How Bots Corrupted Advertising

An illustration of robots holding up a sign that reads buy more new stuffILLUSTRATION: ABBR. PROJECT

Botmasters have created a Kafkaesque system where companies are paying huge sums to show their ads to bots. And everyone is fine with this. When Aleksandr Zhukov went on trial last year, he stood accused of defrauding US companies, including The New York Times and pet care brand Purina, out of millions of dollars. According to the court, the then 41-year-old set up a company that promised to show online adverts to humans, but he instead placed those adverts on an elaborate network of fake websites where they were seen only by bots.

Yet Zhukov’s defense did not center around his innocence or his remorse. Rather, he said he was giving the online economy exactly what it wanted: cheap traffic, whatever the source. “There was nothing to conceal,” he said on the stand in May 2021. “We were making business. We are not making scam or fraud.” The federal courthouse in Brooklyn disagreed and, in November 2021, Zhukov was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

By extraditing the Russian cybercriminal from Bulgaria, the US justice system sent a message that this type of crime has consequences. Yet Zhukov’s testimony hints at an uncomfortable truth: The online economy is willing to look the other way while bots distort it and line the pockets of cybercriminals. The Elon Musk v. Twitter trial is set to resurrect such concerns.

Musk, who claims that Twitter has undercounted millions of fake accounts on its platform, was handed extra ammunition when Twitter’s former head of security Peiter Zatko, known as Mudge, turned whistleblower in August. Mudge claimed that executives’ bonuses were tied to increases in daily users, meaning they had no incentive to crack down on bots—an allegation Twitter’s CEO, Parag Agrawal, has denied.

Bots are polluting the internet. Fake online users make up as much as 40 percent of all web traffic, according to some estimates. Researchers specializing in advertising fraud describe a Kafkaesque system where businesses pay millions to advertise to bots and research their “opinions.” Yet the digital advertising industry has grown so accustomed to working with inflated numbers that few are willing to unmask the fake clicks powering large swathes of the online economy.

In June, the Association of National Advertisers (ANA), a US industry group, published a blog post that estimated that ad fraud is costing US advertisers $120 billion each year. Hours after it was published, those statements were removed. John Wolfe, the ANA’s director of communications, tells WIRED that the figures were removed because they were out of date, but declines to provide any new figures.

Zhukov’s trial established how the trade in fake clicks works. Between 2014 and 2016, the so-called King of Fraud—a name he gave himself in a text message, revealed in court—ran an advertising network called Media Methane, which received payments from other advertising networks in return for placing brand’s adverts on websites. But the company did not place those adverts on real websites. Instead it created fake ones, spoofing more than 6,000 domains.

It then rented 2,000 computer servers in Texas and Amsterdam and programmed them to simulate the way a human would act on a website—using a fake mouse to scroll the fake website and falsely appearing to be signed in to Facebook. “As a result of this elaborate scheme, the defendant falsified billions of ad views and caused businesses to pay more than $7 million for ads that were never actually viewed by real human internet users,” the Department of Justice said.

Although The New York Times was named as a “victim” by the Justice Department, the publication declined to clarify whether it paid for fake ad views or whether its website was spoofed by one of Zhukov’s fake sites. Nestlé, the parent company of Purina, did not respond to a request for comment. Some companies have taken matters into their own hands. In 2017 Uber sued one of its advertising agencies for charging it for ads that were not seen by real people or placed on real websites.

The case started when Uber pulled all online advertising and discovered barely any drop in app installs or sales. Why? Some claim online ads target people who already plan on buying that product or service. Others argue that ads often target bots. But it’s hard to get a straight answer. Companies paying for advertising have an incentive to play down the number of bots to conceal how much cash they’re wasting. And cybersecurity companies have an incentive to exaggerate numbers to sell anti-bot products.

The technology to detect and block bots already exists, says Sandy Carielli, a principal analyst specializing in cybersecurity at the consultancy firm Forrester. But companies can be unwilling to investigate traffic that, on-the-surface, makes their website look popular, she says. “Keep in mind if you cut off the bots and it turns out that a large amount of traffic on your site is generated by bots, that’s going to influence your performance numbers.”

Advertising didn’t always used to be like this. Augustine Fou, who has been a digital marketer for 25 years, says that in the past decade there’s been an explosion in fake traffic. Fou believes the industry was corrupted around a decade ago, when a series of opaque middlemen entered the scene. “Prior to that, advertisers would buy ads from publishers like The New York Times,” he says. But now it’s typical for brands to approach a digital ad exchange—which facilitates the buying and selling of advertising from different ad networks—to place their adverts on huge numbers of websites and apps. And it is this part of the system that has become vulnerable to bots, claims Fou.

The exchanges have deliberately looked the other way when there are fraudulent sites and mobile apps that become part of that exchange,” he claims. Google and Facebook are among the companies that run these exchanges alongside other listed US companies such as Pubmatic and Magnite. “The ad exchanges don’t want to solve fraud because fraud generates so much volume,” Fou claims.

“And the exchanges essentially make more money when more volume passes through their platforms.” None of the exchanges responded to requests for comment. And it’s not just the exchanges seemingly dodging the fraud issue. Advertisers are also reluctant, says Fou. “It’s too embarrassing for them to admit that they purchased fraudulent inventory.” He cites one rare attempt to sue by Uber, after it discovered Austin-based advertising company Phunware was selling fake app installs using bots.

“Most of the Uber app installations that Phunware claimed to have delivered were generated by a fraudulent process known as ‘click flooding,’ which reports a higher number of clicks than those occurring,” Uber’s law firm Reed Smith said after winning the fraud suit.

“Many still think ad fraud is a victimless crime,” says Fou. “After all, who cares if big brands waste their money showing ads to bots?” But the industry is letting ad dollars flow into the pockets of cybercriminals, he adds, who can then use it to fund other illicit activities. It’s a major problem, he argues. “One that no one talks about, no one writes about, everyone thinks it’s someone else’s problem.”

By:Morgan Meaker

Morgan Meaker is a senior writer at WIRED covering European business. Before that, she was a technology reporter at The Telegraph and also worked for Dutch magazine De Correspondent. In 2019 she won Technology Journalist of the Year at the Words by Women Awards.

Source: How Bots Corrupted Advertising | WIRED

Related contents:

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“What is a bot: types and functions”. IONOS Digitalguide. Retrieved 2022-01-28.“Twitter Followers Guide”. 20 November 2019Howard, Philip N (18 October 2018). “How Political Campaigns Weaponize Social Media Bots”. IEEE Spectrum.

Ferrara, Emilio; Varol, Onur; Davis, Clayton; Menczer, Filippo; Flammini, Alessandro (2016). “The Rise of Social Bots”. Communications of the ACM. 59 (7): 96–104. arXiv:1407.5225. doi:10.1145/2818717. S2CID 1914124. Alessandro, Bessi; Emilio, Ferrara (2016-11-07). “Social Bots Distort the 2016 US Presidential Election Online Discussion”. SSRN 2982233.

“Touch Arcade Forum Discussion on fraud in the Top 25 Free Ranking”.“App Store fake reviews: Here’s how they encourage your favourite developers to cheat”. Electricpig. Archived from the original on 2017-10-18. Retrieved 2014-06-11.“Facebook Messenger Hits 100,000 bots”. 2017-04-18. Retrieved 2017-09-22.

Murray Newlands. “These Chatbot Usage Metrics Will Change Your Customer Service Strategy”. Forbes. Retrieved 2018-03-08.“How companies are using chatbots for marketing: Use cases and inspiration – MarTech Today”. MarTech Today. 2018-01-22. Retrieved 2018-04-10.Dima Bekerman: How Registration Bots Concealed the Hacking of My Amazon Account, Application Security, Industry Perspective, December 1st, 2016, In: http://www.Imperva.com/blog

Carr, Sam (July 15, 2019). “What Is Viewbotting: How Twitch Are Taking On The Ad Fraudsters”. PPC Protect. Retrieved 19 September 2020.Lewis, Richard (March 17, 2015). “Leading StarCraft streamer embroiled in viewbot controversy”. Dot Esports. Retrieved 19 September 2020.

Safruti, Ido (June 19, 2017). “Why Detecting Bot Attacks Is Becoming More Difficult”. DARKReading.Kang, Ah Reum; Jeong, Seong Hoon; Mohaisen, Aziz; Kim, Huy Kang (2016-04-26). “Multimodal game bot detection using user behavioral characteristics”. SpringerPlus. 5 (1): 523. arXiv:1606.01426. doi:10.1186/s40064-016-2122-8. ISSN 2193-1801. PMC 4844581. PMID 27186487.

Holiday, Ryan (January 16, 2014). “Fake Traffic Means Real Paydays”. BetaBeat. Archived from the original on 2015-01-03. Retrieved 2014-04-28. von Lipinski, Percy (28 May 2013). “CNN’s iReport hit hard by pay-per-view scandal”. PulsePoint. Archived from the original on 18 August 2016. Retrieved 21 July 2016.

Sebastian Telle: zum Urteil des OLG Dresden vom 20. Januar 2015, Az.: 14 U 1127/14 Telemedicus. Sebastian Telle: zum Urteil des OLG Hamburg vom 6. November 2014, Az.: 3 U 86/13 Telemedicus. Social Bots – die Technik hinter Fake-News. 1und1.de/digitalguide. 25. April 2018. Abgerufen am 27. April 2018.

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Netzangriff: Bots feuern gegen Themen. In: ndr.de. NDR, abgerufen am 22. April 2016.Social bots distort the 2016 U.S. Presidential election online discussion. In: First Monday. Alessandro Bessi und Emilio Ferrara, abgerufen am 24. Januar 2019.Wahlkampf: Nur die AfD will Social Bots einsetzen. In: tagesschau.de. ARD, abgerufen am 22. Oktober 2016.

Revealed: quarter of all tweets about climate crisis produced by bots. In: The Guardian, 21. Februar 2020. Abgerufen am 21. Februar 2020.Gefährden Meinungsroboter die Demokratie? In: spektrum.de. Abgerufen am 16. Oktober 2016.Fachgespräch im Bundestag: Experten halten Einfluss von Social Bots für überschätzt. In: netzpolitik.org. Abgerufen am 6. März 2017.AfD lehnt Einsatz von sogenannten social bots ab. In: alternativefuer.de. Abgerufen am 16. Januar 2017.

Jens Schneider, Wie eine US-Agentur der AfD im Wahlkampf hilft Süddeutsche Zeitung vom 14. September 2017.Social Bots in Election Campaigns: Theoretical, Empirical, and Methodological Implications. In: Political Communication. Tobias R. Keller und Ulrike Klinger, abgerufen am 25. Januar 2019.Andreas Weck: Chatbots im Facebook-Messenger. In: t3n.de. 14. April 2016, abgerufen am 15. November 2016.

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Apple Removes A Trading App Linked To Crypto Scams From The App Store

A screen shows bitcoin's price going up and down

A popular smartphone app used to conduct foreign exchange transactions known as MetaTrader (or MT4 or MT5, depending on the version), was quietly removed from Apple’s App Store last Friday. As of this writing, the app remains available on the Google Play store.

The app, which is made by a Cypriot-based company called MetaQuotes, has been used to perpetrate a new type of cryptocurrency scam, known as pig butchering, where a scammer builds a longer term relationship with their victim before convincing them to invest money over time. A key element of the scam is the use of manipulated cryptocurrency apps and websites, which purport to show the victim that they’re making money off their investment, when in fact the scammer has taken everything.

Apple’s ban of MetaTrader comes two weeks after Forbes profiled one California-based scam victim, who lost over $1 million last year. This victim, known as Cy, made all of his purported trades on the MetaTrader app, which showed him fictitious returns. At the time, Apple spokesperson Adam Dema said the company was investigating MetaTrade and was looking into additional action to protect App Store users if necessary.

MetaQuotes did not respond to Forbes’ request for comment. Daniel Delnero, an Atlanta-based attorney with Squire Patton Boggs, who informed Forbes late Sunday evening that his firm is now representing MetaQuotes, did not respond to Forbes’ request for comment by press time. The company had not previously responded at all to multiple emails sent to company email addresses. No phone numbers are listed on its Contacts page for any of the company’s multiple offices around the world.Neither Apple nor Google responded to requests for comment.

Existing installs of MetaTrader on iOS devices continue to function. However, there are some reports on Twitter of users claiming to sell iPhones with the app pre-installed for $15,000 in one case, or a “starting price” of 5,000 British pounds, or “$10k OBO,” an abbreviation for “or best offer.”As Forbes previously reported, MetaTrader, which offers licenses for its software, does enable legitimate trade by actual brokerages. It is an agnostic trading platform, one that is used by mainstream foreign exchange traders like Oanda.

But according to the Global Anti-Scam Organization (GASO), a scam victims’ advocacy group, MetaTrader also allows licensees to use a particular plug-in, known as Virtual Dealer, which can be used by scammers to “manipulate those market prices, and simulate account balances, profits or losses. Everything looks and feels real, but it’s all a fabrication,” according to a report from GASO.

MetaTrader has provided no explanation as to how unscrupulous actors can use the software to illustrate fake trades, nor what actions, if any, it has taken to mitigate this behavior. In July, the chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, Sen. Sherrod Brown, wrote letters to Apple CEO Tim Cook and Google CEO Sundar Pichai about how the companies are evaluating and ultimately allowing the proliferation of fake crypto apps in their app stores.

News of the app’s removal was first reported by FX News Group and Finance Magnates on Saturday. In a WhatsApp text message sent late Sunday evening, Cy, the victim who has still been unable to recoup any of his losses, said he was pleased that Apple had removed the trading app. He had previously told Forbes that a large part of why he was convinced to download it was that it had positive reviews and could be found on Apple’s App Store.

“It’s about time,” he wrote. “How many other victims occured before our voices were heard! [It’s] the right thing to do. But [it] doesn’t make me feel any good as the damage has been done.” Jan Santiago, GASO’s deputy director, said the organization was “glad” for the app’s removal.

“If MetaTrader won’t do anything on the grave issues raised by users who trusted them, then the responsibility falls on platforms like Apple and Google Play store that list MetaTrader,” he wrote in an email.

UPDATE Sept. 28: This story has been updated to clarify how MetaTrader was used in relation to these scams.

I cover Silicon Valley — in particular surveillance technology and artificial intelligence — from beautiful Oakland,

Source: Apple Removes A Trading App Linked To Crypto Scams From The App Store

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Perhaps one of the most notable mentions of crypto from Apple was in September 2019. when Apple Pay’s VP Jennifer Bailey said the company was “watching cryptocurrency” and strongly believes it has “interesting long-term potential.”In February 2020, Apple hired Jeff Bronikowski, Warner Music’s former head of technology innovation, who was working on a number of the blockchain efforts to create digital assets using a public blockchain called Flow .

Then on November of 2021, when asked by Andrew Ross Sorkin of New York Times if Apple would consider accepting cryptocurrency through Apple Pay, Tim Cook replied that crypto is “something that we’re looking at.” The statement is broad, but regardless, positive. In February of 2022, Apple unveiled its new Apple Pay feature that will enable millions of merchants across the U.S., to use their iPhones to seamlessly, instantly, and securely accept payments simply by tapping their iPhones. It’s called Tap To Pay and it can also be potentially used to transact crypto.

In late March of 2022, MetaMask, one of the most used crypto wallets, which has surpassed 30 million monthly active users as of January, has announced its support for Apple Pay so people can buy crypto directly from their wallets. Around the same time MetaMask announced their Apple Pay integration, this job posting below for a Senior Legal Counsel position with expertise and experience on blockchain, digital assets, and payment platforms is seen on Apple’s website. Notice the timing of the job posting and the highlighted key qualification.

This is a great sign that Apple is looking closely into integrating crypto features and functionalities like Ethereum wallets or crypto payments into Apple Pay & Wallet. It’s also worth mentioning that Apple acquired UK-based fintech startup, Credit Kudos bringing a range of payment functions in-house. Among many other things, cryptocurrency can entirely change how people buy products, save or invest money, and pay their bills. Combining these with Apple’s platform, they have the potential to help billions of users have a frictionless banking and payment experience.

Is the Cupertino giant next in line to support crypto? Rumors and hints point in that direction, but there’s a bigger picture. Apple is in a unique and powerful position to best support crypto today. Here’s why. Apple is a $2.7 trillion cap behemoth with more than 1 billion active iPhone users as of February of 2022. This means billions of people follow their software and hardware ecosystem and hundreds of thousands of people wait in excitement for their Keynote events and product releases. Though still in the early innings, there are strong signs that crypto and blockchain use cases are gaining prominence through mobile phones.

Specifically, Apple’s iPhone could be the key not only to onboard people into crypto, but to also help them understand the possibilities of transacting on a decentralized, permissionless, and transparent network. People will find it intriguing and enticing. The cool detail? People might not even need to know how crypto technology works behind the scenes. The Cupertino company has a reputation for abstracting complex technologies into simple and easy to use products.

This is one of the reasons why Apple has garnered a cult-like following over the decades in addition to their Oscar-worthy marketing and advertising efforts. This is the power of Apple. If there’s one ecosystem that will accelerate crypto’s adoption, it will be Apple’s. How? Through seamless integrations through their products, worldwide reach, and cult-like following.

Almost in every Keynote presentation, Apple CEO Tim Cook never fails to mention one important statement, “Apple believe that privacy is a fundamental human right” and they believe that users should have control of all of their data. What does this mean for crypto? Well, crypto is all about privacy, security, and transparency. In the crypto world, people have control all over their assets and there are no middlemen in between. Apple can promise trust in transactions, account protection, and ease of use by reducing cost and time for consumers when they need access to the financial banking system.

This means more market penetration while maintaining privacy, security, and transparency. In addition, Clifford Rossi, an executive-in-residence and professor in the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland’s Finance Department said that having a digital or crypto wallet and its own stable coin or a crypto pegged to the price of a fiat currency, could give Apple a competitive advantage over other retailers and will increase the competitive landscape of the personal banking and payment processing industry.

Another way Apple can help with crypto is the storing of private keys and seed phrases in iCloud tied with their multi-factor authentication. This will enhance the security of your sensitive crypto wallet information. Apple always does the right thing when it comes to the privacy and security of its users. The same goes for the crypto route. One popular use case of cryptocurrency is helping the ‘unbanked’ or people that are not served by financial institutions, gain to access to banking solutions which is common among developing nations.

According to several statistics, nearly 2 billion people globally still have no access to financial services. That’s like one-fourth of the world population. One day, people don’t have to go through a lengthy process just to apply for a bank account which requires a lot of documents to submit, which then can take weeks to get a result. Just imagine how hassle it will be if you’re in desperate need of money for emergency expenses. Cryptocurrency is giving people a chance to better their lives, increase their earnings, and stash savings for the future.

Apple dominates the world of tap and go payments and with more than $200 billion cash in hand, they could shake up the fintech world with an Apple Card expansion, checking accounts, international payments, and crypto wallets. Cryptocurrency is giving people in less fortunate situations instant access to money with a click of a button. There’s no need to wait for days, no expensive fees, and no need to go through a lengthy bank application process. The majority of the financially excluded individuals still live in developing nations, so for financial inclusion, cryptocurrency adoption is essential.

One quality that makes Apple great as a company is that they approach problems through design thinking. This is the same for today and for the 1980s when Steve Jobs was revolutionizing personal computing. Through the decades, Apple has built a unique reputation as an extremely design-driven company. For instance, they don’t refer to their users as “users”, but instead as “humans”. As highlighted in their human interface guidelines, which is a guideline adopted by people that work at Apple.

To that point, the current state of Web3 products has room for more design iterations due to a lackluster user experience design. This is due to the developers creating for other developers mindset and that the entire ecosystem is still in early-stage, which means there are a lot of changes. It’s also worth highlighting that Apple always turns something that seems boring and dull into something fashionable and sexy. They did that with the personal computer, iPod, iPhone, iPad, and now maybe crypto.

If and when Apple does crypto, they have the potential to set an industry standard for Web3 design by applying their own touch of Apple design. For this reason, they’re in an even stronger position to bring millions of people into crypto and even educate people about the entire Web3 ecosystem. Should we expect any crypto-related announcement from them anytime soon? As Tim Cook said, Apple thrives in its culture of secrecy, so less likely. However, we know one thing for sure, Apple never backs down on innovations that have the range to change people’s lives for the better..

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Related contents:

New crypto investment scam shows up on TikTok ConsumerAffairs.Com

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Meet The Man Who Scams The Scammers , Jim Browning

We’re all targeted by scam calls and spam emails, but one virtual vigilante decided to turn the tables by hacking the hackers. Jim Browning is not his real name, rather a secret identity. Working in IT by day, by night he’s a virtual vigilante hunting cyber criminals.

In response to endless spam emails and robocalls telling us we’re experiencing difficulties with an online banking or shopping account, Browning decided fight back. He lets himself be scammed then turns the tables.

If they’ve hacked into his machine, he can hack into theirs; find out where they’re from, call them by their real name – even have pictures of them displayed as his desktop background to give them a shock when they try to take control of his computer.

Browning makes videos of his crime fighting exploits and has hundreds of thousands of followers on YouTube. They are bizarrely gripping. The scams are often ingenious, easy to see why anyone could fall victim. Then just as a scammer thinks they’ve gotten away with a con, the power shifts as Browning has them on the ropes.

Cybercrime has escalated through the pandemic now that people, tech savvy or not, have to rely on the internet for almost everything. In 2021, 45 million people were targeted by scam calls and texts. Which? reported a 33 per cent rise in incidents with consumers conned out of £2.3 billion during that (largely locked down) year.

So The Big Issue meets Browning on Zoom, to delve into the dark world of cybercrime to understand how we can protect ourselves.

The Big Issue: Just who are you?

Jim Browning: I do have a proper day job. It’s in IT as you can probably imagine. I know about computers and networks and so on. My night time job is going after scammers and I put YouTube videos online about my exploits.

What’s the what’s the origin story of this superhero?

So unfortunately, it’s not like a Batman type story. I find scams fascinating, full stop. I work from home a fair bit, particularly over the last couple of years like a lot of people. I was getting of scam phone calls. The advice is usually, ignore them and hang up. But I thought with my background in IT, surely I could do something about these calls. They do have a weakness, which is the fact that they will try to connect to my computer. And when they do I can find out who these people are.

Do you get excited when you come across a new scam?Oh yeah, for sure. A lot of this scams are very scripted. So anytime I come across something new it’s definitely fascinating. I like different sorts of scams. I’m looking at a couple at the moment. You know, those letters you get from people who say you’ve won a fortune. It’s rare to get an insight into those types of scams, because normally, someone does all of this offline.

How long does it take to break a scam? How many hours does each video represent?

A lot of my evenings are taken up with this. In some ways, I’m fortunate because a lot of the scams are aimed at people in the USA, and their daytime is when they’re targeted so that is our evening. I probably spend too much time. But it’s a hobby so for me it’s time well spent.

Some scammers I’ve been watching for at least six months before I would put a video out about them. Whenever I do find relevant details about who’s running scams, I pass information to police in the hope that they will do something. Sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn’t. All in all, it can take months and months of work to even get a video live.

Why is it difficult for police to take any action?

Most of the scams I uncover are from outside the UK. A lot of these call centres are based in India, there’s very little happens in that country. Anytime I do report it, it seems to be swept under the carpet. It can be quite frustrating.

The scams and the people behind them are clearly very intelligent, what sense do you have of perpetrators?

You get the odd one or two who will be open and honest with you. If you ask, look why are you doing this, it’s a scam, they will give you loads of different reasons. The main one is, India’s a poor country, high unemployment, low wages. If you get into a scam call centre, compared a legitimate business, you will be paid so much more. Now, you maybe get a fraction of what you scam but you earn an awful lot of money very quickly. And you can convince yourself that you’re stealing money from a very rich western country, I can see people doing that.

Everybody has their own story about why they got into it. But at the end of the day, it is really just greed. I can see what they do on their computers and there’s very few people who seem to be on the breadline.

What affect has the pandemic had on scams as more older and vulnerable people are using the internet with little experience?

Certainly older people are the prime target for most of these scam calls. I’ve seen scammers take lists and filter them for people over 60. That’s because they are the demographic most likely to fall for it. It is really just a numbers game for them. The vast majority of the day is people hanging up on them. But they will eventually get someone who’s vulnerable.

In the UK and US people are so used to receiving these calls, they know just to hang up immediately. Scammers are moving to other countries. I’m monitoring a group at the moment who are targeting the Czech Republic and Norway. And although they can’t speak Czech or Norwegian, they are still attempting the same scam in English in the hope that they can get people who are unaware.

The biggest scam call seems to be from people impersonating Amazon. Why can’t one of the richest companies do anything?

It used to be Microsoft a few years ago, now it is Amazon. They’re so prevalent. And I’m a little surprised Amazon aren’t trying the legal route to try and do something. I hear these phone calls all the time. Even if [a victim] doesn’t use Amazon what they’ll immediately say is, well someone has registered an Amazon account in your name using your details. Eventually they’ll want access to your computer.

You were recently victim of a scam yourself, does that show it really can happen to anyone?

Anyone can be scammed, the circumstances have to be right. Someone tried to take over my YouTube channel, basically to steal the revenue that you get. What this particular person did was impersonate Google, who own YouTube, and they were quite convincing. They’d found was a flaw in the chat services that Google offer and were able to make it look like a legitimate email. So initially, I did fall for this.

So the person was just trying to steal money, they weren’t someone out for revenge?

They didn’t even know who I was. I sent them a couple of links when I figured out it was a scam, said could you click on this and they did. I was able to find out where the scammer was based, in Turkey, but when he figured out that he wasn’t getting any money out of me, he disappeared.

Are you quite famous within this scammer community? In some videos you disguise your voice to sound like an old woman.

Yeah, I have to use that because scammers do recognize me. I can get access to scammers’ computers, see what they’re looking at on their screen, what they’re typing and some of them have been watching my videos. I have to change my voice. As the scammer is concerned, I’ll sound like an old woman. That helps me out quite a bit.

You’re taking part in a new BBC One show, Scam Interceptors.

I find it difficult to get the message through to the right people. I’ve been working with the BBC and there’s an organisation called the American Association of Retired People. For me, it’s never good enough to say do this, don’t do this. I think you actually have to see the scams running. And this programme shows it in intricate detail. You can see and hear the language that they use, the techniques they use, what people typically say and how the scammers respond. When you see it first-hand, it’s far more likely to sink in. The scams themselves will change over time but if something triggers in the back of your head, at least gives you a bit of doubt, it can only be a good thing.

If in doubt…?

That’s it. If you’re in any way doubtful, a real organisation will have no problem assuring you that they are who they say they are. They have to be able to tell you more than your name, address and phone number because that’ll be on the screen of every scammer. If they can’t give you a customer ID or a recent transaction I would always treat it with a lot of scepticism. If they want to keep you on the phone for any reason or if there’s a sense of urgency, it’s almost bound to be a scam. The best thing to do is hang up.

Could you have been hacking this computer as we were speaking?

I’m not as good as people could make out. Honestly, the only way that I can really get access to scammers is if they connect to my computer. Without that I’m just no good at all.

By: Steven MacKenzie

Source: Who is Jim Browning? Meet the man who scams the scammers – The Big Issue

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Spot The Signs: 7 Signs You’re In An Abusive Relationship

One third of women worldwide have experienced some form of physical violence by an intimate partner. And in England and Wales, two women are killed by their current or former partner every week. The rates of abuse are alarming, and due to the current cost of living crisis, they are expected to get worse, with concerns that financial difficulty and economic abuse will further trap victims in abusive relationships.

When we think of the signs of an abusive relationship, bruised skin and broken bones often come to mind, but that isn’t always the case as Sandra Horley, CEO of Refuge explained in her book Power and Control: why charming men can make dangerous lovers. Horley identifies the “Charm Man Syndrome”, where a partner’s pattern of abusive behaviour can be so subtle that many women do not even realise they are being abused. Yet, as she states: “the vast majority who come to Refuge are subjected to relentless controlling and demeaning behaviour, whether physical or not”.

“Abuse is Not Love” – a campaign launched by YSL Beauty in partnership with Women’s Aid highlights the warning signs and empowers victims to escape toxic relationships. Marie Claire is working with the partnership to spotlight the red flags of intimate partner abuse.

Here are seven signs to look out for…

1. Abusive relationships often begin with a pattern of control

An abusive man tries to dominate every aspect of his partner’s life. This could mean constantly checking up on his partner through texts, cutting her off in the middle of a telephone conversation, or having clear rules about what can take up space where in the house. Often the incidents will seem trivial, but they can build up into an oppressive, suffocating atmosphere. If the saying “walking on eggshells” rings any bells, it’s likely that the abuser is the one in control.

2. Jealousy is a tell-tale sign of an abusive relationship

Whether he is jealous of your job, friends or social life it really isn’t normal. A partner is meant to say how proud they say they are of your achievements, not make you feel guilty for them.  You may think his jealousy is cute at first. He may call or text you several times a day, and may accuse you of cheating if you don’t respond as quickly as he wants. He might start tracking your every move.  If you are worried that you, or a friend, is becoming increasingly isolated because of their relationship, it’s time for them to get out.

3. An abuser will make you feel the abuse is your fault

One woman told Sandra “looking back I can see it was a sort of suffocation”, another said: “I was cut off from the outside world and from all of my friends, the only logic seemed to be to believe that it was all my fault”. Another’s partner told her that she would be a “failure” if she left. One woman whose husband had abused her for 15 years, who frequently held knives to her throat and threatened her with his gun, told Horley, a whole ten years after she had escaped “actually, I think I was partly to blame”.

4. In an abusive relationship a partner often uses “playful” force during sex

He enjoys throwing you around or holding you down against your will; the idea of rape is a turn on for him. He intimidates, manipulates or forces you to engage in unwanted sex acts with no care for your consent. Horley met many women who put up with sexual abuse because they were afraid of getting hit, their husbands would tell them that they had a “right” to sex. Some were unable to sleep for fear of being attacked in their bed. One woman even said that she was scared to go back to hospital because she was ashamed that her husband had raped her and caused her birthing stitches to burst.

5. Unrealistic expectations emerge quickly in an abusive relationship

An abusive partner expects perfection and for you to meet their every need.  The littlest thing that you do “wrong” will result in endless physical and verbal abuse, making you feel worthless. He will likely have strict rules about gender roles. Horley found this was very common with the domestic abuse survivors that she interviewed, one woman described how whenever she was too busy with the children to cook, she would put a pot to boil on the stove when her husband came home, to give the illusion that dinner was on the way and avoid a row.genesis-768x148-2-1-2-1-1-1-1-1-2-1-1-2-1-2-1-1-2

6. An abusive partner will make threats if you leave

Horley met women whose partners had killed their pets, ripped up their clothes or played with knives in front of them, to ensure that the women always knew who was in control. He could be trapping you into staying in the abusive relationship by telling you that no one else will want you, or threaten to kill himself if you leave. He may threaten to kill you or your children (incidentally, an abused woman is most vulnerable when pregnant).

7. Abusers often have a “Jekyll and Hyde” personality

To the outside world he will appear the perfect partner. He will buy you flowers or your favourite perfume. Maybe he is the most romantic man you have ever known. Obviously, just being romantic is not necessarily a sign of abuse, but an abuser will often use romance to distract from unacceptable behaviours, or even use gifts as a blackmailing tool, particularly following outbursts of abuse or violence.

He will make you believe that if you just did something differently, he would be the loving man you first fell for all the time. It may feel as though you are with two different people – you will stay because of your hope for the man you fell in love with, but you will spend most of your time being controlled by the man who hurts you. Eventually, you won’t be able to tell the difference.

By:

Source: Spot the signs: 7 signs you’re in an abusive relationship

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How Digital Currencies Went From Boom To Collapse

Yuri Popovich had watched his neighbours’ houses burn down to the ground in Kyiv and he needed a safe place to put his money. So he did what millions of amateur investors have done in recent years: he turned to cryptocurrency. “It was impossible and unsafe to store funds in the form of banknotes. There was a big risk of theft, we also had cases of looting. Therefore, I trusted a ‘stable and reliable’ cryptocurrency. Not for the purpose of speculating, but simply to save,” he says.

The digital asset that Popovich chose in April was terra, a “stablecoin” whose value was supposed to be pegged to the dollar. It collapsed in May, sparking a rout in the cryptocurrency market whose victims include Popovich. He lost $10,000 (£8,200). Popovich says his losses were “devastating”, although donations from sympathetic onlookers on social media have helped make up some of the shortfall. He says: “I stopped sleeping normally, lost 4kg, I often have headaches and anxiety.”

Popovich is one of many experiencing the deep chill of the current crypto winter, more than four years after the market’s cornerstone, bitcoin, marked the first digital freeze by tumbling from its then peak. It went on a long tear after that but it has come to a juddering halt, with bitcoin falling below the $20,000 mark at one point this month – far below its peak of nearly $69,000, which it hit last November.

The fall has been sharp and spectacular: an overall market that was estimated to be worth more than $3tn barely six months ago is now worth less than $1tn.

Crypto boom: a new digital economy

The beginnings of the latest crypto boom held all the hallmarks of being another instance of the “Robinhood economy”, named after the popular American stock trading app. Bored white collar workers, stuck at home because of pandemic lockdowns but awash with disposable income, turned to day trading as a way to pass the time. Subscribers to the r/WallStreetBets forum on the popular online discussion site Reddit doubled over the course of 2020 and then quadrupled in the first month of 2021, as a small army of retail investors flooded into assets as varied as the then bankrupt car rental company Hertz, the troubled video game retailer GameStop and the electric car manufacturer Tesla, pushing the latter from $85 at the beginning of the pandemic to a high of $1,243 towards the end of 2021.

Cryptocurrencies also benefited from the surge in day trading. Bitcoin soared from a low of $5,000 in March 2020 to more than $60,000 a year later. The currency has had that sort of precipitous increase before: in 2017, it had risen 20-fold, to its then peak of $19,000. But in the latest boom, ethereum, the number two cryptocurrency, had an even more impressive climb, from just $120 to a high of almost $5,000 in 2021.

Cryptocurrency is the name for any digital asset that works like bitcoin, the original cryptocurrency, which was invented in 2009. There is a “decentralised ledger”, which records who owns what, built into a “blockchain”, which secures the whole network by ensuring transactions are irreversible once made. In the years since then, a dizzying amount of variations have arisen, but the core – the blockchain concept – is remarkably stable, in part because of the social implications of truly decentralised networks being immune to government oversight or regulation.

Where, 10 years ago, people simply spoke of trading in bitcoin, the space has ballooned. As well as cryptocurrencies themselves, , the sector has developed in a complex ecosystem. It encompasses Web3, a broader selection of apps and services built on top of cryptocurrencies, DeFi, an attempt to bootstrap an entire financial sector out of code rather than contracts, and non-fungible tokens (NFTs), which use the same technology as cryptocurrencies to trade in objects rather than money.

The flood of money washing into the world of crypto did more than simply inflate the paper wealth of pre-existing shareholders. Instead, it led to a surge of interest in, and funding for, the vast array of projects that aimed to capitalise on the underlying technology of cryptocurrencies. For a generation of new investors, the “decentralised finance” opportunities of the sector were appealing. Built on top of the “programmable money” of the ethereum cryptocurrency, the “DeFi” [decentralised finance] sector is an attempt to expand bitcoin’s anti-establishment ethos to cover the entire economy.

Take the comparatively small sector of the crypto market known as NFTs. A product dating back to 2014, NFTs take the tech used to create cryptocurrencies, but let creators link unique assets to the blockchain, instead of money-like currencies. That means NFTs can be traded that represent works of art, virtual collectibles, or even function as tickets to events or membership of clubs. And like cryptocurrencies, they can be bought or sold in open exchanges, held pseudonymously, and packaged up or securitised in complex financial instruments.

One token, representing years of work by the digital artist Beeple, sold for $69m; another, linked to the first tweet sent by the Twitter founder Jack Dorsey, was bought for $2.9m. Individual NFTs in the Bored Ape Yacht Club collection – the most consistently desired examples of “profile pic” NFTs, designed to be used as pre-packaged online identity – regularly sold for $1m-$3m apiece. But by the beginning of 2022, the NFT bubble appeared to have already popped. “Floor” prices for large NFT collections had plummeted, and, while many large NFT acquisitions have stayed in private collection, those that have been put back on the market have fared poorly: the Dorsey tweet was withdrawn from sale after achieving a top bid of just $14,000.

And then: the crash

The crypto crisis has played out against the backdrop of wider market problems, as fears over the Ukraine conflict, rising inflation and higher borrowing costs stalk investors. Some market watchers play down the prospect of a crypto crash triggering serious problems elsewhere in the financial markets or the global economy. The total value of all cryptocurrencies is about $1tn currently (with bitcoin accounting for about 40% of the total), which compares with approximately $100tn for the world’s stock markets.

Since November the value of all cryptocurrencies has fallen from $3tn, meaning that $2tn worth of wealth has been wiped out, with no serious knock-on effects to the broader stock market – so far. Teunis Brosens, the head economist for digital finance at the Dutch bank ING, says the traditional financial system is relatively well shielded because established banks – the cornerstones of the financial world that buckled in 2008 – are not exposed to cryptocurrencies because they do not hold digital assets on their balance sheets, unlike during the financial crisis when they held toxic debt products related to the housing market.

“What has happened in the crypto market has caused great losses for some investors and it’s all very painful and not something I want to downplay,” he says. “But it would be overplaying the role that crypto currently has in the economic and financial system if you were to think there could be systemic consequences for the wider financial system or even a global recession directly caused by crypto assets.” To date, the turmoil has been limited to the crypto sector. Digital assets have been hit by some of the same economic issues that have affected the wider global economy and stock markets. Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies have been affected by concerns over rising inflation and the ensuing increases in interest rates by central banks, which has made risky assets less attractive to investors. This meant that as stock markets declined, so too did crypto assets.

But the collapse last month of terra also hit confidence in cryptocurrencies. In June, a cryptocurrency lender, Celsius, was forced to stop customer withdrawals. And a hedge fund that made big bets on the crypto markets slid towards liquidation. Crypto investors and firms that had made bets on the crypto market using digital assets as collateral were forced into a selling spree. Kim Grauer, the head of research at the cryptocurrency data firm Chainalysis, says: “It was a combination of the stock market plus the kind of excessive reaction that is typical of crypto markets because of these cascading liquidations. In this case the key event was terra.”

She added: “Crypto is not going away. And it has experienced crashes more severe than this crash.” Regulators and various government agencies are looking closely. Harry Eddis, the global co-head of fintech at Linklaters, a London-based law firm, says recent events in the crypto asset market will strengthen regulators’ determination to rein in the industry.“nI think it will certainly stiffen the sinews of the regulators in saying that they’re more than justified in regulating the industry, because of the obvious risks with a lot of the crypto assets out there,” he says.

In the UK, the financial watchdog continues to expand safeguards on crypto products. Its latest proposals on marketing crypto products to consumers could lead to significant restrictions on crypto exchanges operating in the UK. Consumers reported 4,300 potential crypto scams to the Financial Conduct Authority’s website over a six-month period last year, far ahead of the second place category, pension transfers, which had 1,600 reports. The FCA has 50 live investigations, including criminal inquiries, into companies in the sector.

The terra collapse has also heightened regulatory concerns about stablecoins, because they are backed by traditional assets and therefore could pose a risk to the wider financial system. In the UK, the Treasury wants a regime in place for dealing with a stablecoin collapse, saying in May that a terra-like failure could endanger the “continuity of services critical to the operation of the economy and access of individuals to their funds or assets”.

“Even just the top three stablecoins hold reserves totalling $140bn in traditional assets, much of this being in commercial paper and US treasuries. A run on redemptions of the largest coin (tether) could destabilise the entire crypto asset system and spill over into other markets,” says Carol Alexander, the professor of finance at University of Sussex Business School.

Elsewhere, the EU is drawing up a regulatory framework for crypto assets with the aim of introducing it by 2024, while in the US Joe Biden has signed an executive order directing the federal government to coordinate a regulatory plan for cryptocurrencies including ensuring “sufficient oversight and safeguard against any systemic financial risks posed by digital assets”. The Federal Trade Commission, the US consumer watchdog, says 46,000 people have lost more than $1bn to crypto scams since the start of 2021.

In general, regulators have been talking tough about cryptocurrencies. The chair of the FCA has called for “strong safeguards” to be put in place for the crypto market, while the head of the US financial regulator has warned consumers about crypto products promising returns that are “too good to be true”, while Singapore has said it will be “brutal and unrelentingly hard” on misbehaviour in the crypto market.

‘I’m sure crypto will bubble again

Where crypto goes from here is an unanswerable question. For proponents, such as Changpeng Zhao, the multibillionaire owner of the Binance cryptocurrency exchange, the sector is sure to recover – though it might take some time. “I think given this price drop … it will probably take a while to get back,” he told the Guardian last week. “It probably will take a few months or a couple of years.”

For sceptics, however, the plummet could be a lasting wound. “Bitcoin will be around for decades,” says David Gerard, author of Attack of the 50-Foot Blockchain. “All you need is the software, the blockchain and two or more enthusiasts. Unless there’s new stringent regulation, I’m sure crypto will bubble again. But if there’s a genuine consumer bubble, it may not reach the heights of this one. The 2021-22 bubble made it to the Super Bowl. As many a dotcom found out 20 years ago, there’s nowhere to go from there – you’ve reached every consumer in America.”

But one thing both sides agree on is that the dividing line between “survivable downturn” and “cryptoapocalypse” is likely to involve neither bitcoin nor ethereum, but the third biggest cryptocurrency: a stablecoin called tether. Stablecoins are a foundational part of the crypto ecosystem. Their value is fixed to that of a conventional currency, allowing users to cash out of risky positions without going through the rigamarole of a bank transfer, and enabling crypto-native banks and DeFi establishments to work without taking on a currency risk.

In essence, stablecoins function like the banks of the crypto economy, allowing people to park their money safely in the knowledge that it is not exposed to wider risk. Which means that when a stablecoin collapses, it has a very similar effect to a bank failure: money disappears across the ecosystem, liquidity dries up, and other institutions begin to fail in a domino effect. The beginning of the latest crisis in crypto was sparked by exactly that: the failure of the terra/luna stablecoin. The algorithmic checks and balances put in place to keep it stable broke – triggering a death spiral.

And so on 9 May, a stablecoin called UST “depegged”, dropping from $1 to $0.75 in a day, and then falling further, and further and further. Within four days, the luna blockchain was turned off entirely, the project declared dead. A domino effect took out other crypto establishments. Some of the “contagion” has been prevented, in part through huge loans made by Alameda Ventures, the investment arm of 30-year-old crypto billionaire Sam Bankman-Fried’s empire. Drawing comparisons to JP Morgan in the panic of 1907, “SBF” has stepped in to support the crypto bank Voyager and the embattled exchange BlockFi, and been loudly calling for support from others.

Unlike terra, tether is a “centralised” stablecoin, maintaining its value through reserves which, the company says, are always redeemable one-to-one for a tether token. The model means it cannot enter a “death spiral” like terra, but also means the stability of the token is entirely a function of how much one trusts tether to actually maintain its reserves. That trust is not a sure thing. Tether once claimed to hold all its reserves in “US dollars”, a claim that the New York attorney general’s office concluded in 2021 was “a lie”.

Tether, and Bitfinex – a bitcoin exchange that shares an executive team with, but is legally distinct from, Tether – “recklessly and unlawfully covered-up massive financial losses to keep their scheme going and protect their bottom lines”, Letitia James, the New York attorney general, said at the time. The two companies had transferred money back and forth to cover up insolvency, she said, and had failed to ensure tether was “fully backed at all times”, the investigation concluded.“Te ther has been the timebomb under the market since 2017,” says Gerard.

“It has reduced its market cap by 15bn USDT in the last month, and has claimed that these are redemptions, or a reduction in their holdings of ‘commercial paper’,” she says, referring to one of the key assets that Tether uses on its balance sheet: commercial paper, short-term debt issued by banks and corporations to cover immediate funding needs. Tether, for its part, remains extremely bullish – and has even suggested it may publish a formal audit of its reserves, something it said was “months away” in August 2021.

In late June, Tether announced another expansion: the introduction of the first GBP stablecoin. “We believe that the UK is the next frontier for blockchain innovation and the wider implementation of cryptocurrency for financial markets,” says Paolo Ardoino, the chief technology officer of Tether and Bitfinex. “Tether is ready and willing to work with UK regulators to make this goal a reality.” More regulation, and further market volatility, are a given. Popovich says he is still receiving donations. “I’m extremely embarrassed. Yesterday an anonymous person sent me $50 in the form of cryptocurrency. And I’ve never borrowed anything from anyone in my life. I’m scared and restless.”

Source: Crypto crisis: how digital currencies went from boom to collapse | Cryptocurrencies | The Guardian

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