' merchandise”. Our archive of the e-researchcenter visa gift offer page is here.

It would be unfortunate for ValueClick if the corporation were to suffer another multi-million dollar FTC sanction. The FTC's consumer complaints form is here. Feel free to refer to this article. Feel free to post this article to the net or to popular Twitter topics.

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