A typo in a URL resulted in me being brought to a site that looked like the image above; an easily recognisable duplicate of an Apple site with a message warning me of impending doom. Three viruses? Oh no! Unfortunately for the dolts, I've seen stuff like this a thousand times in the past and know how to identify fakes when they're presented to me. Unfortunately for many, this would appear as completely legit and warrant the handing over of hard-earned cash.
This upsets me.
The scam itself isn't what's upsetting, as these things have circulated around the web almost since its inception 30 years ago. Instead it's the the lack of honour the people who made this site have for themselves and the world at large that bothers me. In 2017 I wrote about a fake invoice scam that has undoubtedly resulted in money changing hands. A year later there was the password extortion scam. Both of these were emails. Today's scam attempt required a person to misspell a URL for a popular Linux distribution. The underlying distaste is the same, though. People who have the ability to put together a site that looks like a legitimate commercial product in the hopes of scamming money clearly have a talent for certain things, but choose to use these traits nefariously in the hopes that a steady stream of revenue can be taken from less-observant individuals.
It's genuinely disgusting. Not because this is a scam, but because the people who put this site together could probably build something of value that people would happily pay for. In the world of tech there are still a million problems to solve, with each one being capable of a worthwhile revenue stream. How else can we explain the dearth of applications that are essentially slight variations of what we had decades ago? How many text editors could a person possibly need? Looking at most app stores, the answer appears to be somewhere in the high 20s. How many different Tetris-remixes might a person find of value? Again, looking at most app stores, that number is also in the high 20s. It's unlikely that the creative dolts behind the above scam are incapable of creating something of value that people would genuinely enjoy.
One of the many great things about the Internet is the low barrier to entry, the incredible access to a hungry market, and the untapped potential of human imagination. Sure, we've created a lot of great things over the last few thousand years. There's no denying this. Humanity isn't done yet, though, and this is what drives the disappointment.
We all need to earn money. We all need to pay bills. We all want to have a long-lasting career that is worth doing. Scamming less-observant individuals out of a few dollars here and there may resolve the first two objectives, but it does fuck all for the third — which is arguably the most important of the three for anyone with even a hint of creativity within them. Anyone can try to scam their way through life. It takes a respectable person, however, to identify areas of potential. What's interesting is that we can find potential by looking at the places where responsibility has been abdicated.
So, for anyone who might be thinking of how to scam people out of a few thousand dollars, here are some legitimate problems that might benefit from your creative efforts:
- a financial planning application that doesn't send any data to a third-party
- a web browser that has every site in existence black-listed, requiring people to specifically permit traffic to and from a specific domain
- a better tool that can archive, index, and search our SMS messages
- a password manager that isn't a cumbersome pile of complexity
- a self-hosted Evernote competitor that stores data in a LibreOffice format (for rich notes)
- a better public geolocation API
There are a million other legitimate problems that can be solved, but these are the first six that sprang to my mind. Scams can be found anywhere and everywhere in the world, preying on the unobservant and earning an non-respectable income over time. Using the creative talents to solve actual problems? That's where self-actualisation can take place.
We can all do better. So let's stop with the stupidity.