Twitter Comes of Age; Scams, Spam, & Schemes Arrive

A free laptop and an offer for a free Range Rover from Google [GOOG 347.70 -5.59 (-1.58%) ] might seem tempting enough. But maybe even more important in this ego driven world of ours: An increase in “followers” on your Twitter account. Telemarketers, phishers and schemers think that might be just the bait to get you hooked into some new scam.

My colleague Mike Huckman ( brought this to my attention yesterday afternoon after he noticed some new “followers” to his brand new account. He received “tweets” from “Kristen” and “Jason” and “Heather” notifying Mike that they were now following his updates on Twitter. Thrilled that he’s developing a following, his good cheer was quickly dashed when he clicked on the note linking him to their profiles.

He was directed to, at least in two cases, something called “Craig’s Business Success,” a site generated by someone named Craig Peters from North Hollywood, California, offering to set you up with what he calls the “Google Cash Kit.” He says he makes $5,500 to $7,000 a month just by posting links on Google. He even holds a $5,000 check, ostensibly from Google, and he’s making $50,000 a month. Oh, and there’s even a picture of his new car: A Range Rover! (Coincidence?) He’ll send you the kit free, if you just pay $1.95 in shipping, and you’ll start getting your first checks in about 48 hours.

No less than 41 references to “Google” on Peters’ website, but it’s the last three that should grab your attention: “Google is a trademark of Google Inc. GOOGLE does not endorse or sponsor this site and is no way affiliate with this site.”

I emailed Google for comment, and a spokesman told me, ” As Google is not affiliated with sites like this, we can’t comment on individual claims. However, we recommend that users exercise the same amount of caution they would when evaluating other types of get rich quick claims. Our Legal team reviews them and takes appropriate action if necessary. You may also wish to note that we do provide users the ability to generate revenue through programs like Google AdSense and the Google Affiliate Network.”

There’s no contact information for Peters on the site, which is suspicious enough, but all of this is background drama to the real story: We all know the momentum surrounding Twitter and how much media attention this little company has gotten lately. (I just blogged last week that ongoing and regular outages of the service are beginning to frustrate users, who may have started using the service as a lark, but are now really relying on it to communicate; which means what used to be mere inconvenience could become something far more dire.) This just goes to show that Twitter is coming of age.

The company’s quickly become part of the lexicon. Unlike “Google,” Twitter was always a verb. Think birds and their pleasant singing. But Twitter has changed the definition almost overnight. And the new meaning of “tweets,” or those short, 140 character missives on the Twitter site, threatens to supplant the old meaning of what else a bird does when it’s trying to communicate. With mainstream penetration comes the steady prowl of those trying to take advantage of its success. And it’s now happening to Twitter. It’s attracting this kind of attention in the same way that virus writers who overlooked Apple for so long because of its paltry market share (why bother spending time on viruses for the Mac when so few would be affected) are now beginning to target the Mac community. Funny how 2-million-plus Macs sold every quarter will do that.

To its credit, Twitter seems to be on top of this latest scourge. Even though it only has a few dozen employees, and more than 4 million registered users, those account holders who suddenly took an interest in Mike’s “tweets” have since been removed. Go to “Jason’s” profile and you get the Twitter Owl, asking “Who goes there? Sorry, the account you were headed to has been suspended due to strange activity. Mosey along now, nothing to see here.”

Now, if it can just do something about the reliability of its service. Oh, and coming up with an actual revenue model so it can actually make some money. Then, these guys might have a shot. Shooting down scam artists and “strange activity” so quickly is an impressive first step. Message to Twitterers, especially in an economy like this one: Beware.

You’d be surprised how much damage can be done, even in just 140 bytes or less.


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