‘Jerk’ website used Facebook info for scam, FTC charges

Are you a “jerk” or “not a jerk”? Well, if you are, apparently the operators of a website called Jerk.com could change that if you paid a $30 fee.

According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the operators of the website inappropriately harvested personal information from more than 73 million Facebook accounts (many of them younger users) to create fake profiles labeling people one or the other.

Today, the agency announced a cease-and-desist order had been served on the company, which operated between 2009 and 2013. It was operated by Napster co-founder John Fanning, who was served with the complaint. In its complaint, the FTC charges that “the defendants violated the FTC Act by misleading consumers that the content on Jerk.com had been created by other Jerk.com users, when in fact most of it had been harvested from Facebook; and by falsely leading consumers to believe that by paying for a Jerk.com membership, they could access ‘premium’ features that could allow them to change their ‘Jerk’ profile.”

The FTC is seeking an order barring the defendants’ deceptive practices, prohibiting them from using the personal information they improperly obtained, and requiring them to delete the information.

“In today’s interconnected world, people are especially concerned about their reputation online, and this deceptive scheme was a brazen attempt to exploit those concerns,” said Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection.

The site allegedly misled consumers into thinking an acquaintance had created the profile labeling them as a “jerk” or “not a jerk”.

The information was allegedly obtained by using Facebook’s app programming features to download names and photos of Facebook users. Others could share in the fun and pile on by making comments about the person. The whole thing could be cleaned up, the FTC alleges, if users paid a $30 fee, but many subscribers reported never receiving any services.

This is the latest chapter in the “reputation management” business, in which companies get paid to help people clean up their online profiles. There are certainly legitimate companies looking to help people challenge bad information, but in the Internet’s wild, wild West, online profiles are a lot like credit reports: You can challenge erroneous information, but time and good behavior are really the best ways to clean up your reputation.

Originally published in the Clarion-Ledger on 4/15/2014.

What happens in Vegas…can cost you your next job

Before you post those pictures taken during that wild Spring-Break weekend, it might be a good idea to think about your future. Now, this may sound like your Dad talking here (and I happen to be a dad of two teens), but it’s becoming increasingly apparent that what happens in Vegas …or Mexico, or wherever… almost never stays there.

While reading a blog post by my friend Glenn Shepard about personnel management, I noticed that Glenn had posted a link to a study by Crosstab.com showing that employers and recruiters are almost always including social media in the process of vetting potential applicants.

The study was actually conducted a few years ago, but it’s likely that it’s even truer today that your online reputation is an integral part of your reputation. According to the study, 7 of 10 recruiters and HR professionals have rejected candidates at least partially because of what they found online. Interestingly, only seven percent of consumers believed they would be rejected because of those racy Instagram posts.

Many companies, the study reported, are actually requiring online checking, especially more so after several well-publicized instances of online misbehavior. Companies are displaying a high degree of sensitivity to any online missteps of their employees. In one case, a PR rep for InterActive.com who composed what many considered a hate tweet about Africa before boarding an international flight was quickly canned.

Logically, Google searches are the most-used way to check up on applicants, but increasingly Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and others are being checked as well. Employers are looking for information about candidates’ questionable lifestyles, inappropriate comments and other red flags.

Experts advise potential job seekers to use discretion when deciding what to post, checking your online reputation. “Googling” your name is a good start, and deleting anything that might cause an issue can help (but it’s not a 100-percent guarantee). In addition, there are “reputation management” companies, but they usually can’t remove negative information, only increase the likelihood that positive info will come up higher.

The best advice: don’t post anything you wouldn’t want your Mama to see. After all, she’s likely to be online these days, too.

Originally published in the Clarion-Ledger on 3/27/2014.

Online safety: protecting your kids

Originally published on clarionledger.com on 8/26/2013

PDF: Online safety – protecting your kids

With school just having started across the country, a lot of kids are meeting new friends, discovering new things, and using new technologies. It’s an exciting time, full of rich possibilities. Many schools have embraced technology, and many are including Internetbased tools and services to help teach. Some schools are already replacing traditional textbooks with tablet computers and websites.

But with all of the good that’s done by technology such as the Internet, there are also a lot of bad things as well. The Internet is a virtual Wild Wild West, where just about anything is possible. In recent years, problems such as cyber bullying, “sexting” (sending inappropriate photos via text messaging) and online sexual predation have exploded onto the scene.As a parent, I sometimes find it seems overwhelming. But, just as with protecting your kids from other types of crime, your best ally is information.

Among those fighting to catch the bad guys and help stop cybercrime is AttorneyGeneral Jim Hood and his staff of investigators. In the 9 1/2 years of Hood’s tenure in the office, stopping cybercrime has become a major part of his work.

I sent him some questions, and here I’ve summarized some of his responses.

Social networking can lead to dangers. Hood noted that the biggest threat to kids is rooted in the explosive growth of social networking, which provides avenues for threats like cyber bullying to exploitation of kids. “The inherent dangers are that children tend to overshare information on these sites and accept friends or chat with people they have only distant links to,” he said. “The Internet is a forum where people are not always whom they present themselves to be. Today’s technology allows people to see your real time location, which makes kids more vulnerable to potentially being located by someone up to no good.”

Photos can reveal location clues. Posting of photos can allow predators to get clues to the child’s location. “You have to consider that allowing your kids to roam the Internet with no boundaries is very similar to letting them loose on the street or leaving the front door of your house wide open,” he said.

Parents need to be involved. It would be difficult to overstate the importance of parents in protecting your kids, Hood noted. That may mean being nosy. “Parental involvement is key,” he insists. “Don’t let technology get in the way of your interaction with your kids. If your kids are using Instagram, you should use Instagram and learn about it. Have discussions with your children about the good and the bad on the internet.”

There have been many cases in recent years of “cyber bullying”, the practice of using the Internet to harass, threaten or intimidate peers. In some tragic cases, suicide or other types of violence have resulted.

“Caution your children not to share certain information over the Internet,” he said, and teach your children not to react or retaliate to cyber bullying.”

Other tips include showing your kids how to delete and/or block harmful messages before they read them, teaching them about respect and privacy and about the consequences of cyber bullying, and report abuses or threats to the Attorney General’s office and your Internet Service Provider.

Security begins at home. How can parents know if their kids are seeing things they shouldn’t? “Check your internet history logs,” advised Hood. “Place computers in — and restrict use to — general open view areas in your home. Look for warning signs such as closing the lid on the laptop when you come in or putting the phone away quickly.”

Finally, I asked Hood whether he believes parents are generally naive when it comes to policing their kids on the Internet.

“This is more of an education issue,” he said. “Parents who have become familiar with the technology are comfortable discussing issues about the internet with their children. Parents who don’t understand tend to distance themselves and do tend to be more naive about what their kids are doing on the internet. The more we educate parents about the dangers and the benefits of the internet the more we can prevent cyber crimes related to children.”

Here are a few other resources to help protect your kids:

  • Cyber-safety brochures are available at the Attorney General’s website at http://www.agjimhood.com.
  • Netcetera is a really good comprehensive resource, posted by the Federal Trade Commission, about keeping your kids safe online.
  • Cyberbully411 is a resource site specifically designed to provide resource related to the growing threat of cyberbullying. Safekids has good general information about the topic.

Facebook ads could lead to unwanted expenses

via Facebook ads could lead to unwanted expenses | Consumer Watch, clarionledger.com, 4/5/2013.

A New Jersey-based company is in hot water with at least some Mississippi residents, who says the company lured them in with catchy ads promising big results and low risk, but who found out they were on the hook for subscriptions which could end up costing hundreds of dollars.

Keranique, marketed by Urban Nutrition of Hoboken, N.J., promises on its Facebook page that it will “help women get fuller, thicker-looking hair”, and “increases hair manageability, volume and fulness.”

A Facebook ad for the product caught the attention of Tippy Garner of Jackson. Garner was promised a free item when the customer pays the shipping. “The company called to say the item was shipped, and thank you,” Garner explained. So far, so good. However, the rep also informed her that she had been enrolled in a “coupon offer” costing $29.99 per month. When she said she was not interested in the offer, the representative asked her for her credit card number. “He wanted me to give him my credit card number on the phone,” she notes. “I told him I never give out a credit card number to someone who calls me.”

Urban Nutrition sells a variety of products in the “dietary supplement” categories, mostly escaping scrutiny by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). But the company has generated its share of complaints. The Better Business Bureau of New Jersey has logged 272 complaints in the past three years. Online complaint sites also have been racking up customer concerns, with 57 people complaining to Ripoff Report, 25 to Complaints Board and 18 on Scambook. The BBB of New Jersey reports that the company has resolved nearly all of them, although the customers have not always been satisfied with the response. A related company, Longevity, LLC of New York, has its own BBB report, citing 12 complaints.

The company has been cited by the FDA before. In 2005, the FDA sent Urban Nutrition a letter warning them that some of their products were actually drugs, and not dietary supplements as the company claimed.

Interestingly, the company appears to be trying to clean up its image on Google. If you Google “Keranique Scams”, you will get lots of results saying that reports of scams are untrue, or positive testimonials.

At least one other Mississippi consumer, from Vicksburg, has reported problems with the company, but getting geographic information on complainants is difficult. I tried to locate the complainant from Vicksburg, but had no luck.

However, problems of the type Garner reported appear to be quite common, as many customers refer to having automatic subscriptions set up, then having difficulty cancelling them; having to take “store credit” instead of refunds to their credit cards; having the company repeatedly charge their credit cards, after being told to stop; and other concerns. “I would not recommend ‘Get it Free’ on Facebook to anyone,” advises Garner.

If you find yourself with a problem with this or similar issues, contact the company immediately, and keep records of all interactions. If the company does not comply with their promises, file a complaint at www.bbb.org, or contact the Attorney General’s office at www.agjimhood.com.

Above all, before responding to any solicitation, do your homework and remember that if it seems too good to be true, (say it with me…) it probably is.

This may be your last Facebook vote…

via This may be your last Facebook vote… | Consumer Watch, clarionledger.com, 12/4/2012.

Facebook is once again asking for your vote, and this time they want you to vote on whether you will have a vote on future changes. Whaaaat?

The iconic social marketing site is putting a whole suite of new policies to a vote of its estimated 1 billion users, and 30% of users (a number roughly equivalent to the population of the U.S.) must vote down the changes by next Monday (Dec. 10). The changes include:

  • Facebook will eliminate voting on site governance changes in favor of taking user feedback through a question-submission system and webcasts.
  • Facebook can share data to and from its affiliates, including Instagram (which it recently acquired).
  • Facebook may change who can contact you via Messages.
  • Facebook may clarify who can view your content after you hide it from your Timeline.

For its part, Facebook has said it has outgrown the old voting system, which has to have 7,000 comments to make any changes. Of course, that policy was enacted when the site (and its hoodie-wearing founder Mark Zuckerberg) was much younger. The 7,000-comment threshold is reached very quickly with any vote.

However, it remains highly unlikely that 300 million people will vote. According to Facebook’s voting page, approximately 130,000 people had voted as of Tuesday evening, with voters rejecting the change by a more-than 10-to-1 margin. However, it seems to be purely academic at this point: if the 300,000,000 threshold is not reached, the vote would be “advisory”. But I still put in my two cents’ worth anyway, while I still have a vote.