UPDATED: Right now a group of computer-savvy kids in Bratislava have set aside World of Warcraft to begin their day job: convincing you to “click here” and download their RAT (Remote Access Trojan). It’s a nasty little piece of software code which might open your computer — and by extension, your wallet — to thieves. This story started out as a run-down of the “Top Ten Ways” scam artists use to target social media. While doing research for that idea, I fell down the rabbit hole and discovered the “Partnerka” (a network of people who want to enlarge your penis, cure that erectile dysfunction, and then help you meet the Eastern European beauty queen of your dreams). What I found out was this: purveyors of porn and other online spam share convergence points with transnational organized crime organizations. “Click here” to support human trafficking. Wait, what?
Yes, malicious Chrome extensions on Facebook exist (which data-mine your contact and email lists). Snapchat, Vine, Tinder and others will always be targets, because the Partnerka (a Russia word to describe hundreds of well-organized affiliate networks) routinely pay $6.00 per lead (that’s you, if the spammer can just get you “click here” to ‘change the color of your Facebook profile’, or ‘see who has visited your page!’). Once the Partnerka have your information, they rely on their payment-processing capabilities, bulletproof web servers and underground marketplaces (usually forums) to turn a quick profit.
Social networking (typically dating) sites and luxurious vacations at San Zhi Resort in Taiwan are easy to spot as dangerous to your financial health; shopping malls promising the “best price online” are more difficult to resist. The temptation to get Viagra® at “half the retail price,” or a “free download” of the latest mobile app (particularly games) is more difficult to pass up. The spammer can earn up to $60 per lead if a premium sale is made once they’ve landed a fish — that is, convinced you to “click here,” the profits can be enormous. All you have to do for the Partnerka to cash-in, is become a “Gold Member,” or order a shiny new Rolex™ watch for just $99.95 (plus shipping and handling). When you do, you may have unwittingly helped them hide money-laundering operations for online criminals who traffic in weapons or drugs.
Naturally, not all of these affiliate network groups knowingly involve themselves in transnational cyber crime, but all of them are in the business of finding new ways to convince you to “click here” while using Facebook Messenger, Google Hangouts, Orkut, and Twitter. It used to be enough to simply say, “don’t click a link unless you trust the source.” Today, if malware plants a “worm” or “spambot” inside a friend’s computer, you might never know until it’s too late.
The “bot herders,” members of the Pantnerka (or other independent players), manipulate their spambots to lure tens of thousands of potential customers with just the click of a mouse. With that much potential cash at their fingertips, the “bot herders” are always looking for new sponsors willing to pay them for generating cash-through-clicks.
Spam bot ads designed to get users onto adult webcam sites (a huge money-maker), sometimes ask an innocent-sounding question, such as “have you ever played Castle Clash?” (a well-known spam bot script). The innocuous lure is oftentimes a gateway into a $100 per hour trap. Other criminal enterprises then gravitate towards — or actively seek-out the cyber-savvy spam-artist, because they’re always in need of new areas on the Internet that provide bulletproof hosting (servers outside the scope of, or beyond the reach of routine law enforcement efforts).
According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), smuggling people from Latin America to the United States generates nearly $6.6 billion annually — a number to bear in mind when you consider the annual budget of the United States Border Patrol averages $3.5 million. The point is — the ratio of cash generated to efforts at enforcement is running $1800:1, the smugglers often look to specialists online to act as front companies to hide their cash.
Instagram lottery? It’s a scam. Fake Google+ invitations? More spam. Requests through Snapchat? Beware. That “secret” diet of the soap opera stars advertised on Pinterest, Tumblr or Twitter? Please. Let’s be careful out there on the Interwebz. The only links I know you can trust (because I’ve checked each and every one, personally) — are the ones just to the right of what you’re reading now. 😉