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Ken Magill

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Ripped Off By a Spammer: A Cautionary Tale


By Ken Magill

I received a call from a very distraught woman last week who claimed she had been scammed out of $55,000 by a spammer.

What is more, she said, as a result of the spammer’s actions, her professional reputation is in tatters.

She didn’t expect me to do anything. But she had read some of my stuff on email-list rip-offs and apparently wanted to vent.

According to the woman—we’ll call her Beth—she teaches courses to a certain segment of business professionals.

Beth said she hired an Internet marketing firm—one guy, actually—who claims to specialize in email marketing to the business sector for which she conducts seminars.

The marketer claimed he had 40,000 email addresses of professionals who would be good prospects for her.

According to Beth, the list’s size sounded reasonable to her. There are 40,000 professionals in her target audience in her immediate metropolitan area.

“If you take into consideration the surrounding area, there are at least 80,000,” she said.

However, readers of this newsletter should know that odds against getting half of the universe of a business sector to opt into marketing emails are astronomical.

Turns out the marketer had a list alright. Almost immediately, Beth said, she began receiving complaints in her email box from people demanding she stop spamming them.

Beth said she received 11,000 complaints in one day—some from as far away as China.

“I don’t want to sell my services to someone in China,” she said.

Then, according to Beth, the marketer set up a mirror web site and began accepting payments in her name for events she hadn’t booked and failed to pass any of the money on to her.

For a while, Beth said, she would book the events and teach the classes for no money in an attempt to save her reputation, but she has since given up.

She also said she’s gone to the police and they told her it is a civil matter. As a result, she said, she hasn’t been able to shut the marketer down and he’s still accepting payments in her name and pocketing the money.

A bunch of folks now think Beth ripped them off, she said. As a result, she said, she now has an “F” rating with the Better Business Bureau.

Beth added that the email list the marketer is pitching her services to isn’t very responsive, but it’s responsive enough to put a couple hundred bucks in his pocket per day.

That’s how spammers work.

What’s the lesson here? When someone claims to have a large email list of opted-in names that they’ll send advertising to on your behalf, demand proof of the permission. Ask to see the signup process. Consider how likely it is for people to hand over their email addresses in return for whatever the supposed list owner is offering.

Building a truly permission-based list for rental access is not impossible, but it is incredibly hard.

Learn from Beth's story whether it's true or not. When someone claims to have a large list of opted-in email addresses, the first words that come to mind should be: “bull” and “shit.” And they should be the default position until the list owner proves otherwise.


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Terms: Feel free to be as big a jerk as you want, but don't attack anyone other than me personally. And don't criticize people or companies other than me anonymously. Got something crappy to say? Say it under your real name. Anonymous potshots and personal attacks aimed at me, however, are fine.

Posted by: Alex Krylov
Date: 2013-10-09 10:44:04
Subject: Thanks

Done and done. Great stuff.
Posted by: Ken Magill
Date: 2013-10-04 16:01:21
Subject: Permission to repost

Absolutely. Just please source me. Thanks!
Posted by: Alex Krylov
Date: 2013-10-04 15:55:11
Subject: OK to repost?

Ken can I repost this article in an internal blog as acautionary tale? Questions about third-party data use are some of the most popular I get each week.
Posted by: Ken Magill
Date: 2013-10-01 17:43:27
Subject: No such thing as clean list rental

There certainly is such thing as clean email list rental. Trade publishers do it all the time. My list is available for rent. But I make it clear in the signup process that I may serve a Thursday stand-alone ad on behalf of a sponsor as part of your subscription. And my file is fully confirmed opt in. It's also very small as a result. Thanks for the comment, though.
Posted by: Ken Magill
Date: 2013-10-01 17:38:13
Subject: True or Not?

Hey Danielle: I suspect it is true. "Beth" named the spammer. I know of him. He pubicly brags about spamming. I didn't name him because I've got to protect myself from being accused of libel. Thanks for the comment.
Posted by: A. Skpetic
Date: 2013-10-01 17:35:53
Subject: Sad story, let me tell you another one

"Ask to see the signup process." Spammers, aka list rental companies, will show you the 'good' sign-up process, while buying lists and maintaining any number of other less on the up and up sign-up pages. There is no such thing as clean list rental, or list purchase. The only safe way to advertise is to buy placement in an established news letter, on their website, or google adwords.
Posted by: Jen McGahan
Date: 2013-10-01 17:27:36
Subject: Wow.

Ooph, hurts just to read that... 11K complaints in one day! I love my small, but opted-in list!
Posted by: Danielle
Date: 2013-10-01 17:11:09
Subject: Ripped off by a spammer story

OMG - what a horrible story. Do you suspect it may not be true? Thanks for the advise - always good to know more.