(I subsequently wrote a followup to this post.)
I love the Internet. For starters, I met the Web Goddess on an online divorce support group. Thanks to the Internet, I have been able to pontificate on this blog to an audience of literally dozens of people who otherwise would be bereft of my wisdom.
But it’s still the Wild West on the World Wide Web (WWWWW). Web-enabled social media platforms such as Facebook lend themselves to scams that depend on social engineering as much as they do on TCP/IP. I think of myself as a reasonably sophisticated Internaut, but I got pwned this morning — before church, no less.
The Facebook message claimed that four of my friends had challenged me to an IQ test, with the smartest of them scoring 127. I was encouraged to click Continue to find out who they were and see if I could beat them. OK, Facebook friends — it’s on!
The welcoming page at the IQ site included a screen (see top image) with the words “Answer the questions quickly and accurately to find out your IQ.” OK, speed counts, good to know — bring it!
After racing through 10 multiple-choice questions (sample: of these four presidents, which was America’s 16th president?), I get to the screen below. My heart’s pumping — I just know I aced all those questions! But now they want me to tell them my cell phone number… am I going to get junk calls?
Oh well, I can always hang up, and at least they’re not asking for a credit card number. After I enter my cell number and click Next, I get a screen that tells me I have been sent a text message with a code number, and I have 30 seconds to enter the code number in a field on the web page. Crikey, my cell’s in the other room, the webpage is counting down the seconds, and I’m not sure how to retrieve a text message, I rarely use that service.
I get the code number entered with about four seconds to spare… which leads to a screen telling me I have to accept the Terms and Conditions. Damn! I’m out of time! But maybe it will still work a few seconds late. I select the Terms and Conditions approval box and click Next.
The next screen tells me to select the special ringtones I have ordered… and I start to have a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. I hit the back button to get to the page where I entered my cell phone number, and I see the virtually camouflaged reference (in the calculator screen in the picture above) to a $9.99 per month subscription. In small type at the very bottom (click the image to see a full-size version), there are five nondescript links, the fourth of which is the Terms and Conditions I didn’t read because I was running out of time.
The Terms and Conditions are a true work of art. (They were in a pop-up and I don’t know a way to link directly, but I’ve captured the complete text just in case.) In addition to telling me that my high IQ will now cost me 10 bucks a month until I cancel, the term sheet contains this cheeky statement: “YOU AGREE TO REVIEW THIS AGREEMENT FROM TIME TO TIME AND AGREE THAT ANY SUBSEQUENT ACCESS TO OR USE BY YOU OF THE SERVICES FOLLOWING CHANGES TO THE AGREEMENT SHALL CONSTITUTE YOUR ACCEPTANCE OF ALL SUCH CHANGES.” In other words, if they change the price to $10 a minute, it’s on me to opt out — and if I use the ringtone in the meantime, I’m hosed.
So after all my rushing, I ended up spending 28 minutes in voice-response hell with Verizon, before I got a human to tell me that I can cancel the ringtone “service” and I can dispute any charges that may get applied. I spent the 28 minutes rethinking my arrogant attitude toward the clients of Ponzi artist Bernie Madoff — clients who, I recently opined, should have known better.
Look, I freely acknowledge that I screwed up here. But shame on Facebook for enabling this. There apparently have been a variety of IQ test scams, none of which look any more dangerous than the standard Facebook fare offering superpokes, virtual hugs, good kharma and the like. If you Google “Facebook IQ test scam” you’ll get 86,000 results, some of them going back at least to 2007. (Let’s make it 86,001.)
I’m tempted to say “shame on Verizon” as well, but the ability to charge goods and services to your cell phone is at least potentially useful, and the nice Verizon lady assured me I would lose no money over this. Even though I “agreed” to the Terms and Conditions.
But here are other candidates for the IQ Test Hall of Shame: The aptly named Shadylizard.com, a ringtones peddler; Media Breakaway LLC, which according to the Terms and Conditions runs Shadylizard.com; quizyou.net, the site that hosts the phony quiz; and the “service” providers used by Media Breakaway to deliver ringtones: Flycell, Ringaza, Jamster and SendMe Mobile.
Media Breakaway LLC, according to its Flashy website, is based in Westminster, Colorado, and offers “performance-based marketing solutions for our business partners.” If you have any comments or suggestions about their “solutions,” their phone number is 303-464-8164. The CEO, Scott Richter, can be reached at email@example.com.
(Images above may be subject to copyright; publication here is believed to be permissible under the fair use doctrine of U.S. law.)