Viral marketing has become popular - and successful - on the Internet. For example, studios create MySpace profiles for movies. Then they wait for netizens to create a buzz.Some companies are employing increasingly underhanded techniques. For example, Ruckus, a legal file-sharing network, allegedly created a fake profile on Facebook.
As the story goes, "Brody Ruckus" said his girlfriend would consent to group sex. But 100,000 people had to join his page. More than 300,000 joined.
Ruckus the company got the e-mail addresses of those who joined. They, in turn, received unsolicited e-mail about its products.
That's just one example. Some company shills tout products in forums and on message boards. This is astroturfing--creating a false grassroots buzz around a product.
Or some trolls, as they're called, post negative comments about competitors' products.
You can't believe everything you read. Be skeptical. If something sounds too outrageous to be true, it probably is.
You've received e-mail promoting stocks. And you've seen messages posted on Internet forums touting a company.
The promoter claims to have inside information about an upcoming announcement. The message cites rising stock prices. It sets a high target value for the next few days. The sender could be a company insider or a paid promoter.
Pump-and-dump generally affects microcap stocks.
The prices are low and they trade in limited quantities. The companies' assets are small.
With limited assets, the company isn't required to file SEC reports. It is difficult to find public information about these stocks. They're prime targets for scams.
The hype pumps up the stock price. Then, the promoter dumps his shares, and the price plummets. Victims lose their investments.
The messages may even say that the sender will sell his stock shares. This helps the spammer comply with SEC requirements.
Also, be wary of newsletters. Some are paid to promote stocks. Newsletters must disclose explicit details of money they receive to promote stocks. Fraudsters may only include vague disclosures, or nothing at all.
The lesson: Do your homework before purchasing stocks.
Old tricks in new places
Of course, crooks and scammers keep old tricks alive. These tricks are getting new twists.
Classified advertising sites are becoming popular targets for fraudsters.
Last week, I posted an ad for manager for my national radio show's online store. Shortly after my ad went up, rÃ©sumÃ©s started coming in.
I received one written in broken English. This person had researched me and my radio show. It almost - almost - seemed legitimate. But I wasn't gullible.
There was file named RÃ©sumÃ©.doc attached to the e-mail. It looked like a Word file. But my antivirus program alerted me that it was a Trojan.
Visitors to classified advertising sites have fallen prey to other scams, too. The overpayment scam is becoming increasingly prevalent.
Here's how it works: You post an ad to sell a car or another pricey item. You receive a great offer.
You get a cashier's check for more than your price. There's an excuse for the overpayment. You keep the amount you negotiated, and return the balance. The buyer leaves with your goods.
A few days later, your bank informs you that the cashier's check was a fake. Your money is gone. And so are your goods.
Watch whom you're dealing with online. The crooks are becoming more cunning. The best protection is knowledge, and a big dose of wariness.