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List Manager Added Spam To Push Us Up A Level...


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11 replies to this topic

#1 rolf

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Posted 04 December 2009 - 05:36 AM

I was simultaneously pleased at the achievement and annoyed at the expense when I logged into one of our email list management accounts to find that we'd acquired enough email addresses to push us into the paid level of their program.

It's a small list for a small site and we tend to acquire 5 to 10 new subscribers per month when we're not doing anything special to promote it. We've been using the free account for a while and knew we would hit the figure to go for the paid version soon, but I would have predicted February to March at the historic growth rate, so obviously I wanted to try and find out what the spike of interest meant and see if I could replicate it.

What I found was that on 3 days of November more than 5 spammy (e.g. [several random characters]@gmail/yahoo/hotmail/bravenet.com) type email addresses were added all on the same day, which when added to our natural pick up for the month pushed us into the paid program...

Am I being paranoid or does that sound fishy to you? What would you do about it? We're not talking about much money here, so it's not that, it's just the ethics of the thing really, plus, do I want to associate myself or my business with someone acting this way for the sake of a few dollars? How safe is my list from being sold by someone like that?

EDIT: P.S. Can anyone recommend a good email list management company? lol.gif

#2 1dmf

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Posted 04 December 2009 - 06:28 AM

I'm a little confused how they are being added to the list.

Is this a webform, for people to subscribe to something, where they supply their email address?

If so then it's probably hacker / spam bots , I get tonnes of the damn things trying to sign up to my dance-music newsletter.

However if you are paying someone to collect email addresses and add them to the system and you seem to be having spammy emails added by the company just to push you into 'paid for' territory, then i'd get rid of them like a shot!

Not sure if you are looking for email campaign management recommendations, but we use a company called Campaign Monitor, it's pretty neat, you can even white label it for clients.

Although they are a USA company, their support is brilliant, they have always repsonded quickly, regardless of the time difference, though if you email too early in the UK morning, then it won't get an answer till they get to work their end, but it's always responded to.

They are reasonable prices too, 0.6p per recipient, though there is a 3.00 delivery charge per email campaign. There is full campaign tracking with reports, and has it's own markup syntax for the email template design.

So far we have been pretty impressed with them , and we tried a few till we found these people. I'd certainly look them up rolf!

Edited by 1dmf, 04 December 2009 - 06:33 AM.


#3 rolf

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Posted 04 December 2009 - 07:13 AM

QUOTE
'm a little confused how they are being added to the list.

Is this a webform, for people to subscribe to something, where they supply their email address?


Yes, it's from a form in my web pages submitted to their server, and we then send email campaigns via their web interface. It's a cool system, so I would be reluctant to move if there is some innocent explanation, and I would happily pay them when the time comes, but it just seems a bit fishy that the only time this happens it pushes us into their paid program.

The list also has a double opt in (i.e. you enter your email address, they send an email and you have to click a link in order to be added to the list), so I'm a little sceptical of a bot's ability to do this and I'm also not sure why a bot/spammer would even want to sign up. Do you know if this is possible with a bot? can you elaborate on the logic of why they would bother?

Bottom line, as it stands I cant see why anyone would sign fake email addresses to my list, except for the people who get paid when subscribers reach a certain number.

QUOTE
So far we have been pretty impressed with them , and we tried a few till we found these people.


Thank you, I'll take a look at that. I'll be taking this issue up with the list manager once I've gathered the evidence and thought it all through, so would like to have an alternative lined up in case their answers don't vindicate them.



#4 1dmf

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Posted 04 December 2009 - 08:11 AM

QUOTE
can you elaborate on the logic of why they would bother?

Bottom line, as it stands I cant see why anyone would sign fake email addresses to my list, except for the people who get paid when subscribers reach a certain number.
Beats me too!

I don't know if they are trying to SQL inject or some other infection, I'm not even sure the bots are particularly that inteligent, they just seem to roam the internet filling in people's forms and submitting them.

Maybe they just like annoying people with junk subscriptions / form submission. Why do half the hackers/spammer do what they do, I guess they think it's funny.

It's posible it's a real person giving bogus details because they think they will get to something good once they get past the form. I do give free tracks to subscribers, only the idiots don't realise, you have to supply a real email address if you want to receive the newsletter with the free tracks listed in the newsletter.

Randy -> you probably get alot of these so, why do you think they do it?

Edit-> I've attached a screen shot of a form we receive from one of our websites. The data looks a bit like an encryption key, but I'm guessing it's more likely to be a unicode representation of binary data trying to be submitted, possibly a virus, there are also some URL's.

what ever the data is and what ever they are trying to do, they fail miserably wink1.gif

Edited by 1dmf, 04 December 2009 - 08:40 AM.


#5 Jill

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Posted 04 December 2009 - 09:07 AM

QUOTE
Am I being paranoid or does that sound fishy to you?


I'd vote for paranoid. giggle.gif

Do you really think they're watching you list that closely that they would care to make you get to the paid level faster than you should? Hard to imagine that they were care all that much.

#6 rolf

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Posted 04 December 2009 - 09:12 AM

Interesting ideas, I'm trying to remain open minded and not be a cynic.

could be an SQL injection. I'll re-examine the data with that in mind.

QUOTE
It's posible it's a real person giving bogus details because they think they will get to something good once they get past the form.


I considered that but the data suggests otherwise. There's a few things that ring alarm bells about the data but the easiest to describe is that 5 gmail addresses were submitted from 3 consecutive IPs (e.g. ending 49, 50 and 51) at 10 to 15 minute intervals on one of the suspicious days.

Besides, either the email addresses must be real (for the double opt in to work) or the list/server itself has been manipulated somehow.

Not arguing here, just trying to thrash out some of the issues so I can get the clearest picture possible before speaking to the list manager

#7 rolf

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Posted 04 December 2009 - 09:18 AM

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Do you really think they're watching you list that closely


Not sure, but playing devils advocate I'd say maybe. I ended up paying $19.50 to get my account unlocked so I could see what was going on, so if they managed to bump a few dozen people up a notch then they would make a tidy profit, especially if all those people entered the paid program for $19.50 per month. I've known people do worse for less.

#8 Jill

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Posted 04 December 2009 - 09:25 AM

Hmm...well that sounds like a different story. I can't believe they would lock your account just because it hits a certain number of subscribers. Not send emails, perhaps, but not even get in and get your list?

I'd get out of there quickly.

#9 1dmf

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Posted 04 December 2009 - 09:34 AM

QUOTE
Besides, either the email addresses must be real (for the double opt in to work) or the list/server itself has been manipulated somehow.
However, does the person realise this when they submit bogus info? I'm guessing like with my form if it is occasionally someone real, they are hoping filling the form in takes them somewhere to get free stuff.

I've even had cases of people filling forms and not even knowing what they were filling in or why, my mind boggles as to the willingness of some people to happily hand over what is sometimes personal data without a second thought, just look at the info people are prepared to give away on facebook!

And rolf, what on earth made you think we might think you were arguing, at the worst we might agree to disagree wink1.gif

when it comes to these bots / spammer, any idea / thought might be possible, they obviously aren't thinking like normal people to be doing this in the first place!

#10 rolf

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Posted 04 December 2009 - 10:01 AM

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I can't believe they would lock your account just because it hits a certain number of subscribers.


It was only the spike in subscribers that made me look into it and ask some questions, but now you bring it up, I can't believe that didn't ring alarm bells in itself.

QUOTE
However, does the person realise this when they submit bogus info? I'm guessing like with my form if it is occasionally someone real, they are hoping filling the form in takes them somewhere to get free stuff.


I see what you're saying, and I'm sure you're right, that's why I had a double opt in. But these suspect email addresses had made it onto the list, so they either passed the double opt in or someone has manipulated something somewhere.

QUOTE
And rolf, what on earth made you think we might think you were arguing


You might not believe it but I have occasionally been accused of being argumenative lol.gif

QUOTE
they obviously aren't thinking like normal people to be doing this in the first place


Aint that the truth! someone is definitely up to something, now its just a case of working out who and what lol.gif

#11 Randy

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Posted 04 December 2009 - 01:23 PM

Well, I guess I'm just a cynic. Cuz I'm right there with ya Rolf. giggle.gif I'd be wondering if the list management company was behind it all, and also if their double opt in was working or not. In fact, that's probably how I'd start to investigate it with them, rather than flat out accusing them of doing it. I'd contact their support and tell them you suspected some signups of not being "real" and ask for them to verify that the double opt in click through was received.

There's definitely some funny business somewhere. And whether you stay or not depends upon how much you like their service. Personally, the whole locking of the account until you paid would turn me off big time. And I'd tell them as much, as well as my suspicion that someone among their midst had messed with my account, right after I'd grabbed all of the subscriber information, took it somewhere else, wiped the lists out on their servers and cancelled. I'd also require them to refund me the fee when I was leaving. And I'd not tell them this, but I'd also be charging back the purchase when (not if) they didn't issue the refund straight away. And I'd win this given all of the finer details.

1dmf I think you're talking about something else. Those look like just spam bots trying to produce link spam. I used to get those but don't anymore. You see I now have all of my contact forms set up to *silently reject any submissions that include the text string "<a href" in any of my form fields. Because with my forms at least there is never a need to submit a clickable link. URL addresses are fine in my forms so I still get a few of those coming through, but the vast majority never reach me because they all want a clickable link.

* By silently reject I mean real people would see an page that explains the <a href bit needs to be dropped for an email to be sent. Spambots either never see or are not programmed to recognize what the error is telling them. Thus it's still user friendly if a real person runs into my spambot filter.

But Rolf's is a different situation when you add in the double opt in mechanism. In my opinion at least.

#12 1dmf

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Posted 06 December 2009 - 07:55 AM

True Randy, i do agree there could be something more sinister going on, as there is a double opt-in , plus the fact money is involved.

I was just trying to show that there are a lot of bots going around trying to do stuff with peoples forms, so it is possible for it to be 'genuine' fake submission, especially if the double opt-in isn't working properly.

I don't do much with the form I showed, they simpy come in as duff emails, and are deleted , and as we don't get that many of them, it's just as easy to delete them than write code to deal with it.

One way I deal with this on one of my sites is the form is loaded with AJAX, as most bots can't execute AJAX, they never see the form to submit it. I'm not even sure if bots that could execute JavaScript, would get to see the DOM update, if you view the source in IE, you only see the source code of the original page before any AJAX was run even after it has.

Though i appreciate I don't fully understand the situation as I don't use 3rd parties for actually collecting subscriptions of any kind, I write all code myself and manage all subscriptions.

For one of my forms, the code won't accept any email address it cant look up MX records for, that eliminates a whole bunch of bogus email submissions, though I know it might hinder a few as well!

But it does look like from one cynic to another, something is a foot!




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