Wednesday, October 31, 2012

E-Cigarette Text Spam

Early this morning, I received this text message while I was asleep
Hey Duane, not sure if you or anyone you know still smokes.  But www.nosmoke44.com is giving away free e-cig trials. - Alan
At first, I actually wondered who "Alan" was and if it might have been a friend of mine passing the word to me, then Reality smacked me upside the head and I realized that it was just part of the scam. Extra points for getting the spelling of my name correctly, though.

First, I tried to Google the phone number the text supposedly came from, 405-361-0831, to see if there was some sort of history behind it and it turned-out to be a company in Oklahoma which I doubt is even aware that their number is being used by these people, so I didn't bother contacting them with a complaint. In fact, the spammers have been linked to using numerous other numbers and you can see the results of my Googling the URL of the link I was sent by going here.

So, I went to nosmoke44.com and was redirected (never a good sign) to http://8smoke.com/shortay.php?keyword=sho1csmoke8 which labels itself as an "advertorial" (a combination of an advertisement and an editorial) which talks about how great electronic cigarettes are supposed to be. For a more neutral standpoint on the relative merits of electronic cigarettes, you can view the Wikipedia article instead, along with their cited references at the bottom of the article. At the bottom of the page are a number of comments, supposedly posted by "happy customers", but any attempt to post a comment of your own - such as a complaint about being textspammed on your cellphone at 2:15am - will be rejected. By itself, this kind of behavior will show anyone how unreliable these people really are and how you should not do business with them.

The page also includes a link for you to purchase the product. Going there reveal even more of what kind of people they really are.

The actual product is called the "No Flame Electronic Cigarette" or "No Flame E-Cigarette" and is sold at http://www.noflameecig.com and the website includes all kinds of really cool pictures of happy customers who supposedly saved all kinds of money by switching to this product. However, not everyone who has done business with them is happy and satisfied, as you can see from this example which I am reposting here:
orderd a free trial $4.95 in july and they sent more stuff without me approving it.bright burn charged my account without my knowledge and my authorization.i am warning people do not order the free trail it is a gimmick. they keep sending it to you and charging your account without your authorization
The main website includes a Contact Us link at the bottom. Clicking on that reveals their contact information

If you have any questions feel free to contact us at 
1-877-647-3625 or info@noflameecig.com

No Flame E-Cigarette 
6538 Collins Avenue #95
Miami Beach, Florida 33141

Hours of Operation: Mon-Fri 24 hrs. Sat-Sun 9-6pm EST.
Please DO NOT send returns to the above address.
Doing a search for the address reveals that it is a UPS store in Miami Beach, which is a good way to keep themselves from getting served legal documents, like a Complaint Summons. However, the Better Business Bureau does have a file on these people and you can see it here. Notice how they received an F rating from the BBB. These same people were apparently once known as "Bright Safe Cig", but likely had to change their names because of similar underhanded practices.

The websites nosmoke44.com, 8smoke.com and noflameecig.com are all registered anonymously, which is usually a guarantee that none of the companies or websites involved are trustworthy, if you weren't already convinced.

A partial list of related websites being circulated by these textspammers includes:
  • www.nosmoke22.com offline
  • www.smoke00.com offline
  • www.cig28.com offline
  • www.smoke12.com offline
  • www.nosmoke88.com redirects
  • www.cigsmoke.com redirects
  • www.smoke8.com redirects
  • www.123cigfree.com redirects
  • www.800cigs.com offline
  • www.cigs44.com offline
  • www.8smoke.com active
If you have been scammed or otherwise victimized by these scum, you can file a complaint with the Attorney General of Florida or the Federal Trade Commission.

I'm not sure how they got my number or anyone else's number, nor am I aware of how they are able to add your name to the text message.


How to Piss Them Off
Since the spammers were kind enough to give us their toll-free number, 1-877-647-3625, I suggest you use this to your advantage.

Go to a payphone and call them. If/when someone answers, give them a piece of your mind for as long as you can. It's a toll-free number, so it won't cost you anything to call them, but it will cost them money to receive the call and they'll have to pay for every single call that they get at that number. 

Do not call them from your home telephone, cellphone or workphone. Use a payphone, so they can't call you back or figure-out who's calling them.

Doing a database search to discover who owns the toll-free number, I discovered that the number had been purchased from a company called InContact.

I called them and it seemed like the operator was working out of a call center. She asked for my zip code, which I refused to give. I simply told the operator that my phone number is on the National Do Not Call list and that calling or texting me is a violation, subjecting them to the possibility of criminal prosecution, civil litigation or both. She asked for my phone number, supposedly to remove it from their call list. However, this would simply have confirmed mine as being a working number and usable to other spammers. I told her to simply run their call list against the national Do Not Call listing and remove any of those numbers from their callcenter. She again asked for my number and I repeated my statement. I will not make it easier for spammers to verify good numbers versus bad ones. If they want to avoid legal action, they must check their call list against the Do Not Call lists at the national and state levels.

To be blunt, the operator seemed to be perfectly aware that people on the Do Not Call list were being contacted.

The burden is not on me to tell them to remove my number. The legal burden is 100% on them to not call or text me in the first place.

In addition to not clearing their call list of number on the Do Not Call List before sending out their textspam, they deliberately hide the origin of their message by making it appear that the message came from somewhere other than its true point of origin. Innocent people and businesses can be accused of sending out these messages, when they had not done so. The spammers could have sent the messages out using their info@noflameecig.com address as the Sender, but simply chose not to do that. This shows a sense of cowardice from them, seeming to prefer that innocent people take the blame for something they did themselves.

So, I don't see anything wrong with calling them from a convenient payphone at any time of the day or night, any day of the week. I don't suggest being rude to the operator, because she's probably just some kid who needed a job. Just explain how you're on the Do Not Call list, if you are, and tell them to stop breaking the law by sending texts out. Don't give them your number, because that will just tell them your number is a valid one and they'll likely just sell the updated information to the next textspammer to come along.

Do not do any business with these people. If you give them your credit card information, they will make unauthorized charges to your account and send you products that you did not agree to buy, as you can see from complaints here, here and here.

How to REALLY Piss Them Off
Here is a picture of the product these people are selling

A full-size picture of it can be seen here. Go look at the full-size picture and you will see the name of the company that is the wholesaler for this product.

The wholesaler is a publicly-traded company called Vapor-Corp. They are a legitimate company that files regularly with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

I think Vapor Corp may be interested in the possibility of one of their retailers engaging in illegal activities. A company is known by the reputation of its products and Vapor Corp's name - not No Flame's - is emblazoned right there on the box. If a product is associated with unethical business practices and illegal activities, such as violating the National Do Not Call list, this could a case of shit rolling uphill with Vapor Corp being considered guilty by association. If you'd like to contact them yourself and tell them that their corporate reputation is being endangered by the actions of one of their retailers, you may contact them at this link.

No Flame might be able to ignore people calling them with complaints, but they couldn't ignore their wholesaler calling them and asking what the fuck they think they're doing.


How They May Have Gotten Your Name and Number
According to a comment posted below, it appears that the recipients' first names and phone numbers may have been obtained via their Facebook pages. Facebook is often  the target of spammers and scammers who attempt to obtained users' personal information. It seems that many peoples' information has found its way onto the black market and sold/or traded to these textspammers.

Another Update
Remember that email address No Flame says you can contact them with: info@noflameecig.com ? Well, it doesn't work! I know this because I tried to contact them via email at that address and it bounced-back on me.

So, the only way you can contact them is via their toll-free number and calling a toll-free number allows the receiver to know the phone number you are calling from, as well as a lot of other information.

Sneaky bastards.

Duane Browning
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