Thousands Fooled in Web Scam

Baseless Genocide Recognition Poll Site Forwarded Globally

By Jenny Kiljian

On Thursday–May 5–a Web site polling visitors about whether they believe the Armenian genocide should be recognized surfaced on the Internet and the link began making its rounds to the inboxes of hundreds of thousands throughout the world.

Often accompanied by urgent–frantic missives such as "The Turkish community is distributing this link to get ?no’ votes–please go and vote ?yes,’" the Web site received more than 228,000 hits within three days.

By Monday–May 9–the site was unavailable because the host server could not handle the overwhelming number of visitors. Asbed Kassis–a California-based IT consultant–researched what he called "the bogus poll" and discovered that the person or group of people who built the site are based in Virginia–and were using the telephone service provider Cogent Company to access the Internet. The site was built and hosted using Network54–which allows users to create and participate in free forums–chat rooms and what are known in Web parlance as votelets–easily generated survey and poll pages.

One visitor observed the poll about the Armenian genocide for 15 minutes and he–too–said it was ludicrous. Jirayr Beugekian–IT manager for the Hairenik Association–said that while the ?yes’ votes changed with each individual click–the ?no’ votes remained largely static–jumping in periodic incremen’s of 300 at a time. This signaled to him that the person hosting the site was manipulating the ?no’ vote by hand–simply to make the poll appear credible.

The ?yes’ clicks were not all unique–however–as thousands were informed through further emails that a visitor could delete ?cookies’ from a computer and return to the site to vote ?yes’ multiple times–according to Beugekian. Cookies are short pieces of data used by web servers to help identify web users. They don’t damage files or systems–and are only used to identify users and track browsing habits.

While sites such as this might seem innocuous–both Kassis and Beugekian advised people to be more careful about where they point their browsers. This Web site–like many others–contained Google-sponsored advertisemen’s and search results at the top of the page. Each time a person visited the site–the person hosting it earned a commission from the hugely popular search engine.

"Several IT people have confirmed that the person was making money from the poll," said Kassis. "Since huge numbers of Armenia’s and others flocked to the site–he or she got this high rating for traffic. The way the person made money was by getting a percentage of the amount charged for the advertisers per click."

While this site contained visible advertisemen’s–similar scam Web sites–explained Kassis–will embed pop-up-generating codes into nearly every link on the site. A visitor might simply close the pop-up–not thinking of it as more than the occasional nuisance that comes part and parcel with surfing the World Wide Web. What these people don’t realize–Kassis said–is that they’re not only polluting their computer–but their clicks are generating revenue for the host.

A person could build a Web site and place numerous advertisemen’s on the pages–each netting him or her anywhere from a penny to 30 cents–or even more–per visitor or click–explained Beugekian.

By the time the poll site became unavailable on Monday–the person hosting it could have made anywhere from $15,000 to $30,000 through the clicks of visitors. Although it is unclear whether the user simply deleted the page or Network54 took the site down–Kassis said that people should send complaints to the host companies when they see such questionable sites. "The best way to get trash like this off the host is to email Network54 with complaints. I’ve seen this to work 90 percent of the time," he said.

The Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) sent a letter to the site expressing the organization’s concern over the host being used to campaign against Genocide recognition.

"This abuse of your Web site–much like similar efforts by Holocaust deniers–aims to create doubt about historical realities," wrote ANCA executive director Aram Hamparian. "Sadly–we still have among us those who–for their narrow interests–seek to sow hatred and confusion about the Holocaust–the African slave trade–the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II–the genocide in Rwanda–and many other facts of history. It is up to all people of good conscience to reject hate and to not provide a platform to its purveyors."

Many others–while displeased that Genocide denial has been furthered through technology–were less sympathetic to the exponential number of people who visited the site and forwarded the link to hundreds of others in their respective address books.

"I can’t believe Armenia’s would fall for this–and jump to it as if all our future existence depends on it. We have become so very limited with our Genocide past," said Katia Peltekian. "There is nothing on the page about what the purpose of this poll is–who is collecting the votes–for whom this voting is being done–who is going to use this poll. The ?no’ votes make no move while the ?yes’ votes have jumped tremendously from almost zero to above sixty-one percent since [Friday–May 6]–when Armenia’s in a panic began forwarding this message left–right and center."

Nyree Derderian of California saved each email that was sent to her. In all–she said–she received the link 142 times.

"There are new kinds of predators out there in this new world," said Tatul Sonentz-Papazian. He received the link to the site–but said he summarily deleted it. "People are gullible–and they shouldn’t be so gullible. They become tools in the hands of those scam artists–people are falling for it–and it’s ridiculous."

Jenny Kiljian is the editor of The Armenian Weekly.

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