A Gentle Ripple in the Datasphere: Soft Fraud

May 18, 2022

Compared with some of the cyber behavior, soft fraud is a small fish, possibly a candiru. My definition of “soft fraud” is a behavior which does not violate the letter of the law. The spirit of the law? That’s a matter for discussion.

Soft fraud sits squarely between the Bernie Madoff-type play and a clueless Web designed happily leading a user into a rat’s nest of captchas.

I have been nagging my research team to look for examples of behavior which though technically legal in the country from which the actor operates, trigger a visceral reaction in some people.

What’s an example of soft fraud?

Apple and the Subscription Trick

Recently Apple announced that an authorized vendor with the Johnny Appleseed seal of approval can sell an Apple customer a subscription at a cut rate price. When the trial or initial order expires, the vendor can just raise the price. The customer does not have to be reminded that billing excitement ensues. What’s a customer to do? Call Apple customer support? Ho ho ho. That works like the feedback forms for podcasts. Perhaps call the outfit selling the subscription? Ha ha ha. No one works, and if they do, these valiant souls operate from office space in a beautiful suburb of Mumbai.  That’s an example of what I call soft fraud. Apple may disagree, but that — so far — is my personal opinion. See “Apple will allow some apps to Automatically Charge You Higher Subscription Prices.”

Say One Thing, Do Whatever One Wants

Examples of this abound. I recall executives from Amazon, Facebook, and Google explaining how their businesses operate. In addition to the popular, “senator, thank you for the question,” the core response was “I will check and send you the information.” In the meantime what happens, absolutely no substantive change in the business processes under discussion. Hiring and firing issues. I will check and send you the information. Monopolistic and predatory behaviors. I will check and send you the information. Content manipulation via oh, so opaque smart software. I will check and send you the information. Yep, I nudge these methods into the soft fraud category. See “Facebook, Twitter and Google CEOs Grilled by Congress on Misinformation.”

The Copyright Violation Play

This is a cute money making maneuver involving some big names. The idea is that an agent representing some “big names” uses ageing image recognition software. The software bot prowls the Web looking for images whose hash code matches that of the rights holder. When a match is identified, an outfit with permission to move forward with legal action against the copyright violators springs into action. You can get a sense of what’s happening in this sector by check out some of these online articles and comments. Note: These may be distorted, crazy, or dead center. I leave it to you:

https://superezsystems.com/2020/01/10/why-are-cartoon-characters-scamming-for-copyright-violations/

https://www.torontomike.com/2020/10/the-picrights-international-inc-shakedown/

https://shannonrawlins2000.medium.com/picrights-ltd-the-shady-company-hounding-journalists-over-historic-cases-of-copyright-infringement-a169685eede6

https://www.trustpilot.com/review/picrights.com

https://www.moreaboutadvertising.com/2020/11/picrights-is-persecuting-websites-and-bloggers-over-alleged-rights-issues-who-are-they-and-their-agents-acting-for/

https://extortionletterinfo.com/forum/getty-images-letter-forum/picrights-com/15/

https://www.quora.com/I-reposted-a-news-photo-on-my-website’s-blog-A-company-picrights-com-is-demanding-money-instead-of-simply-issuing-a-cease-and-desist-order-is-this-extortion-and-or-even-legal

https://randeedawn.com/10-12-20-how-two-spam-emails-cost-me-650-or-when-picrights-enters-your-life/

https://culture-fx.com/picrights-higbee-and-associates-extortion-scam-reviews/

https://sportsweek.org/en/ice-hockey/news/262837698/

https://ziad.ezzat.com/fuckpicrights/

https://site-stats.org/details/picrights-international-inc/

https://www.canadacorporation.info/companies/10058661/

https://opencorporates.com/companies/ca/9682155

https://www.companiesofcanada.com/person/1244351/syed-ahmer-hussain

https://opengovca.com/corporation?director=Syed+Hussain

https://www.redfin.ca/on/aurora/237-Borealis-Ave-L4G-7T6/home/152256940

https://opengovca.com/corporation/12183536

New Opportunity?

My hunch is that soft fraud is likely to get a boost. I noted “DeviantArt Can Now Notify Anyone Whose Art’s Been Used in NFTs without Permission.” The write up explains:

DeviantArt, an online art and design community founded in 2000, is now opening up its NFT protection tool to everyone… You can pay $9.95 per month to get protection for 1,000 pieces of art with a size limit of 50GB.

Is this an opportunity for an individual or entity to use the service to request payment for the NFT. The NFT holder might be grateful for getting control of the bitmap or other digital object. Would the helpful intermediary charge whatever the market will bear and then take a professional services fee?

This strikes me as perfectly legal. The existing copyright laws have a Disneyland feel about them from my perspective.

Net net: Soft fraud may benefit from the advent of NFT and services like that offered by DeviantArt, which is an interesting name in my opinion. Will regulators seize the day and create a category to handle soft fraud, mishandling of NFTs, and other innovations? Sure. Job One after re-election, fund raising, and getting media attention.

Stephen E Arnold, May 18, 2022

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