I caught an interesting commercial last night on BBC America. And by “interesting” I mean “sickeningly sleazy and deeply disturbing.” You see a Generic White Man in front of a computer, speaking miscellaneous vaguaries about “being your own boss” and “achieving financial independence.” He enthusiastically recommends a website where you can learn all about starting your own business from home, intermixed with scripted testimonials from ethnically diverse actors claiming to earn thousands of dollars per month, all because they took the plunge and visited this miracle website.
The strange thing is that the website is never mentioned by name in any of the live-action footage, only referred to in non-specific terms as “this website.” The actual url appears at the bottom of the screen in a black bar. My friend Bill said he’s seen the exact same commercial at other times but with different urls. In this particular instance the domain advertised was “7career.com”. A rather dubious-looking domain name, and we all know that “work at home” is a key phrase in all sorts of MLM scams. So of course my investigative curiosity was piqued and I just had to visit “the website.”
The site consists of a single page, with Generic White Man in the upper-left corner and a Generic White Couple in the other corner, sitting on a couch sharing a laptop (a situation which only occurs in stock photography). The text makes further cliched references to “firing your boss,” “setting your own hours” and earning oodles of money with no business experience neccessary. And just in case you weren’t totally stoked yet, the benefits are illustrated with even more stock photos of sunset beaches, luxury sedans, and stacks of cash. So what are all these smiling people so happy about? What is the secret to financial independence? Well you’ll just have to fill out a simple form and you can find out for free! This has SCAM written all over it, in flashing red slab-serif neon.
A quick search on Google Groups for the domain “7career.com” turned up this thread from NANAE from a few weeks ago, connecting the site(s) advertised in the commercial to another site run by the same company, Guerra Communications LLC. Visiting prospectperformance.com reveals the second part of this scam. Guerra is selling the information gathered through their numerous advertised domains to a network of home businesses, with the freshest victims demanding the highest prices.
It works like this: You stay up late watching cable TV and see one of these creepy ads for an untrustworthy website, promising financial freedom by working from home. You’re curious, gullible, or just not very bright and you submit your information with the promise of receiving guidance on starting your own business. Your personal details are then handed over, Glengarry style, to someone else who runs their own business from home and paid as little as twelve and a half cents to find out you’re a sucker. This stranger then contacts you by email, snail mail, or phone and attempts to recruit you into their business model in standard pyramid scheme manner.
So why the vague commercial and changing domain names? My first assumption was that the domains were spamming, and hence changed frequently as each one got shut down for abuse. However, they all seem to be hosted at the same IP on the same provider. My assumption now is that it’s just a simplistic means of tracking which TV ads generate the most leads. 7career.com gets pitched on BBC America at 12:30 AM, 8career.com on some other channel at some other time, 16money.com in yet another slot. It’s a wide range of domains all pointing to the same page.
Each domain sets a cookie with a unique identifyer that expires in two months, to track repeat visits. That identifyer is also inserted into a hidden field, submitted with the form. This means that your personal information could be directly associated with other bits of data, like your IP address, ISP, OS, browser and so forth, which could also easily be sold to third parties. Creepy as hell.
The Prospect Performance site features a FAQ page, containing this choice gem (emphasis mine):
Where do you get the leads?
We generate all of our prospects through various forms of advertising media including Internet Sources, Print Media and Television, and then send to one of our capture pages where the individual has completed a request form looking to start a Home Based Business. Since these leads are captured online, all leads contain a valid email address. These leads are all “Opt-in”, & can be safely contacted without the fear of Spam complaints.
These “work from home – get rich quick” offers are almost always multi-level marketing schemes, of the type made famous by Amway and Herbalife. You invest a chunk of your own money for the startup kit and have to hustle like mad to earn it back. But to make any real money you have to recruit suckers of your own so you can advance to a higher level and get the promised payoff. Of course, those you recruit try to recruit their own network of suckers in turn, and the only people getting rich are the very few at the top of the chain. Hence, a “pyramid scheme.” If every member of the plan recruits two more, you have a geometric progression that doubles at every level and you’ve recruited the entire planet in no time. Unless you’re in the top few tiers, you’re never going to make a dime. You just shelled out a wad of hard-earned cash for a bunch of ineffective diet pills or holiday candles or shampoo that turns Greg’s hair orange.
If you want to start a home business, you should start with an original idea instead of listening to tacky commercials on late-night cable.