SIPC (Securities Investor Protection Corporation) recently posted a warned about con artists who set-up i-sipc.com which fraudulently induced Bernard Madoff victims to join the site. This reminded us of how search engine marketing techniques can be used for fraud to con people out of money or “bury” the facts and how people often trust what they find on the Internet
As a newly established private investigative firm, we have been engrossed in numerous tasks needed to start a new business including developing content for our website that has been optimized for search engines. For those of you who are new to this, there are literally hundreds of websites that provide advice on how to best to provide information on your website so Internet searchers can easily find you or your company by using keywords, tags, headers, etc. Needless to say, there is an entire world of people who have an expertise in this process.
During the course of our investigations over the last few years, we have seen enough to know that fraudsters are using these same search engine marketing techniques to drive Internet searchers away from information on the web that may be damaging. In fact, we know of at least one person who hired a search engine marketing firm to create content on the web so that when people searched his name, information about his past criminal history would be buried. By creating online links in social networks (i.e. LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, etc.), purchasing domains, publishing press releases, and publishing blogs, fraudsters can “bury” the derogatory news article, lawsuit or message board posting below the first few pages of search results – which most people don’t typically navigate past. If search engine marketing results are getting in the way of your ability to find things, we recommend checking out out Via Search Consulting’s blog entry: 3 Ways to Stop Search Engine Optimization from Crippling Your Search.
The point of all of this is that the web has created an open forum for anyone to comment on just about anything, but by “googling” someone’s name, you are likely not getting the entire story and the information that you do view, may have been planted there. People have dedicated their lives to driving traffic to websites and in some situations, may be using these same tactics to drive people away from other websites. The important thing to take out of this is to understand the source of the information because it may not always be what you think. Press releases, self-promotional websites and self-reported information is not always a “source” of fact-based information.
A good example whereby false marketing schemes can lead to disaster is the story of Nicholas Cosmo, who was indicted last year of a $350+ million ponzi scheme with his notorious hedge fund, Agape World. One of the pieces of marketing that was touted by Cosmo and his earliest investors was a May 2008 Entrepreneur Magazine article naming Agape Fund as number 73 in its HOT 100 fastest-growing businesses. Evidently, people trusted this magazine, but the criteria for getting on this list was obviously quite minimal. If Entrepreneur Magazine had performed their due diligence, they may have realized that while he supposedly founded the company in 1999, he was actually in federal prison at the time for “misappropriating” $177,000 of his former client’s funds.
Some food for thought…Did you know that by some estimates, the surface web (a typical “Google” or Search Engine) accounts for less than 1% of what is actually on the web? Where is the rest of it, you ask? Well that is a whole other story!