I received an email this morning that struck me as a little odd. At the time I didn’t put all the pieces together, but now I realise the guy may have been string to trick me into getting a link from my site that he could later redirect to wherever he wanted.
Here’s the email, with names redacted to protect the innocent (i.e. me):
Subject: Regarding Copyright Infographic!
Thank you for using our Infographic (http://tiny99.com/564743) in your post: http://halfblog.net/2011/12/02/who-are-the-occupy-wall-street-protestors/
We’ve noticed that you haven’t linked back to the original source of infographic. So, I wanted to reach out to you, to request that if you may link back to the original source. We’ll highly appreciate it.
Please replace the graphic with following code:
<a href=”http://tiny99.com/564743″><img style=”max-width:100%;” alt=”” src=”http://thumbnails.visually.netdna-cdn.com/who-is-occupy-wall-street_50290d958535f.jpg” /></a>
Or you may place the following source link at the bottom of infographic:
I’ll be waiting for your kind response.
Here were my clues at the time that things didn’t smell right:
- The email was sent via my domain registrar. Not the easiest way to manually find my contact info, but it’s probably what someone would do if they were sending out loads of these emails automatically.
- The email was from a generic yahoo.com address. I would expect for this kind of message to come from the site of concern, a marketing company of some kind or a serious sounding legal firm.
- The tiny99.com URL shortened links stink of a scam (or of someone who doesn’t know what they are doing). My original assumption was that Mr. SEO minion here wanted to measure his success to justify his paycheque.
Let’s take a closer look at tiny99:
Here’s what rings alarm bells for me:
- No branding! Could there be a more generic title than ‘URL Shortener’?
- Only 252 total URLs have ever been shortened.
- The ‘Random Fun Link’ is tiny99.com.
So, nothing too conclusive. I’m sure thousands of people tried to create URL shortening services back in the day, though I doubt many are any more. That ship has long since sailed, and it’s been sinking the whole time.
Here’s what I think the scam is:
- Create a bare-bones URL shortening service.
- Get loads of blogs to add your short URLs into their posts by making reasonable sounding requests in the name of reputable blogs.
- At some point in the future, switch those URLs to point wherever you want them to go.
Bam. Instant inbound links to whatever new dodgy website you create or for your less ethical clients.
What I did
Even before I figured out what was probably going on, I wasn’t prepared to put a short URL in one of my posts and introduce an arbitrary point of failure between my site and where I’m pointing to. I did edit my post with a direct link to Fast Co. (I had previously credited the people who produced the infographic that Fast Co. commissioned).
I replied to my new friend explaining this and soon after got a reply back, reproduced below in full: