Resorting to this

There was no coincidence in the timing (again) of a number of social media posts I woke up to today, the so-called “Freedom Day”. The hot weather here in the UK has seen hundreds of thousands of Brits head to the beach as the “staycation” as taken over from the “vacation”. Many prospective holiday makers will not risk booking an overseas trip just yet whilst the destinations list remains so fluid in terms of restrictions going out and coming back in. So most of us will stay right here in the beautiful British Isles.

With restrictions being eased, then bookings at some of the most popular locations have understandably gone through the roof. One of the most popular family destinations is Center Parcs, who have a number of parks across the UK, with plenty of outdoor activities for all as well as restaurants and their spa facilities. Such is the demand for accommodation in their parks that it is often hard to find any free spaces. But fear not because they are offering a free break for four people, plus spending money and all travel paid. And it couldn’t be easier to enter the competition – just share the competition page on Facebook, comment and like it. Who wouldn’t enter that with it being so easy.

Except we all know that because it is too easy there should be a red flag being frantically waved in our heads. Let’s take a look at what can be found on Facebook.

Picture 1 is a genuine Center Parcs UK post – a news story about a location for a new site being found in West Sussex. There isn’t a call to action, the spelling and grammar are spot on, the logo is correct, the name of the company is also correct and they have been verified with the blue tick.

Picture 2 is the first attempt at trying to pretend to be Center Parcs. As you can see they have made a terrible attempt at spelling the company name plus there is some poor grammar in the text. Picture 3 is better, at least the name is correct but the logo isn’t. The pictures are taken direct from the Center Parcs website.

Irrespective if they are genuine-looking, why would Center Parcs have any reason or motivation to give away such a prize? They are turning people away such is the demand for staycations. Why would they need you to “Like”, “Share” and “Comment” on the post?

Because this is all about collecting as much personal data from social media users as possible which can be used or sold on at a later date. When I first saw the “competition” on Facebook, over 33,000 had shared it, even more had liked it. Who is to say that a significant percentage may be contacted because they have “won” the holiday? What is the next step? An admin fee payable, which requires bank details to be shared?

I know the last 18 months have been tough on us all, and the thought of a holiday is incredibly tempting which is why we all need to be extra vigilant and really think before we are tempted to act. If you see similar offers, take a step back and ask “what’s in it for them”? Big brands rarely give away anything so cheaply, yet thousands of social media users will.

Topical hacking

Let’s roll back a week when everything was rosy in the English garden – well, at least in terms of football. The nation was on a high as a victory over Denmark in the European Championships Semi-Final would see the country take on Italy for the right to be proclaimed Champion of Europe. Talk was of trying to find tickets and replica shirts, both as rare as an England appearance in the final itself.

With little chance of finding a current replica shirt, unless you were a politician where it seemed you only had to stand in front of a camera to get a “box fresh” one, complete with creases, fans looked at the next best thing and went retro. Like any sporting side, there have been a fair few terrible kit designs over the years mixed in with a few design classics. Thankfully, most of the latter (and some of the former), have been produced again and sold through websites over the last few years. In fact, the retro sporting shirt market is probably as strong today as it ever has been, with many fans shunning the incredibly expensive new shirts and preferring the bygone day look.

One company that has been providing this retro shirts for many years is Classic Football Shirts. They offer a fantastic range of replica shirts (over 30,000 different shirts), at decent prices and are an example of a small business that has found its niche and become quite big (remember my adage of “Get Big, Get Niche or Get Out”? Here’s an example of how being niche can lead to growing big). With the whole nation becoming gripped with football fever, what better time to buy a retro shirt?

Sensing the demand out there, as if by magic emails started appearing in inboxes from the company offering a 15% cash back on previous orders to customers – what a fantastic gesture. Except it wasn’t from Classic Football Shirts. The emails looked like they were but there were some tell-tale signs that it wasn’t from them. The emails were phishing attempts, looking to cash in on the football euphoria and a short supply of the replica England shirts.

The email address it came from had an extra “s” in – classicsfootballshirts.co.uk – a domain name registered on the 25th June and at first glance doesn’t raise any red flags. The email itself contained poor grammar that should have been a warning sign for a scam but many customers, not based in the UK or who may not be fluent in English, it was an offer too good to miss. All they needed to do was click on a link in the email and complete the form to get their 15% cash back.

The firm reacted quickly when it became aware of the issue (within 30 minutes of emails being received by customers), promising an immediate investigation. They took the correct course of action in contacting the authorities and informing customers of the situation. What is clear is this was a very deliberate and targeted attack, with the fraudsters taking advantage of the footballing euphoria in the country. The domain name still appears to be registered although any website attached to it has been removed.

Whilst there are still ongoing investigations on the source of the attack and what data was used by the scammers, it is a timely reminder to all of us about taking a moment to check any similar offers that appear to be too good to be true. In this case, asking yourself why the company would simply be giving free money away, rather than discounting future orders for instance? It doesn’t matter how small or big an organisation is – one of their core objectives is to make money and giving it away is contrary to that strategy.

A week on and we are all footballed out. The bunting has come down, the wallcharts put away and those little flags you attach to the windows in your car lay discarded on roads up and down the country. Security incidents like this remind us that no firms are safe from the eyes of the fraudsters and that we, as consumers, need to be cautious about any too good to be true offers we receive. In doing so we all become part of the solution rather than the growing problem of online fraud.

It’s coming home…but is it real?

After 18 months of restrictions, regulations and down right misery for many in England, the performance of the England National Football Team in the European Championships has been a source of escapism for many and downright joy and national pride for the rest. In case you didn’t already know, It’s coming home* this week. Should England overcome Denmark at Wembley on Wednesday night they will face a final in London on Sunday night against either Italy, the favourites, and previous winners, Spain. It’s a tough ask, but the team under the management of Gareth Southgate, has given the nation hope at a time when it was seriously lacking. Good times indeed. But good times also bring bad people out in force, looking to exploit the situation and profit from the opportunity.

The interest and support for the England team has led to unprecedented demand both for tickets for games to see them play at Wembley and for replica shirts. Prior to the tournament, an official Nike England shirt (adult size) would cost a minimum of £70, and there was stock with most of the online retailers. Three weeks later and it is almost impossible to find one in the same stores.

That is excellent news for Nike, the manufacturer, the retailers and also the Football Association who will also get a cut from each sale. But it is also excellent news for the scammers and counterfeiters who will play on that increased demand and limited supply to fill the vacuum. There have been adverts on social media in recent weeks, carefully designed to say they aren’t selling the actual Nike replica shirts, but using language and imagery that suggests they are. Many of these stores will be genuine, but the products not what people are expecting. But there will also be online retailers who are offering what appears to be the genuine items but nothing will ever arrive – they have been scammed out of personal and financial information. That is hardly a feel-good moment. Unfortunately, it doesn’t take much searching to find websites selling the shirts at what appears to be too good to be true pricing (search “cheap England replica shirt” and see for yourself), whilst a search on some of the more popular market place websites review very cheap products, but using imagery from the back which means the images avoid detection from brand recognition software and also allows the sellers to ship low quality goods.

The cheap and often infringing merchandise situation is nothing new. In the US, Operation Team Player is the annual crackdown on merchandise around the Super Bowl. In the days leading up to the last Super Bowl in Tampa in February 2021, over 169,000 counterfeit items, with a street value of $44 million were seized. The war on counterfeits continues, fuelled by rampant demand for products such as the replica shirts.

It isn’t only fake merchandise which will cause issues in the next week for football fans. Whilst the number of fans allowed into Wembley has increased as social distancing regulations have been relaxed, the 90,000 capacity stadium will not be full, which means tickets will be at an extra premium. The face value price for tickets for the Final on Sunday range from £250 to approximately £815. Ticket resale websites are selling them from £1,800 per ticket up to £15,000.

If England do beat Denmark then demand for a place at Wembley for the team’s biggest game in over 50 years will be huge. The good news is that Covid-19 has meant that paper tickets have been replaced by e-tickets, which can be transferred securely via the UEFA App, so the sight of ticket touts/scalpers, on the way to the stadium with fistfuls of tickets is thankfully a thing of the past. However, like genuine buyers, they too have gone digital and will claim to be able to transfer tickets immediately to a willing buyer.

With entry on digital devices by QR Codes, the danger is that rather than tickets being sold, they are screenshots of a genuine ticket, sold multiple times, which can only be verified as genuine on arrival at the stadium and presentation of the QR code. If it has already been used, then access will be denied, meaning someone could have paid a huge sum for what appears to be a genuine ticket, only to find out at the last minute it is counterfeit.

Unfortunately, there is very little that can be done to stop this happening – should England lose to the Danes then that is one way whereby demand will fall very quickly, but even then tickets will be changing hands about face value for the final.

The message hasn’t changed – if something looks too good to be true it probably is, whether that is an England shirt for a big discount or tickets to the sold out final. Whilst we all want to play our part in supporting our nation in what could be our biggest and most successful week of football since 1966, we also need to be pragmatic enough not to be part of the problem fuelling intellectual property infringements and making the lives of the fraudsters easier and richer.

Enjoy the games and Come On England!

And yes, I do believe It’s Coming Home*

*It’s coming home is the opening line to a song, first released back in 1996 by Frank Skinner, David Baddiel and The Lightning Seeds for the 1996 European Championships held in England, and re-released two years later for the 1998 World Cup. Unfortunately, England didn’t manage to bring the trophy home on either occasion, nor at any subsequent tournament they have taken part in.

The reality behind the smishers

We are all familiar with the scam text messages that have become so common over the last year. The fraudsters have adapted their business models, realised that quantity rather than quality is the way forward and have bombarded us with requests for payment for undelivered parcels, fines for social media transgressions, payment requests to jump the Covid testing and vaccination queues and all such variants. Many of the texts have been poorly written with spelling and grammatical errors, whilst some just use URLs that are clearly not right. Those scammers are reliant on the less clued up recipients not checking or realising what they are doing.

The motivation for the fraudsters is always financial gain. Even if by following a URL there is no request for payment or money, the chances are that somewhere, someone will profit from your action. That may be simply confirming that the mobile number is genuine and can be sold on to another fraudster, or that there has been a download of malware onto the recipients computer, which in turn could be used to gain resellable or reusable personal and financial information. In worst case scenarios, personal medical information could be shared which is incredibly valueable to fraudsters.

The warnings about these scams are being broadcast but they are often lost in the noise of every day life. If you are suspicious of any text message you receive, you can report it to your mobile network operator by forwarding the text (in the UK) to 7726. Your network operator will then investigate.

But is is rare that we hear of major successes in talking this simple form of fraud. But last week police in Manchester raided a hotel room and arrested a man as well as removing equipment that had been used to send over 26,000 text messages in a single day claiming to be from courier and logistics firm Hermes, asking for payment to re-arrange a delivery. These such text scams have been on the rise in recent months, with the fraudsters trying the tactic of asking for a small payment (usually under £2) and hoping that it will not raise any concerns. However, the small payment is only the start of a bigger scam, as the fraudsters then have personal and financial information they can exploit even further.

Example of a Hermes text message received last week

Not only did the arrested individual have the equipment capable of creating the fraudulent text messages but also had over 44,000 mobile phone numbers stored, ready for more smishing attacks. Whilst this was a major success for the police, it is only the tip of the iceberg. There is likely to be hundreds of similar individuals up and down the country who are operating similar operations at the moment, creating havoc on a daily basis.

The diligence of the police and authorities is key in the war against fraud, but we all need to be ready and willing to take to the battlefield in the fight. That means questioning every suspicious text we receive, reporting them if necessary but most importantly, not giving the fraudsters any fuel to continue their operations by not engaging in any ways with them.

Bottling it – how one simple action can damage a brand

There is no doubt that global sports stars carry significant weight when it comes to which products they do and don’t engage with or endorse. Some of the image rights deals, which include brand endorsements, are often worth more than their contractual relationships to play the sports. But what happens if a player’s actions damage a brand?

There have been plenty of stories over the years of sports stars behaving badly and bringing not only themselves, but their employers and their sponsors into disrepute. The damage to a brand’s value by being associated with such instances of bad behaviour can be immediate and tarnish their reputation for significant periods of time afterwards. Likewise, there are instances of seemingly normal actions that have negative consequences for rights holders.

The problem can quickly spread if action isn’t taken as we have seen in the last week during the European Football Championships. The commercial partners for the tournament pay huge sums of money to be associated with the governing body, UEFA, but also with the players in the tournament. Whilst there will be exclusive “assets” that they get, such as VIP tickets and hospitality, the main benefit the commercial partners get is that through brand exposure to a global audience of hundreds of millions football fans. Gone are the days when relatively local brands, or even regional ones would be the main sponsors – one look at the commercial partners for Euro2020 reveals Qatar Airways, Alipay, Antchain and Gazprom – not necessarily household names across Europe or suppliers of products and services that would be targeted at the tournament team supporters. But the traditional global brands such as Coca-Cola and Heineken are there too, as they are for most major tournaments.

However, Cristiano Ronaldo and Paul Pogba, undoubtedly two of the biggest (and most expensive based on transfer fees paid) stars of the tournament have inadvertently caused a bit of a sponsorship debate about who holds the power. After Portugal’s victory against Hungary last week, Ronaldo appeared at the press conference and immediately removed the bottle of Coca-Cola from in front of the microphone and replaced them with a bottle of water. Pogba, in a similar move, removed the bottle of Heineken. Whilst their motives may have been genuine (Ronaldo is a health and fitness machine, Pogba a devote muslim), the consequences of their actions resulted in brand damage for Coca-Cola and Heineken respectively, with the former seeing a drop in their share price that reduced the value of the company by over £2 billion. It is very hard to pin that single action to the market valuation as other factors contribute to share price movements but there will have been some impact. On the flip side, a number of other players, seeing an opportunity have moved the bottles into more prominent positions during their interviews, perhaps trying to encourage the sponsors to endorse them.

There have been other high profile guerilla-style brand issues in football through the years – back in the 1974 World Cup, with adidas sponsoring the Netherlands team, their star player Johann Cruyff was endorsed by bitter rivals Puma. Rather than face punitive measures by wearing Puma, Cruyff removed one of the adidas three stripes from his kit and boots, something that only the untrained eye would have seen at the time. In 2013 adidas, who sponsor and have an investment in Bayern Munich, were left fuming after the Bavarian side presented new signing Mario Gotze to the world at a press conference. No issues with that, except Gotze turned up wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with the Nike swoosh on. Nobody from Bayern Munich thought that may not be a good idea before allowing him to enter stage left.

The actions this week may get brands thinking about who does hold the power in terms of the sponsorship deal and will no doubt set off a trend that without management could damage the brand value and reputation of some commercial partners.

More words of the dilemma faced by brand holders in the world of sports sponsorship can be read here from Trademark Review.

I’m fairy sure these are fakes….

How scammers use pictures of the real deal to trick online shoppers into parting with their cash

We are not in the business of selling cars, we sell dreams

A picture says a thousand words, so the saying goes, but what if the picture in question is fake, or the picture is real but the product, service or solution doesn’t exist?

One of the major selling points for any online merchant today is to have good imagery. In most instances we want to look at what we are buying, or who we are engaging with, from different angles, as well as reading genuine reviews. You don’t have to go far searching online for tales of woe of where reality is a very different world to what was advertised online, whether that is hotels, cars, clothes or even dates.

But there is a growing trend of fraudsters using images and product descriptions of genuine small businesses, riding off the back of their hard work in building their business then undercutting them and defrauding customers. Not only does this damage the revenues of the genuine businesses but it can also impact negatively on their reputations.

One small business that has seen this happen too often is FantasyWire, so much so that they now have clear warnings on their website that they do not advertise on Social Media and any similar products being advertised and sold are fakes. The artist behind the creations, Robin Wight, has taken years to grow his business only to see fraudsters look to profit from his intellectual property. The most common ruse used is to use Facebook Ads with a picture of a genuine work of Robin’s then direct potential buyers off onto a website to take payment, although the products can also been found on Amazon too (search “fairy wire sculptures”)

The commissioned art that FantasyWire sell starts from around £15,000, whilst the scammers offer their “products” for less than £50 – that in itself should be a major warning sign for any potential customer. If someone does buy one then at best they will get a sub-standard product that is nothing like the photos being used, or at worst they will receive nothing and their personal and financial details will be used in further exploits.

Whilst the artist can report the fake ads to the Social Media networks and the marketplace sites, he has to do each one individually. “They’re asking me to report every leaf off a tree and I’m trying to report a forest”, Wright told the BBC about the issue he faced not only on the fake ads but the overwhelming number of them.

For small businesses, a formal brand protection strategy may be too costly, although where there is clear evidence of damage to revenues and reputation the return on investment is worthwhile. However, one less formal way small businesses can get an idea who is using their IP, such as pictures of products in ads, is to use Google Image Search, where you can upload a picture and Google will search for where it is being used online. It isn’t foolproof but it is free and easy to use, with results appearing immediately and will give businesses an idea on the extent of the issue they face. Social Media networks and market place platforms need to do more to protect brand holders, especially in how they can report clear infringements. It is all too easy for fraudsters to set up their online presence, create fake ads and start defrauding people.

Naturally, we are all after a bargain, but somethings things are simply too good to be true and it pays to do a bit of research before parting with your cash. Not everything is what it seems online and whilst many of us lose our natural skepticism when we are using Social Media, it pays to be cautious – not only are you protecting yourself, but the owner of the real intellectual property and potentially other online shoppers too.

More details of the story can be found on this article by the BBC.

It’s just not cricket..

As COVID-19 related restrictions have started to ease, the return of spectators to major sporting events has been welcome by all. Pilot and test events have seen up to 20,000 at Wembley Stadium for the FA Cup Final in May, whilst the forthcoming European Championships will see even more fans in major grounds around Europe. However, demand for tickets still outstrips supply for domestic and international events, which is why most organisations have invested in technology that has allowed them to stream their games to a much wider audience.

Domestic cricket in the UK has been ravaged by COVID-19 with fans, in severely limited numbers being allowed to watch the game for the first time in over a year last month. The incredibly popular T20 version of the game kicked off its season on Wednesday, with a few hundred fans in the grounds supplemented by thousands watching online. The teams have been providing free streams of all of their games this season, either through their website, YouTube or Facebook.

The first game of the season was the mid-afternoon start between Lancashire and Derbyshire from Old Trafford, streamed via YouTube and the Lancashire Facebook page. With approximately 17,000 fans watching online, the game was rudely interrupted on YouTube by a notice, saying that “This video is no longer available due to a copyright claim by England and wales cricket borad /Sporta Technologies Pvt.ltd.” Note the ‘wales’ not being capitalised, or the incorrect spelling of board (‘borad’). A few hours later exactly the same thing happened with the YouTube coverage of the games being streamed by Kent and Somerset.

The ECB did not submit a claim to YouTube, and in the words of Lancashire Cricket Club, “It is absolutely clear that no copyright infringement has been made in the streaming of this game”. The ECB vowed to investigate the situation with YouTube.

Digital piracy costs rights holders billion of pounds every year. It is a huge, global issue and platforms such as YouTube have invested significantly in artificial intelligence that enables swift detection and removal of infringing material. However, any specific intellectual property infringement claims against material being hosted or streamed on YouTube has to follow a set process (details here). It quite clearly states that “The copyright owner or agent authorised to act on the owner’s behalf should submit the request” – in other words you cannot submit a claim if you have no material interest in the content. This means only the IP owner or their authorised agent, such as a brand protection company or IP law firm, can request for material to be removed.

YouTube state that “Do not make false claims. Misuse of the takedown webform, such as submitting false information, may result in the suspension of your account or other legal consequences” and then prior to the submission of any claim that “The information in this notification is accurate, and under penalty of perjury, I am the owner, or an agent authorised to act on behalf of the owner, of an exclusive right that is allegedly infringed”

However, it appears that YouTube acted on a request not from the rights holder, the ECB, but on a third party who didn’t use a spell checker. This begs the question as to whether the platforms, in their haste to act on removal requests, do not carry out robust enough checks on who is making the claim.

All three teams were able to continue to stream the games via Facebook (it does beg the question whether a similar infringement claim was sent to them but they saw it wasn’t from a genuine rights holder) and fortunately, this wasn’t a paid event, which would have led to refund claims from viewers. Hopefully, an investigation by YouTube, the world’s biggest and most popular video sharing and streaming platform, will clarify what happened and make the necessary tweaks to ensure that it won’t happen again.

Digital piracy is still a huge issue that rights holders and the platform providers are constantly trying to battle, but in the heat of the moment, it is important to ensure that the genuine content isn’t impacted otherwise everyone will be on a sticky wicket.

Copy that. No return on investment from cloned firms

Investment scams have been with us for hundreds of years. The South Sea Bubble investment scam dates back to 1720 and cost hundreds of investors their life savings. Ponzi schemes were the flavour of the times at the turn of the millennium to entice innocent investors to art with their money, whilst the current trend of cryptocurrency based fraud is a major concern for authorities.

The 2000 film ‘The Boiler Room’ focused on the a chop stock brokerage firm that runs a “pump and dump”, using brokers to create artificial demand in the stock of delisted or fake companies. When the firm is done pumping the stock, the firm founders sell and trade for legitimate stocks for record profits. However, the investors then have no one to sell their shares to in the market when the price of the stock plummets, causing them to lose their investment.

Whilst the film focused on the fictitious investment firm “J.T Marlin” and their illegal practices, it isn’t a pure work of fiction. Rogue investment companies exist today, to such an extent that the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) have issued a report on clone investment scams.

In 2020 scammers sold more than £78 million in fake investment products in the UK alone, with the average loss to victims over £45,000. Some may think a 20 year old film was a work of fiction but it seems that clone investment firm scams are closer to the truth than we all believe.

The modus operandi used by many of these fraudulent firms is in the first instance to replicate/copy/rip-off legitimate firms, licensed in the case of the UK by the FCA. Websites can be quickly copied, replacing the name of the firm and the logo within a few minutes. Domain names can be easily registered, now using relevant gTLDs such as .Fund or .Investments, investment material and fake prospectuses can be generated quickly. It doesn’t take too long, too much investment and too many innocent victims for a fraudulent financial services firm to be making a profit.

The concept of the “Boiler room”, a high pressured, cold calling sales environment is often the starting point for the fraudsters, using cheap labour to plough through lists that have been bought, often segmented through social media interactions and profiles so that the calls are never truly random. But the nature of that conversation will be very much focused on the hard sell of these “once in a lifetime” investments.

They’ll try to convince you that they work for a genuine company and use high-pressure selling tactics to get you to buy ‘investments’. These ‘investments’ are worthless and often aren’t even offered by the company they’re pretending to be. Some may make multiple calls to build that element of a relationship and thus credibility. However, the investment and the subsequent promised high returns don’t exist.

Whilst most of us will say we wouldn’t fall for such a scam, we do. As the figures from the FCA prove, this is a highly lucrative business for the fraudsters, one that has delivered at least £78 million in the last twelve months to them, and that is only the cases that have been reported to them.

The common sense approach is if something sounds too good to be true, especially financial investments, it probably is. Regulated investment firms in the UK operate to a Code of Conduct and will not simply call anyone up randomly and ask them to invest over the phone. Virtually all regulated financial services companies will contact you via secure message. They certainly won’t ask for deposits to be sent via Paypal, Western Union or normally bank transfer.

If you are in any doubt, check their details on the FCA website (www.fca.org.uk). If they do appear on their register but you are still unsure, look up their details and call them or email using those to check if the approach was genuine. Incoming phone numbers are easily spoofed by fraudsters to make it appear they’re calling from the expected location or company, as too are emails.

A few minutes of research could save you being the victim of a scam that could cost you thousands.

Interview techniques

Having spent the last few months looking at opportunities in the market place, I am getting familiar with the tactics used by organisations to “streamline” the process. The last time I was looking for work was sixteen years ago when LinkedIn had just started to be a thing and the reliance was on searching print media for job openings as well as some of the bigger online recruiters. Most insisted on a face to face interview to discuss your cv, your job ambitions and what potential openings they had.

Today, it has all changed. It is now very easy for a company to post a position online, create an automated process and quickly create short-lists based on algorithms, AI and automation. The consequence is that far more applicants are applying for each job listed, because the odds of making a short-list have been significantly reduced as the filtering based on a cv or a LinkedIn profile can be done by computers in seconds. Consequently, with in many instances the human element in the initial job search being removed, more applicants apply, creating a catch 22 situation.

In the excitement to find an interesting role that ticks as many boxes as it can, we are often prepared to give away more personal information than is often needed. But we do so because the prize is so worthwhile. Except, what if there isn’t a job? What if the ad posted online is simply an elaborate phishing scheme to get candidates to share personal data that could be used for their financial gain?

Employment/Recruitment scams are nothing new. They have been with us for many years and have cost some victims thousands of pounds. There have been cases of individuals selling up and moving their families to a new country because they have a new role only to find on day one that there was never a job and the fees they paid to sort out visas or short-term accommodation have been pocketed by fraudsters. But the acceptance of our digital lives today has led us to be less cautious when it comes to giving out personal details.

It would take a fraudster a matter of minutes to create a fake company profile on Social Media, adding in a few exotic office locations, a fictitious management team and of course, some interesting open vacancies as the company looks to expand into new markets. Applicants for the roles need to submit CVs, a cover letter and complete a suitability questionnaire, all designed to glean information that could be resold on, or used by the fraudsters themselves to lure the candidate deeper into their web of lies.

Sounds far fetched? Well, have a read of this article, written by security expert Brian Krebs who reports on just this type of scam taking place a few weeks ago. This is just one example of a practice that is still far too common, especially as it looks to exploit those who may be in desperate need of employment. We need to take as many cautionary steps when seeking a new role as we do when buying from an unknown online store, or responding to a dubious text or WhatsApp message, and be especially wary if the firm approaches you cold, with an amazing offer of employment.

It doesn’t take much to determine whether a job opening is real or not. Whilst many of us will use LinkedIn or popular job sites such as Indeed, most firms will also list the roles on their own websites. So a starting point is to check to see if the role exists there. Still unsure about the company? When did they register their domain name – if it appears very recent and through a proxy registration that should be a red flag. Look at their address on an online map – does it appear to be real? When you search for the address, what companies are listed? Use tools such as Glassdoor to check on what current and former employees say about the business. Also, search for key individuals on LinkedIn – do they appear to be genuine?

The global economy is still in a state of flux and with economic support for many firms slowly being reduced, the employment market is likely to hot up again. A major “supply” of available people will ultimately increase the demand on vacant positions, and the one thing we know from the world of the fraudsters is when demand increases, so too does fraud.

Never bite the hand that feeds unless…

It was a news story that went under the radar in many parts of the word, but on Monday it was reported that a 55 second YouTube video had been sold $760,999. Whilst the video is an opportunist, amateur production, the amount it has been sold for is almost Hollywood value. I am sure many of us will have seen the video in question, simply known as Charlie bit my finger but perhaps we may not in the future, depending on the motivations of the new owner.

The sale came after the video was listed on the website charliebitme.com with the simple explanation of “Bid to own the soon-to-be-deleted YouTube phenomenon, Charlie Bit My Finger, leaving you as the sole owner of this lovable piece of internet history”. The auction ran for just over 24 hours, with the opening bid being $99,999, with 11 active bidders then driving the price up to $760,999, the winning bid by “3fmusic”. The video is still available to watch on YouTube, with the message “Waiting on NFT decision”. What happens next is a mystery.

The video was posted 14 years ago and has since racked up nearly 885 million views – it is a huge investment in a relatively new way of owning digital media. Whilst there could be opportunities to monetise it in some way to get a return on investment through advertising on digital platforms such as YouTube, it would take some time to recover that on a video, which whilst is a piece of Internet history, is over 14 years old. Of course, this could be a shrewd investment, based on the fact there is only one authentic copy of the video which could appreciate in value over time.

On the other hand there is almost certainly copies/downloads of the video elsewhere on the Internet or on peoples digital devices. There are numerous programmes that allow users to download YouTube videos – NFT prices/values are driven in part by scarcity of the digital media, so whilst there will be one owner of the original, others will be able to still watch the same video on other platforms. That is a form of digital piracy but it becomes incredibly hard to constantly monitor the internet for websites that may be hosting the file.

The market of and for NFTs continues to evolve. There have been some interesting developments within the music industry of artists looking to release their material as NFTs, with digital archives of who owns the music being recorded within a specific blockchain, but this particular purchase could be a compelling event for the sale of digital media. Content creators could potentially sell their work as single, authenticated items rather than syndicate content.

Now, where did I put those videos I sent to You’ve Been Framed twenty years ago?