Essays on Technology and Culture

Scams, Shortcuts, and Honest Work

About a year ago, The Verge ran an amazing, and frightening article on web marketing scams. If you missed it the first time, it’s worth a read. If you read it before, read it again. The unmitigated audacity of the people who perpetuate these scams, and the damage they inflict on the victim would be a brilliant lesson in ethics, if the perpetrators actually had an understanding of ethics.

The power of the Internet, and technology in general, is often seen as shortcut to success. “All I have to do is start a blog, or a podcast, or write an iOS app, and then I’ll be rolling in the big Internet Bucks.” This conveniently overlooks the huge number of people doing these things. This conveniently overlooks the huge number of people’s blogs/podcasts/apps that are bad. This conveniently overlooks the infinitesimally small percentage of “overnight successes,” and the even smaller percentage of those the term truly defines.

These scammers play both sides, thinking they’ve found a shortcut to success by selling fake shortcuts to unsuspecting, and somewhat technology un-savvy individuals. Selling products to the technologically clueless is nothing new, but these scammers take it to another level, promising them the world for the price of a few overpriced eBooks and WordPress plugins, often replicating things one can find for free. However, the truly evil, and by all accounts, most lucrative part is the scammers reselling their mark’s contact information to other scammers.

Upon reading “Scamworld” for the first time, my reaction was a mix of jealously and rage. The jealousy has since faded, as I know that I am ethical enough that I could not let myself take advantage of others ignorance, and would not sell off customer information to the highest bidder. The rage lives on, however, metered by only my belief in a form of Karma, and an assurance that one day, the scammers will get their due.

There are no shortcuts in life. We know this, and we often choose to ignore it. There are people, and it’s likely we know at least one, who is constantly seeking a way to skip doing the hard work. Convinced of their own innate deserving, they’ll lie, cajole, cheat, and steal to win. Technology is an enabler to them, offering myriad new avenues of dodges and scams, hidden traps for the unwary to fall into. The only way for the honest to make it is to keep plugging at our work, our honest work, and try to dissuade our fellow travelers from taking the shortcuts.