“The CADJPY is testing the rising trend line dating back to Nov. 2,” announced the blonde bombshell in a low-cut bikini top, discussing with seeming gravitas and authority technical levels for the value of the Canadian dollar against the Japanese yen. “Despite consumer prices and retails sales topping expectations.”
Her Twitter name, 15k, gave little hint to her identity, but there was something about her that made me more interested than usual in currency exchange rates.
So I clicked through to her account, and then to her Twitter page, hoping for exciting fever charts, perhaps of the British Pound against the U.S. Dollar.
Instead, I saw this rather disappointing picture:
Whoever he is, he looks nothing like the blonde. Even more disappointing, he seems to know nothing about exchange rates. He just wants my money.
The Web page I've landed on, PS-Capital.com, says it represents a "Singapore Arbitraged Hedge Fund." This pilot seems polite -- notice the words "thank you" imprinted on the photograph. He doesn't inspire confidence, but at least he's honest in explaining that the fund is a startup "awaiting funding to establish a track record." Then, he pleads for $1,000 to $10,000 payments via PayPal to help establish seed funding.
Not tempted by the offer, I scroll down further, and realize this page is a two-for-one sales pitch. The pilot is also an Internet marketing expert, it seems. For $50, he will sell me 500 Twitter followers.
"Let me further sweeten the deal for you. I am an expert on Twitter, self taught. I am also good enough on Wordpress, again self taught," he writes. "I am not good enough to do fancy stuff but I can create an automated blog. What does an automated blog do? ... Basically it pulls in traffic, lots of it. And by plugging in a Clickbank Id, an Adsense Id it could automatically generate revenue which is ENDLESS. It may not be much initially but it would grow and small even as it is, it just goes on and on."
Welcome to the seedy world of Twitter marketing. Spammers and other web advertising click scams have made their way through every Internet technology, so it's no surprise that they've taken over Twitter, too. Their methods are always the same -- steal clicks, sell ads against them, then try to upsell some other crazy service. Clicking through 15k's original Canadian currency post -- instead of her profile -- yields a link to a page promising a rather precise return on a Facebook investment: "Here's How YOU Can Make $144,823.37 Using Facebook™!"
At least the author honors Facebook's trademark. He or she does hijack your browser on that page, however, and won't let visitors leave without quitting the application.
The spam scam plays out in a unique way on Twitter, however, as marketers are forced to get attention in 140 characters or less. Enter the "Women of Twitter." The women likely have nothing to do with the ads, and their images may have been used without their knowledge. That's a common and distasteful tactic. In a particularly egregious form of image theft, msnbc.com several years ago chronicled the story of a woman whose picture was stolen from a personal ad, then widely used as an ad for a pornography Web site.
So I decided to follow up on 10 Women of Twitter tweets to see where they took us. They are easy to find: Just do a search for any popular topic, like 'iPad." Many of them feign interest in financial news or other world events, but the accounts are simply set up to automatically pull in and post news headlines and to generate keyword hits based on newsworthy topics. The crazy tweets this generates is reminiscent of the "word salad," spam that was in vogue a couple of years ago, when billions of emails were sent containing what seemed to be the world's worst Haiku.
In each case, I attempted to directly contact the poster and conduct an interview but had no luck. I did get one rather ironic response, however.
In my Top 10 list, which consists of 15k and nine others, I'm using the pronoun "her" to describe each account because the picture is female. But I have no idea of the real gender of the account holder.
Twitter, of course, has publicly said it is trying to fight spam like this, but it did not respond to requests for comment for this story. You can see our ongoing list of the Women of Twitter here, but please don't click on any of their profiles. You can also http://twitter.com/RedTapeChron">follow me.
"Toopweb" is pretty direct in her pose, and her message. The "try me" note posted on her picture has little to do with struggling British homeowners, but we clicked anyway. Her profile page goes nowhere, but she's a prolific writer. She's already posted 6,000 tweets -- sometimes, she posts several an hour -- and has pulled in 600 followers. Her current concern at our last visit? "Early childhood education schools LearnmoreMN Blog: How to rebuild the foundation of Minnesota's education system."
This Twitter user has a much more obvious business model. Her "real name" is "DVD Bluray," and her profile links to a website that upsells movies. Mind you, she carries no merchandise -- all the links on that site are affiliate links for Amazon.com, where Naritiwas gets a cut for every sale. She has about 4,500 followers. Her Tweets are equally varied. Her most recent tweet on our visit? "Car accidents in Los Angeles County -- Expert Attorneys Wanted."
I write a lot about personal finance issues, so it was natural for me to visit the account named "Budgetingtips4u." I was disappointed, however, with the advice I got there. The first Tweet I read: "Alarm Clock Lamp Article: Alarm Clock Lamp Article It's difficult to provide accurate Alarm Clock Lamp information." If anything, alarm clocks in my life are far too accurate. The "real" name Budgetingtips4u gives is Kasy Alutman, but that gets me nowhere. It's not hard to discern her real motivation, however: Her most recent tweet was "Traffic Building Tips When You Get Stuck | TRAFFIC BUILDING « Learn Traffic Building."
I came closest to real contact when I reached out to Savvypromoter. She seems to be a real person engaged in real Internet marketing promotion -- at least judging by her YouTube videos, which promise watchers a work-at-home business that includes a "system that is going to change your life," and enable early retirement. She says her name is Amanda Powlesland and that she's originally from New Zealand. She describes herself as an "Entrepreneur, Internet Marketer, Counsellor, Philanthropist, International traveller, Nature lover, CarbonCopyPro Member." Despite this, her tweets also seem like automated headlines. Here's one: "China mobile subscriber total rises to 833.1 million in Nov (Reuters): Reuters - China Mobile…."
I followed her on Twitter, and sent her an e-mail at what seems to be her legitimate e-mail account, requesting an interview. I had hard-hitting questions in mind. Here's the response I got:
"Thanks for trusting me! Do you want to know an easy 'paint by numbers' approach to earning an extra $3000 per month: "
I wouldn't trust her.
"KC Fong" is the name connected to this account, which holds the record in our group for most prolific. She's sent 186,000 tweets. She also seems oddly interested in small-town New Jersey property crimes, despite her stated location of Las Vegas. Her profile page is about as subtle as her picture. It links to "lofu.offershop.us," an amalgamation of online retailer clicks.
"Our Web site is a third party marketing website for companies such as Netflix, Cash4Gold, and many more," the site says. You'll notice that Toopweb, mentioned earlier, follows KC Fong suggesting a) She wants to learn from a master Tweeter or b) the accounts might be controlled by the same person or organization.
This not-the-girl-next-door account posts innocuous and varied headlines all day long. Some sports headlines ("Packers backup QB nearly knocks off Tom Brady!), some tech news ("Sonex electric completes first test flight") and even world entertainment news ("Survivor: Nicaragua – Live Reunion Show!). On my first visit, she was tweeting about Yogi Bear, the movie. But the account is really a doorway to something more serious. She follows 730 other tweeters, most of which seem to be escort services. Her first five Twitter pals are "Lost Angeles Escorts," "Detroit Escorts," "Washington D.C. escorts," "Calgary escorts," and "Toronto escorts" -- she obviously has gone international. Notes left on those pages seem to suggest they serve as authentic classified ads for paid sex.
Acaiberrybible takes a very different tack than our other Women of Twitter. Her tweets are all on one topic, focused on weight loss and health benefits of certain foods. Like the others here, she both follows and is following about 2,400 accounts, suggesting quite a bit of account sharing going on. It also suggests the spammers know just how many followers they can accumulate before getting on the radar of Twitter's spam fighters. This account holder says she's in Los Angeles, and I'm sure you won't be surprised to hear that her profile links to a Web page devoted to selling a "free" trial of acai berries. In an interesting mix of techniques, the page is also part of the "fakosphere," complete with a blog and supposed random reader comments from people who lost weight after signing up. There's even advertisements from Groupon, pulled in via one of those marketing affiliate arrangements.
LainaMedoza3200, whose names sounds more like a computer model than a clothing model, also takes a different strategy. She claims to be giving away from iPads! But interspersed with those aggressive offers, she produces some of the best poetry among the Women of Twitter.
"My good lord, I am so pleased to see you, he gushed, a soft eunuch's smile on his powdered face," reads one tweet. "The weirwoods were beyond the Wall, yet he knew Sam meant what he said," reads another.
A quick Internet search reveals the posts are pulled -- not from a news feed -- but from a fantasy novel called "A Game of Thrones" by George R. R. Martin. At least she's literary. I hope Martin receives some royalties for this.
Finally, it should be obvious why I was attracted to "hotnewss." I'm interested in any and all news scoops. Without apology, hotnewss -- who says her name is, ironically, Jane Rich -- links to random wire stories from around the world, like "Police arrest 12 men in counter-terrorism raids (Reuters)." And her profile links to a webpage that also throws together random headlines, Google News style, called wharfyouth.org, with the awkward label "Latest Update Headline News" -- but not before passing users through a page named MyGoogleTrends.info. The domain for that page is registered to someone listing the name "Bung Sa" in Singapore. No word if Bung Sa is starting a hedge fund.