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'People with malicious intent, they are capitalising on this': Is this the world's weirdest scam?

๐ŸŒˆ Abstract

The article discusses the phenomenon of "obit piracy", where anonymous internet fraudsters create fake obituaries about people who are still alive, in order to capitalize on search interest and generate advertising revenue. It explores the impact of this practice on the subjects of the fake obituaries and their loved ones, as well as the efforts by companies like Google to crack down on this type of content.

๐Ÿ™‹ Q&A

[01] The Strange World of Obit Pirates

1. What happened to the American journalist Deborah Vankin?

  • Deborah Vankin, an American journalist, discovered that the internet believed she had died, and found multiple obituaries published about her online.
  • She was surprised to receive a call from her father informing her about the fake obituaries, and initially dismissed it as a scam before later investigating further.
  • When Deborah read the obituary about herself, she felt shocked, anxious, and sad, and decided to find out who was behind the hoax and what was driving it.

2. What is "obit piracy" and how does it work?

  • Obit piracy refers to the practice of anonymous internet fraudsters creating fake obituaries about people, often by scraping details from social media and other websites.
  • The goal is to capitalize on search interest in the person's name and generate advertising revenue by driving traffic to the fake obituary websites.
  • These websites use search engine optimization (SEO) techniques to ensure their content appears high in search results when someone looks up the person's name.

3. What are some of the impacts of obit piracy on the subjects and their loved ones?

  • Obit piracy can have a chilling effect on the subjects of the fake obituaries and their loved ones, who may be unsettled or distressed to discover the false information online.
  • In some cases, friends and family members have mistakenly believed the person was actually deceased and taken actions accordingly, such as contacting the person's workplace.
  • The practice has prompted legal action, with one woman suing a website that published an obituary and photo of her father without permission.

[02] Combating Obit Piracy

1. How are companies like Google addressing the issue of obit piracy?

  • Google has updated its spam policies to target low-quality content like expired websites repurposed for spam and obituary spam, which it says it has "significantly reduced" in search results.
  • YouTube, which is owned by Google's parent company Alphabet, also enforces policies against spam, deceptive practices, and scams to combat this type of content.

2. What are some challenges in policing obit piracy on the internet?

  • Policing the internet for obit piracy can be complex and challenging, as cyber experts warn that scammers will continue to find new ways to work around the system.
  • Even if one type of obit piracy is addressed, scammers may shift to other tactics or platforms to continue their activities.
  • Individuals can try to have misinformation about them removed, but it ultimately requires action from companies like Google to effectively combat the issue.
Shared by Daniel Chen ยท
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