Exploiting Fear
October 4, 2011 5:45 PM   Subscribe

How Two Scammers Built an Empire Hawking Sketchy Software
posted by vidur (23 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
Anyone who is willing to injure themselves in order to commit fraud is destined for success.
posted by Renoroc at 5:56 PM on October 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


I find nothing to admire in their building of an empire built on nothing but fear felt by the ignorant, it's an easy enough market to capture if you have no scruples.

I read stuff like this and then contemplate "the invisible hand of the free market" vs. regulation.
posted by maxwelton at 6:20 PM on October 4, 2011 [4 favorites]


I'm very disappointed that the link didn't take me to an article about Gates and Allen.
posted by Poet_Lariat at 6:30 PM on October 4, 2011 [14 favorites]


Wants a post with the words "Hawking" and "Sketchy" to be about other stuff.

Together, if possible.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 7:08 PM on October 4, 2011


“These are good, young talented people who got derailed.”

Fixed that for you. And "people" is a stretch.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 7:10 PM on October 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


Christ, what an asshole.
posted by entropone at 7:29 PM on October 4, 2011


Palladino sees a tragic dimension in the IMI story. “It’s such a waste,” he says. “These are good, young, talented people who got derailed.” Looking back at the rise and fall of Jain and Sundin’s empire, it’s hard not to see his point of view. Using nothing but pop-up ads and their own online distribution, Jain and Sundin succeeded in selling $40 software to untold millions of users. Over the better part of a decade, they built and then ran an organization to write and market that software. Had they marshaled these skills in support of software that was actually worth installing, they might be admired figures today
Getting "derailed" isn't some tragic accident that befell them. They derailed themselves. Using "young people" in this context is the classic wishy-washy "balanced" media trick.

Being smart and socially inept doesn't give them a pass. I know lots of people like that who somehow manage to not utterly exploit the social contract.

I have spent countless hours supporting non-tech-savvy users who installed their poisonous software. That's what it means to get derailed.

I mean honestly, is it so hard to just not make a living by abusing other people? I think I'd rather end up in a homeless shelter or dead, than to spend my life profiting off of other people's misery (and these guys don't even have the "I had to feed my family" cop-out to fall back on).
posted by Riki tiki at 7:45 PM on October 4, 2011 [13 favorites]


Long-assed article, but very informative, considering that Jain and Sundun are a pair of assholes who rode the Bush-Cheney Climate of Fear™ for fun and profit.

It wasn't just in the air, it was in your computer.

When the 2013 run of MBA textbooks are printed, I am sure that Jain and Sundun will be in them, even if Ben Wallace doesn't get a book contract.
posted by vhsiv at 8:01 PM on October 4, 2011


Being smart and socially inept doesn't give them a pass.

There's nothing socially inept in them (as presented in the article). Socially awkward around real people? Perhaps? But they're social engineers, the opposite of ineptitude.

From the end of the article (not a spoiler): That’s the insidious thing about social engineering: There isn’t any patch to fix the system threats in our gullible brains.

Except there is: cynicism. Sure, Google has done a pretty good job at keeping SEO BS ranked lower than proper content* and even warn users of sites hosting potentially malicious code, so it's easier to trust more sites. But I think critical thinking is lacking from many decisions that leads people down the rabbit holes of scareware.

*except fsking "World News" - wn.com, which skims content and gets ranked 2nd behind original sources, if not 1st ahead of them -- thank goodness for filtered Google search results
posted by filthy light thief at 8:13 PM on October 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


Maybe Obama could visit a 100 lb Hellfire on these guys, too.
posted by codswallop at 8:22 PM on October 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


If exploiting fear was their game, it seems like they could have kept things legal and been every bit as successful, no?

Shitty anti-spyware programs from (ahem) legitimate companies sold extremely well during those times. It seems strange that they felt the need to go from "the usual scare tactics" to outright fraud in order to make a buck.

I mean, which of the following would have been illegal?

1. Using "scare tactics" advertisements, such as "your computer may be infected!" (including some sub-type about "clicking here indicates your agreement to install our software, etc.)

2. Charging money for an inferior, yet nominally functional product. Make un-installing software extremely difficult.

3. Providing shitty customer service, and discouraging refunds.

I mean, it's exploitive and shameful, but there's nothing intrinsically illegal about it, is there? Why couldn't they just stick to that?
posted by ShutterBun at 9:29 PM on October 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


Except there is: cynicism.

I think skepticism is the word you want here.

Cynicism is what makes people believe their computer probably is infected. Skepticism is what informs them that they have no legitimate reason to believe so.
posted by ShutterBun at 9:55 PM on October 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


I hope they get these guys.

I've had to clear their crap off computers my brother and my parents owned, and it was a pain in the ass every time.
posted by mephron at 9:56 PM on October 4, 2011


I mean, which of the following would have been illegal?

1. Using "scare tactics" advertisements, such as "your computer may be infected!" (including some sub-type about "clicking here indicates your agreement to install our software, etc.)

2. Charging money for an inferior, yet nominally functional product. Make un-installing software extremely difficult.

3. Providing shitty customer service, and discouraging refunds.
Isn't that pretty much what they did, though? Their software was ineffective, but as the article says

"The IMI program still did little or nothing, but those upsetting warnings stopped showing up, leaving nervous customers with the impression that their new purchase had done its job."

So, in essence, wasn't it basically just pretending to be an anti-malware program but not technically doing any harm except just NOT still bothering them to buy their program? Seems the worst part was when the software tried to urge them to "upgrade" again via nonexistent threats as described :

“A remote computer has gained access to your computer.” Worse, pop-up ads would announce that “Illegal porn content” had been “found on your PC” and display a gallery of thumbnail images purportedly discovered on the hard drive, a list of sites (Gayanalsex.com, Asianteens .net) supposedly visited and detected on the computer, or a warning of “high risk to your career and marriage”—unless, of course, you coughed up money for drive-cleaning software.

By all means, they should do some serious time for such tactics, but it's hard to make a law that says "listen, you can't pretend to protect people's computers by installing your own software that does nothing except bother the end-user to protect themselves yet again at a later date". Because that would put Symantec, et al. out of business as well (even though they're legit, their business relies on subscriptions to keep the software's database of bad-no-no software updated).

It's entirely possible that I misread the article - so feel free to correct me or clarify, I just don't see where they did anything genuinely 100% illegal (outside of the bounds of tax laws and such, of course).
posted by revmitcz at 10:26 PM on October 4, 2011


Misleading advertising is against the law; pretending to have run a scan on a computer when one has not is likely illegal.
posted by klangklangston at 10:33 PM on October 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


Failing to run a scan on a computer, saying you did and OH NO all sorts of bad stuff was found is misleading advertisting; getting people to pay for something that does nothing but keeps saying OH NO at you is, arguably, fraud.

I wish I could sue them for the time I spent removing their crapware from machines.
posted by mephron at 10:55 PM on October 4, 2011


I kinda thought false advertising would be a tort, as opposed to a criminal charge. Also, most jurisdictions seem to focus more on prevention and/or cease & desist, as opposed to punishment.

Not that I have any sympathy for these guys, but I'm trying to figure out how they felt the need to go from slimy/unethical (but perhaps not strictly illegal) business practices to outright fraud and criminal activity, even as the money was pouring in.

Then again, part of me is hoping that a large part of their income came from sleazy auto mechanics* who regularly prey on their worried customers' ignorance.

*This is a qualifier, not a generalization.
posted by ShutterBun at 1:19 AM on October 5, 2011


I kinda thought false advertising would be a tort, as opposed to a criminal charge.

It is, in many jurisdictions. For example, Indiana permits consumers to bring an action for the greater of actual damages or $500 for a "deceptive act". If the deception is "willful," that goes up to the greater of treble damages or $1,000, plus attorneys' fees.

There's an entire chapter of the code on Deceptive Consumer Sales. This includes representing that a product "has sponsorship, approval, performance, characteristics, accessories, uses, or benefits it does not have which the supplier knows or should reasonably know it does not have."
posted by valkyryn at 3:49 AM on October 5, 2011


My parents almost got caught by the social engineering of some company that called up and claimed to be from Microsoft and wanted them to pony up money to fix the "problem". Luckily I'd inoculated them enough about online scams that after being strung along for 15 minutes, my mum hung up on them. Anyway, I'm visiting them this weekend and will spend several hours cleaning crap off their PC.

These guys are opportunistic bottom feeders preying on peoples' ignorance. They deserve to be in jail.
posted by arcticseal at 4:23 AM on October 5, 2011


So when can Seal Team 6 move onto these guys?
posted by MrBobaFett at 5:00 AM on October 5, 2011


Interesting. So this is the same Sam Jain from the failed internet company eFront that nearly took down Penny Arcade. I figured that company faded but apparently no.
posted by pwnguin at 6:27 AM on October 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


Yup, I don't think that this sociopathic behavior should be described as 'young talented people getting derailed'. A derail is a temporary divert from normal behavior, not the exploitation of every single person you come across. The green card scam is particularly awful.
posted by 200burritos at 8:29 AM on October 5, 2011


That was an interesting read... reminds me a lot of the Don Lapre story...
posted by ph00dz at 8:54 AM on October 5, 2011


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