The 12 Cons of Christmas

By Carl Weiss

Image courtesy of
You may have heard of the 12 Days of Christmas, but what you probably haven't heard about are the 12 Cons of Christmas. In their efforts to "liven up" the holidays, cybercriminals this year are going to act like the Grinch in their efforts to ruin your holiday spirit. So in this season of giving I though it only appropriate to give all of our loyal readers the lowdown on the top 12 cyberscams that you can expect to see this yule.

On the First Day of Christmas my true love said to me, you won’t believe what I found under the tree.

Santa has nothing to do with the multitude of offers you will find online this shopping season that are too good to be true.   A recent blog on Democrat and Chronicle quoted attorney Eric Schneiderman as saying,
“As the holiday shopping season kicks off and more consumers plan to shop online, there are simple steps you can take to avoid scams and protect your personal data. Consumers should know how to spot fake websites and deals that are too good to be true.”  Schneiderman warned that when shopping online, consumers should only use secure Internet connections and only process online payments on web pages that are HTTPS verified to protect themselves against fraudulent companies.” 
This is good advice.  But the first warning sign of an impending cybercon should be prices for merchandise way below retail or wholesale value.  You also need to make doubly sure that the website you thought you were clicking onto is indeed the one you arrived at.  Cybercriminals are amazingly good at creating knockoff websites that look just like the real deal.  The only difference would be a subtle spelling difference in the url.  So be warned and be safe.
On the Second Day of Christmas my true love said to me, look what I won honey!
A variation of the offers-too-good-to-be-true would have to be contests that notify you that “You Have Won!”  First of all if you are unfamiliar with said “contest” do not accept the email, much less click on the link.  If you do go there odds are you are going to be asked for additional personal information “needed” to send you your prize, or you might even be asked for a credit card number to “cover shipping.”  They don’t call them Con Tests for nothing folks.  Give the Grinch the boot.

“Consumers should be suspicious of any email, messages, or posts on social networks promoting giveaways or contests that seem too good to be true, e.g., free high-value gift cards, tablets, and smartphones. These “contests” are often scams designed to bilk consumers out of money and/or to collect consumers’ personal information for resale. Genuine sweepstakes and contests are commonplace on the Internet; however, you should avoid any contest or promotion that requires you to pay money or to perform any sort of financial transaction. Also, think twice before participating in promotions that require entrants to register with multiple third-party websites; often these are ploys to build marketing lists. Promotions that require users to provide more than simple contact information may even be phony or run by scammers who resell consumer information to collect referral fees!”

On the Third Day of Christmas my true love said to me, let’s help this charity!
While giving to a legitimate charity is a noble act, you need to be extra careful to whom you donate your hard-earned money.  Fake charities are a real menace to consumers and business owners alike.  Before you donate, make sure you navigate your way to a legitimate charity.  A blog by titled “4 Ways to Avoid Charity Scams” advises,

“It’s so easy to click on a link in your email, break out your wallet for a sympathetic caller or open a site from Facebook — but resist the impulse. When you decide to donate, go directly to the website of the organization to whom you want to give your money, rather than taking a shortcut. Not only could your dollars never reach their destination, you could end up downloading malware or leaving yourself open to identity theft.”

On the Fourth Day of Christmas my true love said to me, look what a little birdy told me.
As I have pointed out in many other blogs, always be doubly suspicious of email that was supposedly sent to you by a friend or family member that simply contains a line and a link along the following, “You need to check this out!”  The only thing you’re likely to check out next is the local PC Doctor to help you eliminate the malware you just unleashed on your system.  Even worse, some of the latest hacking software can even robotize your system, not to mention rifle it for any contact emails for your family and friends.  How do you think they got your address in the first place?

On the Fifth Day of Christmas my true love said to me, check out my new USB.
Other than clicking on ads or email links, the quickest way to infect your system is to plug in a Free USB.  If you will recall, this is how Iran’s Nuclear program was infected with the Stuxnet virus.  One of their personnel inadvertently picked up a USB that was left lying around only to plug it into a terminal.  So if you should be sitting in a coffee shop or copy center and see a USB lying around on a table unattended, DO NOT TOUCH IT.  You will thank me later.
On the Sixth Day of Christmas my true love said to me, let’s grab a cup of coffee.
Speaking of coffee, you also need to be very wary of using public wifi these days.  As of late everything from coffee shops to airport terminals and  public wifi systems at hotels have been targeted by hackers in order to gain access to unprotected systems.  There was even a report of a number of hotels in Japan that were infected with an insidious malware subroutine that was designed to target specific high-value executives in order to aid and abet corporate espionage.  Personally, I never connect to public wifi.  I use my cellphone to launch a wifi hotspot.  If you do insist on using public wifi then you should have at least three layers of anti-virus and anti-malware to protect you from unwanted intrusion.  Because your real wake up call might not be that double mocha latte after all.
On the Seventh Day of Christmas my true love said to me, let’s get some money.
Here’s the rub, it isn’t just your personal electronics that can be hacked.  So can everything from ATM machines to gas pumps.  Cybercriminals use credit card skimmers that are designed to grab your credit card information or your pin numbers.  Thieves have also been known to install their own cameras in order to record your PIN as you enter it in public kiosks.  So make sure you cover the keypad with your hand before entering any PIN.
On the Eighth Day of Christmas my true love said to me, I got a call from somebody.
Thieves are also not averse to getting on the phone, impersonating a lender, credit card company, or even the IRS in order to try to pressure you into divulging personal information.  While breaches of major retailers involving tens of millions of stolen cards have and will continue to take place, when in doubt you should call the number of the bank or the one on the back of your credit card to make absolutely sure you are not being conned.
On the Ninth Day of Christmas my true love said to me, our package is in jeopardy.
Here’s another newsflash: The US Postal Service, UPS, Fedex and other legitimate shipping companies will not send you an email if a package is hung up in transit.  But cyberthieves will send you an email that links to a clone of the shipper’s site in order to fleece you.  Again, when in doubt call the company directly.  Do not click on a poisoned link.  And never, EVER divulge personal or financial information unless you know to whom you are speaking. 

On the Tenth Day of Christmas my true love said to me, have you ever been to Bimini?
Along with bogus product come-ons are travel deals that offer to Save You Big $$ on last-minute trips.  While there are a number of legitimate travel purveyors that specialize in last-minute trips, they will not solicit you via spam email.  You are required to opt-in and register with them.  The last thing you want to do is schedule a trip that takes you nowhere but to the cleaners.  Travelers Beware.
On the Eleventh Day of Christmas my true love said to me, look at the card we got from Sonny.
Digital e-cards are sure to bring a smile to your face unless they are not from the person you thought they were.  While you might be thinking season’s greetings, cyberthieves are into season’s greedings by hoping to get you to click on a fake link that instead of bringing a twinkle to your eye will instead give you a case of merry Malware.  Again, never click on a link unless you are sure that it is from a legitimate e-card company like  (Also make sure you mouseover the link in order to detect if the url on the card or email is the one you are going to be taken to.  If you mouseover the link and the url that is displayed at the bottom of your browser does not match up with the link on the email, don’t go there or you will soon have a case of the Ho-ho-holiday blues.)
On the Twelfth Day of Christmas my true love said to me, let’s try this free app honey.
As they say, there’s no such thing as a free lunch.  And when it comes to free apps, user beware.  Man of them are designed by and for cyberthieves.  Like a vampire, these denizens of the dark hope to get invited into your private space so they can put the byte on you.  Before loading any app you need to check them out in advance.  Google their reviews and use protected sites such as googleplay, or itunes or since these sites vet their apps to make sure they aren’t carrying any unwanted presents.
When he isn't playing Santa, Carl Weiss is CEO of Working the Web to Win based in Jacksonville, Florida.  

Big Mac Attack

By Carl Weiss

Image courtesy of
It used to be that Mac, iPad and iPhone owners used to poke fun at PC and Android users, bashing them for the many ways and means that malware compromised these non-Apple systems.  Of course when you maintain an iron grip on who gets to develop software and hardware for you as Apple has always done, then there are many fewer paths of infection that can compromise a system.  PC and Android has always been a proponent of open architecture which means that anyone and everyone was free to develop everything from apps to operating systems.  This makes them patently more vulnerable to backdoor hacking.  However a spate of highly publicized iOS and OS X security issues have left Apple devotees wondering what happened.

The New York Times recently reported that “While malware attacks have been possible against jailbroken iOS devices for some time, a new piece of malware has been discovered that can infect even iPhones that have not been jailbroken.“

Additionally, Palo Alto Networks discovered a program called WireLurker  which can be used for a number of nefarious purposes including spying on users.

“The point of entry seems to be OS X computers, with researchers having found 467 malware OS X applications in the unofficial Maiyadi App Store in China that were downloaded more than  356,000 times in the past six months in the region.  Once on a Mac, WireLurker can infect any iPhone that’s connected via USB to the computer, and install malicious applications.  WireLurker is capable of stealing a variety of information from the mobile devices it infects and regularly requests updates from the attackers command and control server. This malware is under active development and its creator’s ultimate goal is not yet clear.”

While the vulnerability of these systems is troubling, what is even more frightening is that these two hacks were not the only worms in the Apple.  In early October a Russian security company discovered another flaw in OS X that enabled hackers to take control of infected 17,000 devices using Reddit. reported, One of them turned out to be a complex multi-purpose backdoor that entered the virus database as Mac.BackDoor.iWorm.” It has not yet been determined how the malware spreads, but Russian experts say that once a Mac has been infected, the software establishes a connection with the command server.”

While hacking in general has always been a concern to computer users, what has really been causing many Apple users to wake up in a cold sweat are the number of ways in which hackers have been not only gaining but using their access.
Image courtesy of CBS News

Case in Point: On October 28 Fox News published a report concerning journalist Sharyl Attkisson who reported that her CBS computer and personal iMac had been repeatedly hacked and its contents accessed, including information pertaining to an article on Benghazi that was critical of the current Washington administration.

 Fox News further reported that, “Further scrutiny of her personal desktop (by a consultant hired by CBS) proved that the interlopers were able to co-opt her iMac and operate it remotely, as if they were sitting in front of it.”

Inside Every Dark Cloud

And if hacks on iMacs and iPhones weren’t bad enough, Reuters reported on October 21 that Apple’s iCloud storage service in China had been hacked resulting in messages, passwords and even photos being compromised.  Employing a technique known as a Man-in-the-Middle attack, hackers were able to superimpose their own site between the users and the iCloud server.  The sophisticated attack was reputed to have been perpetrated by the Chinese government.

The article went onto say that, “An Apple representative declined comment on the allegations that Beijing was trying to spy on Apple customers, but noted that the company had updated its technical support page to provide advice on how to protect against such attacks. We’re aware of intermittent organized network attacks using insecure certificates to obtain user information, and we take this very seriously.”
Rotten to the Core?
While these well-publicized security breaches have given a number of people pause to reconsider Apple’s new found vulnerabilities, there are still a number of people and organizations that still that detailed Home Depot’s recent security breach.  After the retail giant’s Microsoft-based payment data system was relieved of 53 million email addresses and 56 million credit card account numbers, the company bought two dozen new iPhones and MacBooks for its senior executives.believe that the latest big Mac attack is no cause for alarm.  Quite the contrary, if you read the November 10 blog by, you will find that:
 It is not that Apple devices have not faced any security problems in past. They even had security issues but still Apple Inc. iPhone and MacBooks are comparatively secure platforms. They can deal with the malware and other threats in a much better way. Still, whether the use of Apple Inc. MacBooks and iPhones can solve the problem of security breaches for the Home Depot or not, time will tell. It is a high time for The Home Depot to seriously find the cause of the problem.”
The sad fact of the matter is that regardless of the type of machine that you, I, or multinational corporate executives choose to use, there is no way to completely bulletproof yourself against hackers.  All you can do is make sure you keep your machines protected with at least three layers of anti-malware software, keep your software updated or face having to answer the toughest of all questions that comes with any big Mac attack, “You want fries with that?”

Carl Weiss cooks up online controversy every Tuesday at 4 p.m. Eastern on BlogTalkRadio

Will Pay-To-Play Payoff Online?

By Carl Weiss

It’s said that the best things in life are free.  But as Berry Gordy so aptly added in 1960, “But you can keep them for the birds and bees.  Give me money, that’s what I want.”  The song aptly named, ‘Money (That’s What I Want)’ went onto become the first hit for Gordy’s Motown record label Tamla.  It also went onto be covered by many prominent recording artists such as the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and the Doors, among others.  Even though fifty four years have passed since ‘Money’ first became part of the public consciousness, the concept behind it seems set to make a revival on the Internet if a number of powerful portals have their way.

As recently as three days before Halloween 2014, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki publicly confirmed that Google’s video portal was considering the introduction of a subscription service.  Since other popular video portals such as NetFlix which started as a subscription service and Hulu which began as free only to turn into a subscription service, have been using a monthly pay-to-play charge to vend everything from first run movies to television series, this isn’t likely to cause people to run screaming into the streets.  The chief difference between the likes of Netflix and Hulu when compared to YouTube is the fact that they both stream professionally produced feature-length content.  Whether or not a portal where the lion’s share of the content is created by amateurs can make a go of it is anybody’s guess. 

An article in the NY Times sums it up like this: YouTube’s subscription effort is still in the very early phases, according to a person with knowledge of the matter. In essence, the company is making phone calls to potential partners, including anyone from big media companies like Disney to popular individuals with millions of subscribers, to see if they might be interested.  At first, the model is likely to be similar to YouTube’s long-planned subscription music service, which Ms. Wojcicki said would be introduced “soon.” Rather than an entirely new paid YouTube, there would be several subscription services based on certain topics – for instance, a subscription service with nothing but video games.
Currently YouTube produces revenues for airing in-stream ads that are displayed on participating videos on the world’s most popular video portal that streams more than 4 billion videos per day.  The portal has also gone to great lengths to partner with homegrown content producers such as these ever popular channels: PewDiePie, Stampylonghead, SkyDoesMinecraft, and CollegeHumor, just to name a few.  While some of PewDiePie’s  videos have garnered as many as 59,917,883 views, it is questionable how many people would choose to pay to play short videos with titles such as ‘How to Get Ebola,’ ‘Corpse Party,’ or the animated ‘Brain Transplant.’
The Backstory
While the idea for an online subscription model is hardly new, what YouTube is hoping to capitalize on is the ever growing disenchantment many people have toward broadcast and cable programming.  What with the advent of the four-minute commercial break, as well as the ever more costly way in which cable companies charge families for the hodgepodge of channels foisted on them, even major players such as HBO have started to realize that people want better choices. 
The NY Times article added: An example is the service recently announced by HBO, which said that next year it will start a stand-alone streaming service aimed at “cord cutters,” people who want cable quality shows but refuse to pay several hundred dollars a month for the jumbled mess of cable channels.
That’s right, starting in 2015 HBO will begin a pay-to-play online streaming service that will not require a subscription to a traditional TV provider.  Recognizing the fact that there are currently more than ten million homes in the US that do not subscribe to either cable or satellite TV services but who do have Internet access, the CEO of HBO, Richard Plepler announced that the opportunity was ripe for direct-to-web programming.
While 10 million households seems like a drop in the bucket when compared to the sheer number of consumers with cable or Satellite TV access, the number of households that are expected to switch to services such as Netflix continues to grow. 
“Netflix has more subscribers in the United States than HBO, which counts about 30 million subscribers. But HBO delivers more profits because of lower costs and its distribution through cable and satellite providers. HBO generated $4.9 billion in revenue in 2013 and about $1.8 billion in operating income. Netflix had $4.4 billion in revenue in 2013 with $228.3 million in operating income.”
The Boob Tube vs YouTube
The real question for portals such as YouTube is how much of an impact it can make on the viewing public.  Currently the Boob Tube outguns YouTube four to one, seeing as how most American adults watch an average of four and a half hours of broadcast and cable programming per day on average versus about an hour of online video.  It has been suggested that YouTube can try to bump these numbers up by either improving the technology and/or trying to create higher-quality content that people will come back to watch week in and week out.
To this end, YouTube has built production studios in such places as New York, LA and Sao Paolo, Brazil, to help their ‘creators’ produce more TV-like programs.  They are also seeking to woo show producers with Hollywood or broadcast TV experience, many of whom are underemployed.  Whether YouTube can reinvent itself as an entertainment service that people will lineup to pay for is still in question.  But as the world’s viewing habits change and companies with online audience loyalty continues to grow what does this hold in store for the future?  Will popular blogs start charging readers to peruse their pages?  Will social networks demand a fee to allow their users to connect with more than a handful of friends? Who knows?
Just as the opening of Pandora’s Box unleashed a number of unintended and unwanted problems for the masses, what is left to discover is whether pay-to-play is to become a benefit or a burden to those who want the web to remain free?  While the future of pay-to-play Internet programming is anything but a sure thing, I will leave you with a little pearl of wisdom from a man who was clearly ahead of his time: Berry Gordy.
Money don't get everything it's true
What it don't get, I can't use
Now give me money
That's what I want
That's what I want, yeah
That's what I want

While Carl Weiss doesn’t always get everything he wants, you can listen to him every Tuesday at 4 p.m. Eastern on BlogTalkRadio

Can Crowdfunding Kickstart Your Business?

By Carl Weiss

Many people have used crowdfunding sites to jumpstart new businesses or take existing businesses to the next level.  With a proliferation of crowdfunding sites such as Kickstarter, IndieGoGo, RocketHub and more, these sites have given a number of entrepreneurs the chance to fund a pet project or business that would have otherwise languished.  

Let’s face it, banks are not exactly throwing their cash around these days.  Friends and family cannot always be relied upon to have the wherewithal to back your dream. Credit cards while another opportunity for self-funding is fraught with many risks, especially since the credit card companies draconian policies can suddenly ramp up your interest rate to twenty five percent or more.  This is one of the prime reasons that crowdfunding is got its start.

Is Crowdfunding Music to Your Ears?

While most people think the phenomenon of crowdfunding is an invention of the 21st century, its roots can actually be traced back some four hundred years to a time when many publications were sold by subscription before the first copy came off the presses.  However the trend to branch out to other business models is indeed a recent development.  While there is some conjecture as to which website was the first to offer crowdfunding, Wikipedia lists ArtistShare which started in 2003.  Slanted toward the recording industry, the site was designed to allow recording artists to raise funding from fans in order to expedite the expensive process of bringing out a new album.  (Imagine how Mozart would have jumped at the opportunity in the 1770’s to have thrown off the yolk of the church and embraced crowdfunding in order to have artistic control of his career.)

By 2006, there were three more hats in the crowdfunding ring: EquityNet, Pledgie and Sellaband. While Sellaband was another CF brand devoted to the fan funding of recording artists, EquityNet and Pledgie were something else altogether.  Founded in 2005, Equity Net was designed to help startups and existing businesses raise equity capital from accredited investors.  Used by more than 10,000 entrepreneurs, EquityNet provides access to 20,000 individual investors, including angel investors.  To date it has helped companies raise more than $200 million. was the first site to take crowdfunding to a whole new level by allowing a broad spectrum of entrepreneurs, artists, philanthropic causes and others to use the Internet to fund their project s.  Created in 2007 by Mark Daggett and Garry Dolley, the site permits anyone the opportunity to pitch their project in order to solicit donations.  (The site has a list of 50 categories under which to solicit funds.)

However, it wasn’t until 2008/2009 that crowdfunding hit the big time with the introduction of such sites as IndieGoGo, KickStarter, and RocketHub.  Whether it was a combination of savvy marketing or just being in the right place at the right time, these three platforms definitely made their mark by raising funds in a big way.  To date Kickstarter is the current BMOI –Big Moneymaker on the Internet, having raised more than $10 million for smartwatch startup Pebble alone, along with a number of other multi-million dollar funded projects. For a list of the top-10 Kickstarter projects go to

Not to be outdone, IndieGoGo raised more than $2 million apiece this past year for the independent films Lazer Team and Gosnell the Movie.  They also raised more than a million dollars for a video series called Tabletop Season 3 that is all about tabletop games.     To see more go to:

Then there’s  While not yet as well-known as Kickstarter or IndieGoGo, this crowdfunding platform begun in January of 2010.  Just like Kickstarter and IndieGoGo, on RocketHub you get to pitch your project, select a funding goal and choose a deadline by which to raise funds.  The chief difference with RocketHub is that if you do not reach your stated goal you get to keep the funds raised minus 12%. (8% fee charged for unsuccessful projects + a 4% transaction fee.)  With both Kickstarter and IndieGoGo you need to achieve or exceed your strike number in order to collect your prize.

Of course, there are other crowdfunding sites that have joined the fray as well, such as FundRazr, Fundly, GoFundMe, Microventures, FundaGeek, Peerbackers and more.  Each of these platforms have their rules and regulations, fees and disclaimers.  Before selecting a platform you need to read the rules and regulations thoroughly.  However, even this doesn’t mean you will be accepted, much less successfully funded.  The bad news is that if you are rejected, it is difficult if not impossible to find out why or what you need to do to meet a site’s criteria since most of the crowdfunding sites do not have a customer service number, chatroom or email address to which funding hopefuls can respond. The good news is that with all the CF sites out there, just because you crash and burn on one doesn’t mean you will flameout on another.  (It’s all part of the learning curve.)

Also, recent changes to the rules at Kickstarter have opened the doors for projects that would have previously been turned down out of hand.  Take for instance Zack Brown, the Potato Salad Guy.  His proposal that sought to raise $10 to make potato salad instead raised $55,492 when it went viral.  (Talk about supersizing your order.)  Not only didn’t Zack’s project have any definitive objectives, once he raised $55k he wound up hiring a bunch of lunch trucks to throw a potato salad party with his windfall.  (He deemed the event PotatoStock.) Check out Zack’s project at:

Go Fund Yourself

I know what you’re thinking… How do I get some of that salad, the green kind?  The first thing you have to do is decide on which type of crowdfunding model fits your needs best.  That’s right, this is not a one-size-fits-all industry.  Currently there are three flavors from which to choose:

  1. Reward-Based Funding – Just as the name implies, while this model does not require you to give up points or pay back funds raised in this way, you do need to provide something of value (real or intangible) in order to use this model.  Rewards could be anything from having your name written on the closing credit roll to books, t-shirts and/or real merchandise being created for the funds raised.
  2. Equity-Based Funding – As the term implies in this funding model you are required to give up a percentage of the business or points in a movie.  
  3. Credit-Based Funding – This third model can provide funds that are paid back just as you would a loan.  This form of funding also encompasses micro-loans which is another form of crowdfunding that has reached a worldwide audience.

Which Platform is Right for You?

When it comes to selecting the best platform that fits your needs, the first thing you need to do is search the CF site for current and previously funded projects.  See how closely they conform to your proposed project.  Look for failed as well as successful projects and try to determine what went wrong.  Then write up a proposal which while not plagiarizing that of a successfully funded campaign closely emulates its format. (Even this does not mean that the project will be given a green light.  It just makes the odds of acceptance better.)

Then comes the fun part; creating your presentation.  This should include visual elements such as one or more videos, photos of your finished product or prototype, photos of you and your team and so on.  The better you convey the excitement and timeliness of your project from concept to completion the better the chance it will resonate with those considering funding it.  In fact, it is this last part of the process that is the most important to successfully raise funds: your audience.

While major CF sites have anywhere from hundreds of thousands to millions of viewers that doesn’t mean that each and every one of them is going to see your proposal.  So if your idea to raise funds is to set it and forget it you could be in for a rude awakening.  Since most projects are restricted to a 30-60 day term in which to raise funds, the onus is on you to get the ball rolling fast and early.  This means that not only do you need to write your proposal, shoot videos and photos, but you also need to start networking as soon as the project goes live.

This boils down to having your troops in place to hit the beaches and start fanning the flames.  Through the use of social nets, email blasts, text messaging, phone calls as well as up-close-and-personal grassroots in your face meetings you need to get your friends, family, coworkers and anyone else you can convince to not only buy into your project, but get their friends, family and coworkers to do the same.  The beauty of the CF community is that if you can get the ball rolling then many times the crowd and sometimes the owners of the funding site will rally around your cause.  If on the other hand you think you can simply plug your project in and walk away you are going to be disappointed.

However, as I mentioned earlier in this blog, just because you crash and burn doesn’t mean that your hopes to raise funds are over.  Lick your wounds, learn from your mistakes and try another CF platform to toot your horn.  Who knows, maybe you too can use crowdfunding to kick start your business.

Carl Weiss is president of Working the Web to Win, an award-winning digital marketing agency based in Jacksonville, Florida.  You can listen to Carl live every Tuesday at 4 p.m. Eastern on BlogTalkRadio

Can Dirty Tricks Deep Six Your Business?

By Carl Weiss

There was a time not long ago when the search engines began cracking down on what were termed Black Hat SEO Techniques.  Tactics such as keyword stuffing, serial websites, and link farms, just to name a few, were deemed verboten by every search engine on the planet.  The reasons why were obvious: If you could cheat them to beat them, there was no way that search engine operators could guarantee the validity of their searches.  Back in the early days of the Internet, there was little that the search engines could do to curb this trend since their spiders were not savvy enough to understand what it is they were reading.  However, this is no longer the case.  What this means is if you either knowingly or unknowingly hire a practitioner of black hat SEO, you could find your site sandboxed or even de-listed.  As a result, you need to take care when entrusting your online business assets to a third party.

The good news is that Black Hat SEO firms are a dying breed.  The bad news is that a number of former black hatters have retooled their heinous skills in order to turn a profit.  What I am referring to is the growing danger of online dirty tricks, where an unscrupulous business owner willingly pays to have a competitor’s reputation besmirched or even to cause overt damage to their web presence in such a way that it becomes difficult or even impossible to do business on or offline.

Here’s how it works:

1.      What’s In a Name? – Everyone knows how online reputation sites have changed the way in which we do business. Whereas in years past a shoddy business could operate with impunity, today the first place that a disgruntled customer will go are to sites like Google Local, Yelp, Angie’s List, Ripoff Report or other reputation sites to lodge a complaint.  While a boon to consumers, many of these sites allow people to post complaints anonymously.  This opens up the doors for underhanded competitors to post fabricated complaints against a competing business in order to damage the competition.  Worse still: a number of these complaint mills offer no way for a business to address or reverse a complaint. This means that once posted, it’s is nearly impossible to seek redress.

2.      Yellow Press Express – Another way to damage a company’s reputation is by publishing inflammatory blogs, newsfeeds and press releases about a competitor.  Sound far-fetched?  Back in May of 2011, ABC News reported that Facebook admitted hiring a major public relations firm to pitch anti-Google stories to news outlets across the U.S.  The blog went onto elaborate the fact that a cottage industry of sorts has sprung up where writers are paid to write comments on review sites that either boost a given business or criticize it.

3.      The Hack Attack is Back – Hackers can also be employed by a competitor to do everything from launch Denial of Service attacks on your website, to attempting overt industrial espionage.  Several businesses were even damaged by hackers when they subverted ownership of a company’s social sites or even closed or deleted a company’s social site or blog.  Wresting control of another person’s online asset is surprisingly simple.  Even if that fails, it is child’s play to create a social site or website that spoofs a competitor’s, thereby giving the hacker carte blanche to post all sorts of slanderous material.  Just like identity theft, if this should happen to your business, it could take months sort out the mess this creates. Since these tricksters can be located anywhere in the world, trying to seek redress for any damage done can prove to be all but impossible. (See our previous blog, “The Hack Attack is Back.”)

4.      Fraud Free For All – Another way that competitors can strike is by making fraudulent purchases.  In a recent CNN Wire report, Uber, a San Francisco ride-sharing service was accused by competitor, Lyft, of having its employees order and cancel some 5,000 rides since last October.  The article goes onto say: Lyft claims 177 Uber employees around the country have booked and canceled rides in that time frame. Bogus requests decrease Lyft drivers’ availability, which could send users to Uber instead. But it’s not just the company that suffers. Canceled rides jeopardize income that Lyft drivers depend on — plus they spend time and gas money en route to passengers who have no intention of taking a ride. And even when Uber employees don’t cancel, Lyft drivers complain to headquarters that they take short, low-profit rides largely devoted to luring them to work for Uber.  Lyft claims to have cross-referenced the phone numbers associated with known Uber recruiters with those attached to accounts that have canceled rides. They found, all told, 5,560 phantom requests since October 3, 2013.” While the article goes onto state that there was nothing to suggest that Uber’s corporate office commissioned or sanctioned the canceled rides, it states there is the potential for a competitor to create havoc in a company by the use of such a tactics.

5.      The Ultimate Inside Job – If you have ever wandered inside a casino then you know that they are awash with security cameras that record everything from the players and dealers on the gaming floor to game supervisors and security guards that handle either chips or cash.  Unfortunately, most small businesses do not have access to this kind of technology.  As a result, this leaves the doors open for a competitor to have one of his or her minions infiltrate your business.  As the old saying goes, “It’s hard to find good help.” However, for underhanded competitors it’s oh-so-easy to find bad help by hiring a saboteur that is paid to join your ranks.  Once inside a company, the damage that can be done by an interloper is incalculable.  Everything from client lists, to suppliers, and even in some cases social security numbers can be purloined by a wily competitor.  Armed with the keys to the vault as it were, this kind of access can not only harm a company’s bottom line, it can destroy in from within.  Also, if a hacker wants to gain access to a server, there is no easier way than being able to plug an external thumb drive into a system.  If that wasn’t bad enough, Amazon even carries a book in its listings entitled, “How to Steal Your Boss’s Job.”  Talk about an inside job!

When it comes to doing business, competition isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  It’s been known to spur innovation and force an industry to tighten its belt, which in many cases improves prices for consumers. (Remember when laptops used to retail for $2,500?)  However, if a competitor decides to go to the dark side and employ dirty tricks, the only numbers you’re likely to see could be the Deep Six.

Carl Weiss is president of Working the Web to Win, an award-winning digital marketing agency based in Jacksonville, Florida.  You can listen to Carl live every Tuesday at 4 p.m. Eastern on BlogTalkRadio


By Carl Weiss

English: a chart to describe the search engine...
English: a chart to describe the search engine market (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
If you own a small business and have a website or plan to launch a basic business website in order to get more visibility, it is imperative to consider Search Engine Optimization, otherwise known as SEO for your new website so that it can be found by prospects. This is especially important if you plan on selling goods directly on your site.  The rub is that many times web designers spend more time fretting on form rather than function.  As a result, many websites that we have surveyed are lacking many of the on-page SEO elements that are needed to get properly indexed by the search engines.  To address this conundrum you need to either hire a knowledgeable optimization expert, or you can try a little DIY action.  When you consider the number of website analysis programs on the market, DIY SEO is not as much of a mission impossible as many people believe. In fact, if you invest a couple of hours a month on your website’s SEO then you can do it yourself. 

Before you start your analysis, it is important that you select the right keywords or phrases for your website. That is to say, you need to select the words or phrases that someone who is unfamiliar with your business would enter on the search engines in order to find businesses like yours. For example, if you have a furniture business, you must have the keyword furniture somewhere in your domain. We can take a second example, say your business is plumbing and fitting services provider, then you must have the keyword ‘plumbing’ or ‘plumbing services’ somewhere in your domain name.

Google Science Fair
Now that you have some suspects lined up you need to weed them out.  The best way to do this is by entering your keywords and phrases into Google’s Keyword Planner which is found by accessing your Adwords account.  (If you don’t have an Adwods account you can set one up by going to The tab for the Keyword Planner is located under the Tools tab at the top right of the page. Once you enter your suspects into the Keyword Planner’s lineup it will come back with the traffic count for each and every keyword or phrase entered.  More importantly it will also suggest other keywords and phrases along with their respective traffic counts.  The biggest mistake that most people make is to either choose too many keywords or choose keywords with little or no traffic.  The Keyword Planner is the perfect tool to help you identify the best keywords to target.

Once you have selected the right keywords or phrases for your site now you need to plug them in.  There are several areas that you need to apply these keywords, namely your Meta Tags, the Alt Tags and at the beginning and end of your website. The Meta Tags are located directly below the Title Tag.  An example of how these tags should be formatted is listed below:

<meta name="keywords" content="Jacksonville Video Production | Jacksonville Video Production Companies | Jacksonville Videographer”>

<meta name="description" content="Jacksonville Video Production and Viral Video Marketing. Local, Affordable and Effective. 3D Animation & Motion Graphics. 904-410-2091"/>

Next come the Alt Tags which are descriptors used at the end of the code for every image on your website.  Since search engine spiders can’t see images, these descriptors tell the spiders what the image is all about.  While many people ignore the alt tags this is a mistake since it is another way to let the search engines know how to rank your site.  Below is some sample code that shows you what the alt tags look like.  Make sure all off yours are complete if you ever hope to make it to page one of any search engine.

<img id="JaxVideoProdlogo" src="Resources/jaxvideoprodlogo.png" width=366 height=74 alt="Jacksonville Video Production Logo">

Next you need to include the keywords in your content. Whether you are creating verbiage for your website, blog or video you need to find a way to insert the keywords and phrases into each and every one of these.  Just don’t go crazy with the keyword density or you risk being penalized by the very search engines you are trying to woo.  (In fact there is a black hat SEO term called keyword stuffing that every search engine knows and loathes.)

So the key is to use the desired keywords in your content in a fitting way. That is to say, it should not look like keywords are thrown in unnecessarily. Always remember that content is designed first and foremost to be read by human beings.  This means that keywords should be used only in the proper time and place.  They should also be grammatically correct.  Last but not least the most important keyword or phrase should be used at the beginning and end of your website in a font that is bold and italicized.  This lets the spiders know that the word or phrase is important. 

Off-Page SEO

In today’s content-rich world, even the best on-page SEO is not going to usually be sufficient to
generate a page one result on most search engines.  But it is a good start.  To really get into the game and get the spiders to sit up and take notice you next need to start providing regular content that is valuable and interesting. (That’s right folks, the spiders have learned how to read.)  Weekly content has become king due to the increased competition of the marketplace. People are eager to learn what’s new and exciting with your business.  They want to know how you can help them save time and money or overcome obstacles.  They want to hear what other customers think about you.  Since most people rarely update their website this makes it difficult for people and spiders to find out the latest about news regarding you and your business.  That’s what blogs and social networks are all about.  They are also good for creating backlinks to your website which is another benchmark that the spiders use to rank sites.

When it comes to self-promote your website you need to use both On-Page SEO and Off-Page SEO techniques. Once your website receives good ranking on all the major search engines, do not stop your Off-Page SEO activities. You should continuously work for your website each week so that your competitors will not overtake your ranking. Yes, you will require lesser effort and time to do the maintenance work as part of the Off-Page SEO once your website receives good ranking. If you do not have the time to promote your website, you can also outsource some or all of your online marketing tasks.  Just take care to thoroughly check out any SEO expert that you are considering turning your web presence over to or your site could wind up DOA.

Carl Weiss is president of Working the Web to Win, a digital marketing agency based in Jacksonville, Florida.   You can listen to Carl live every Tuesday at 4pm Central on BlogTalkRadio