Saturday, November 29, 2014 Is A Scam


The site is down. It is impossible to know if this is permanent or temporary. If you've  already read my blog on this topic, the site went offline for a period of time in the past, only to reappear again soon afterwards.

According to's registration information, the site's registration expires on 15 April 2020, so that may not be the reason.

However, I also learned that someone had posted a job offer on Hackers List for a takedown of the site on 27 July 2015.

UPDATE FOR 7 June 2015

Much of what was written in this entry is out-of-date. The situation with and the people associated with it has evolved to such a degree that I would have to rewrite this entire blog to remove the outdated material and incorporate the new stuff.

Rather than go through all that and make an even bigger mess of this entry than it already is, I have written a new post, which you can visit here

Current Status

I haven't noticed new profiles being added to the site in awhile, simply judging by the first page. However, the best way to measure whether the site's listings is growing, shrinking or staying the same is to determine how many pages of profiles there are on any given day. From what I have seen, there are ten profiles per page on the site, with the exception of the last one, which has eight.

As of 28 March 2015, there were a total of 16,447 pages on the site.
Estimate of total profiles listed: 164,468

As of 8 August 2015, there are 16,439 pages on the site
Estimate of total profiles listed: 164,391

Why no new profiles have been added isn't something I know or currently have any way of learning. It does appear that ten profiles have been removed from the site in the past couple of months/ Most of the profiles in the older pages didn't have names or pictures on them and these appear to be the types of profiles removed. This makes sense, since these profiles didn't offer ExposingJohns any sort of leverage against their intended victims.

I found this website quite by accident. It immediately reminded me of another site I blogged about in the past, which has already been deleted.

Like PotentialProstitutes, the site claims to be doing a Public Good by publicly exposing men who have allegedly solicited prostitutes via text message. I guess you could call this "john-shaming", which is a lot like "slut-shaming". The site shows pictures of the accused - apparently from their Facebook profiles - along with their phone numbers, the city where they live and the type of prostitute they solicited, such as female or transgender. People can post these accusations to the site for free and they don't get paid for these submissions.

Here's what they say about themselves:
What we actually do 
Our operations are clean and professional
ExposingJohns is an online organization, which investigates, identifies, and publicizes the conduct of adults who solicit prostitutes for sex online. The site consists of Third party volunteers who carry out sting operations by posing as prostitutes on sites known for being used to prostitute.
As far as their justification for doing this, they make this statement:
Q: Why are users doing this? Don't we have a right to privacy? 
A: Everyone; including wives, girlfriends, boyfriends, family members, co-workers, current employers and neighbors have the right to know what's going on online and in their neighborhoods. Just like any other illegal activity of concern that is exposed. is no different than a complaint board that exposes the information of those who abuse the trust of the public. There are very serious issues arising such as the spread of STDs to the innocent, child exploitation and human trafficking. In our day and age, this is all now exacerbated by the easy sale of sex online. Since it is so easy to commit such crimes online it is our user's job to make it easy to be exposed.
So, these self-appointed Guardians of the Internet receive their information from people who post ads on websites used by pimps and prostitutes to advertise themselves. These "volunteers" post ads, posing as escorts and forward to ExposingJohns the phone numbers of the respondents, along with screenshots of the text they received.

Once the phone number has been received by ExposingJohns, they can do a Facebook search. Entering the phone number in the Facebook search bar will reveal the owner's name, along with their city of residence and - most damaging - pictures of themselves. The only way ExposingJohns could even get those pictures is if the phone number is linked to a Facebook account.

My understanding is that ExposingJohns then sends a text message to the accused individual, telling them that they have been listed. This person can then visit the link to see their personal information put on the Internet for anyone to see if they do a Google search for their phone number.

There have been reports that the phone number that the texts are apparently sent from is 832-478-7053 and the text reads as follows:
My name is David from Exposing Johns, An online organization that investigates,identifies,and publicize the conduct of adults who solicit prostitutes for sex online. Your name and phone number were reported by prostitutes and female escorts you had solicited for so we hereby pressing charges and you might appear before a judge to defend these charges.Please reply if you want all these charges dropped.
I attempted to call the number from a payphone to see if anyone would answer. No one did and text messages sent to that number were rejected. The number may have been disconnected.

So, while ExposingJohns claims on their FAQ that they don't accept money to remove ads, someone has been sending out text messages demanding money from people they are accusing of having solicited prostitutes.

For a while, ExposingJohns had ads on their site for a company called which, for a fee, would remove the ads from ExposingJohns or, at least, suppress the ability of people to find your ad.

Recently, I visited ExposingJohns again and noticed that no ads appear for anymore. I have edited this blog from its previous version to reflect this. As of 14 May 2015, does not have any connection to ExposingJohns,

Moving on.

Some people might think "So, what? Some guy tries to solicit a hooker and it turned-out to be a fake ad. Nobody got hurt." It's not that simple. Some of the alleged "johns" appear to be either married or have girlfriends, some also appear to be business owners. Even a false accusation can have serious repercussions for these men.

ExposingJohns doesn't spell-out how they determine if a report is fake or genuine. For all they know, someone could Photoshop an image and send it to them, claiming that it's a text message they got from some john. Even assuming that most of the profiles are of men who really did solicit prostitutes, the apparent lack of safeguards to prevent false accusations puts the reliability of the entire site into question.

Furthermore, under their own Terms and Conditions, ExposingJohns states the following:
"You may not upload or transmit any material that infringes or misappropriates any person's copyright, patent, trademark, or trade secret, or disclose via the the Website any information the disclosure of which would constitute a violation of any confidentiality obligations you may have."
What makes this statement hypocritical is the fact that the profile photos of the alleged johns obviously come from Facebook profiles, as far as I could tell. Under the law, the copyright of any photograph is held by the photographer by default. By reproducing, without permission, the photographs of these people, taken from their Facebook profiles, ExposingJohns could have violated copyright law thousands of times over the course of its existence.

ExposingJohns Getting Greedy

NOTE: ExposingJohns ceased offering this method for removing a profile. I decided to keep this section for reference.

Despite the claim posted on their FAQ that they don't accept money to remove profiles, they recently (as of 26 December 2014) added a link for "johns" to remove their profiles. Now, when you view any profile, you will see this 
If you click on the button, this is what you will see

One time fee of $99.97
Premium 24 hour investigation into the claims. The profile in question will be removed from the live site immediately during the 24 hour investigation. We will contact the person who has posted the profile for the following information; full contact information (including proof of personal address), physical proof of solicitation, and all supporting evidence, such as documents or Witness Statements.

If the requested information is not supplied in full after 24 hours the profile in question will be removed and blocked from future posting.

Selecting this "Premium Package" will take you to this 

Of course, this means that you will have to trust ExposingJohns not to do anything bad will the credit/debit card information that you'll be giving to them. Since these people are in a foreign country and beyond the reach of US law enforcement, they could just as easily take your money, leave your profile up anyway and sell your information on the Black Market.

The Supposed "Evidence"

Here are three texts that ExposingJohns claims were sent by three separate men in an attempt to solicit prostitutes via the Internet. I have blacked-out the phone numbers, but nothing else was altered.

Look very carefully at the three text messages. Do you notice anything odd about them?

Did you notice that the battery charge is the same in each of them, all of them showing the receiving phone to have a battery charge of 71%. I did a cursory look through other profiles and it was always the same when the receiving phone was a Sprint phone, which always seemed to have the same signal strength, by the way.

Isn't that an odd coincidence of how the battery has somehow maintained the same charge, no matter when the text had been received? I wish my cellphone battery could hold a charge like that, don't you?

The same thing seems to apply no matter what kind of phone is receiving the text. Notice how the receiving phone seems to have the same battery charge when each of these messages was received, regardless of how much time has passed.

It's almost as if they have a template that they use to create fake text message screenshots. isn't it?

What I think is going-on - at least some of the time, maybe all the time - is that the people running ExposingJohns get some guy's phone number (it doesn't matter how) and they do a Facebook search for the phone number where they get his name and other information. They then create a fake text message, accuse him of sending it and send him a text to tell him that his profile is on their site.

You see, you don't even have to do anything to get listed on ExposingJohns. All that has to happen is they get your phone number, find your Facebook profile and copy some of your pictures. Then, they create a profile and send the unwitting victim an accusatory text message. ExposingJohns hopes that you'll be so scared of your friends, family, coworkers, etc seeing it that you'll pay them  to take it down.

If you've received an accusatory text from ExposingJohns, I'd appreciate it if you'd post a screenshot of the message you received in the comments below.

I have no idea how much, if anything, InternetReputation paid ExposingJohns to place its ad on their website. While InternetReputation seems to be an otherwise legitimate company, its relationship with ExposingJohns would gives me enough suspicion to avoid doing business with them, even though that relationship seems to have ended.

Okay. Moving on.

The website isn't registered in the United States, but in India.
Organization: Net4India
Address: D-25Sec-3
City: Noida
State: UP
Postal Code: 201301
Country: IN
Phone: +91.1204323500
Fax: +91.120432350

They also have a Facebook page
and a Twitter account
a Google+ page
and a LinkedIn account

If your personal information has been posted on ExposingJohns and you've already been in contact with  them you might be wondering if you're faced with two rather unappealing choices:
1) pay the money they are asking for in order to remove the profile ; or
2) leave it up and pray that no one you know sees it.

You actually have other options:

  1. change your phone number. It seems obvious, but changing your phone number is a pretty good idea. Doing so removes one level of credibility from the accusing profile. If anyone asks you about it, tell them that telemarketers are harassing you, an ex-girlfriend is stalking you, etc. Make shit up, but try to keep it believable. Personally, I'd blame it on telemarketers. Fuck those guys!
  2. If they posted pictures of you online, they likely got them from your Facebook profile. Deleting your profile would help. If you don't want to go that far, set your profile to Private. It's because your profile is Public that they got your pictures in the first place;
  3. ignore it, since the "proof" they display is no kind of proof at all.

But, wait! There's more!

ExposingJohns, like any website, needs servers to stay on the Internet. As mentioned in the WHOIS, even though the site is registered in India, their servers are in other countries. For awhile, their servers were in the United States, but they have been moved to Singapore. A company called Cloudflare operates reverse proxies for them. Attempts to get Cloudflare to cut them off were unsuccessful.

A reader contacted Cloudflare about ExposingJohns' activities and informed me of the results of their message to the server:
CloudFlare received your abuse report
Please be aware CloudFlare is a network provider offering a reverse proxy, pass-through security service. We are not a hosting provider. CloudFlare does not control the content of our customers.
Accepted URL(s) on
    Hosting Provider: Pallada-For-Dedicated-Servers
    Abuse Contact:    PR13126-RIPE

We have notified our customer of your report, and we have forwarded your report on to the responsible hosting provider. You may also direct your report to:
1. The provider where is hosted (provided above);2. The owner listed in the WHOIS record for and/or;3. The contact listed on the site.
Note: A lookup of the IP for a CloudFlare customer website will show CloudFlare IPs because we are a pass-through network. The actual website is still hosted at the hosting provider indicated above. If the hosting provider has any questions, please have the hosting provider contact us directly regarding this site. Due to attempted abuse of our complaint reporting process, we will only provide the IP of to the responsible hosting provider if they contact us directly at
CloudFlare Abuse
So, it seems that I was mistaken in thinking that ExposingJohns would only have had a single server in the USA. Instead, they are using Cloudflare as a reverse proxy in this country. This keeps their real IP a secret and also provides them with protection from DOS and DDOS attacks.

Very smart. I also discovered that this isn't the first time that Cloudflare has been affiliated with questionable websites or online activities.

The main server seems to be Pallada Web Service, which is located in Russia and is outside the jurisdiction of US law enforcement.

Pallada Web Service has reportedly never responded to inquiries about its connection to, so don't count on them to do anything about it. However, they do have a Facebook page, if you want to try to contact them that way. Posting something there does put it out in the open for others to see. But, it's a good bet that they'll delete your post.

In the same vein, if you want to contact, they posted their email address pm their contact page. In order to thwart attempts by spammers to harvest their email address, they posted it as support(@)exposingjohns(.)com which is rather ironic, when you think about it. Not being inclined to be supportive of their efforts to protect themselves, here's their email address and I hope you have better luck than others.

I did discover a listing from the Florida Better Business Bureau for, which gave them an "F" rating. ExposingJohns has numerous complaints filed against it in Florida. The given address on the BBB profile is 6815 Biscayne Blvd. Ste. 103 394, Miami, FL 33138 which is likely to be a virtual office and mail sent there is likely to be either returned or ignored.

You can file a complaint with the US Federal Trade Commission against ExposingJohns, as Brian Bates has advised and this seems to be the best bet. Just go to this link.

Another body to which you can complain is the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), which is a joint operation of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National White Collar Crime Center. Just go to to file your complaint.

Since ExposingJohns is registered in Noida, Uttar Pradesh, India, you can also try reporting them to the Noida Police. If you live in the USA, I have no idea how much attention the Noida Police will give to your complaint, but it doesn't hurt to try. Reports can be filed at this link and you can also send an email to and wait for a response.\\

For several days, ExposingJohns was offline, but could still be found at an obscure IP address. They were located at and the site can still be seen at this link.

This is the IP address they are using for their former address. Here is the WHOIS for this address

IP Information for
Quick Stats
IP Location Russian Federation Russian Federation Moscow Pallada Web Service Llc
ASN Russian Federation AS198310 PALLADA-AS Pallada Web Service LLC,RU (registered Dec 09, 2011)
Whois Server
IP Address
% Abuse contact for ' -' is ''

inetnum: -
netname:        Pallada-For-Dedicated-Servers
descr:          Pallada-infrastructure
country:        RU
remarks:        INFRA-AW
admin-c:        BBER-RIPE
tech-c:         BBER-RIPE
status:         ASSIGNED PA
mnt-by:         Pallada-MNT
org:            ORG-PWSL1-RIPE
changed:   20140328
source:         RIPE

organisation:   ORG-PWSL1-RIPE
org-name:       Pallada Web Service LLC
org-type:       LIR
address:        Pallada Web Service LLC.
address:        Boris Kazakov
address:        8 build.7 Yaroslavskaya street
address:        129164
address:        Moscow
address:        RUSSIAN FEDERATION
phone:          +79160596714
fax-no:         +74955807165
mnt-ref:        RIPE-NCC-HM-MNT
mnt-ref:        Pallada-MNT
mnt-by:         RIPE-NCC-HM-MNT
abuse-c:        PR13126-RIPE
tech-c:         BBER-RIPE
changed:   20140626
source:         RIPE

person:         Bogdan Berkovich
address:        141009, 10 Olympic prospect, Mytishi, Moscow region, Russia
nic-hdl:        BBER-RIPE
mnt-by:         Pallada-MNT
changed:   20140415
phone:          +7 495 580 7165
source:         RIPE

descr:          PWS-Network
origin:         AS198310
mnt-by:         Pallada-MNT
changed:  20140407

source:         RIPE

The email address is linked to phishing attacks and  you can find more information here. Proceed at your own risk.

The website appears to be a telecommunications company in Russia. The website is registered to a private individual. Strangely, their website is offline, which is odd for a telecommunications company.

Removing Your Own Name

While you can't force ExposingJohns to take down your profile, you can take steps to remove it from search results, if someone uses that search engine to search for you by entering your phone number.

Remove from Google Search.
Remove from Yahoo Search. Click "Online Safety" under Topics.
Remove from Bing Search.

As I said above: If you don't use your Facebook page very often - or ever - just delete it. Changing your phone number would also be a good idea.

Duane Browning

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Scammer Posing As FBI Agent

On October 14th, I received the following message that went straight to my Spam box:



Federal Bureau of Investigation
Field Intelligence Groups 
J. Edgar Hoover Building
935 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW 
Washington, D.C.
Attention: Beneficiary,
We sincerely apologized for sending you this sensitive information via e-mail instead of a certified mail, post-mail, phone or face to face conversation, it's due to the urgency and importance of the security information of our citizenry, i am Special Agent Erick Bolt from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Field Intelligence Groups (FIGs). We intercepted two consignment boxes at JFK Airport, New York. The boxes were scanned and they contained large sum of money ($4.1 million) and also some backup documents which bears your name as the Beneficiary/Receiver of the money. Investigation was carried out on the diplomat that accompanied the boxes into the United States and he said that he was to deliver the fund to your residence as overdue payment owed to you by the Federal Republic of Nigeria through the security company in United Kingdom.
After cross-checking all legal documents in the boxes, we found out that your consignment was lacking an important document and we can't release the boxes to the diplomat until the document is found, we have no other option than to confiscate your consignment.
According to Internal Revenue Code (IRC) in Title 26 also contain reporting requirement on a Form 8300, Report of Cash Payment Over $10,000 Received in a Trade or Business, money laundering activity may violate 18 USC §1956, 18 USC 1957, 18 USC 1960, and provision of Title 31, and 26 USC 6050I of the United States Code (USC), this section will discuss only those money laundering and currency violation under the jurisdiction of IRS, your consignment lacks proof of ownership certificate from the joint team of IRS and IRC, therefore you need to reply back immediately for direction on how to procure this certificate to enable us relieved the charge of evading the law on you, which is a punishable offense in the United States.
You are required to reply back within 72hours or you will be prosecuted in a court of law for money laundering, also you are instructed to desist from further contact with any bank(s) or person(s) in Nigeria or the United Kingdom or any part of the world regarding your payment because your consignment has been confiscated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation here in the United States.
Yours In Service,
Special Agent Erick Bolt
Regional Deputy Director
Field Intelligence Groups (FIGs)

While the English in the message is of better quality than typical scammers (Yes, it is a scam) the language isn't entirely as good as one might expect from a college-educated FBI agent that you would expect. I could go into detail, but I don't want to provide any information to any scammer or potential scammer on how to improve their game.

So, I'll stick with easier stuff which provides no help to scammers, but may set any other recipients' minds at ease who might actually be worried that the FBI is coming to get them.

While the email address looks authentic, it is not a valid email address, so any replies sent to it will be bounced-back. The actual Reply address attached to this email is and no FBI agent would use a separate email address to conduct official business. According to official FBI policy. all official correspondence must be conducted using an FBI-approved email address. The Bureau is still hurting from past agents who have decided to do their own thing at the expense of the US Government.

Another reason to not take this email and its accompanying threats seriously is that the FBI would never contact you by email regarding an official investigation. They would normally come to you in person. A couple of agents would come to your home or workplace, show their IDs and ask you some questions. If the matter was important enough, they would take you to their office and question you there. They would never rely on email to contact you.

Furthermore, notice how "Agent Bolt" provided no phone number for me to call him. So, this whole exchange would have been conducted via email? No, the FBI doesn't work that way. If this email had come from the FBI, I would have been given a phone and/or FAX number.

So, there's no consignment waiting for me anywhere and no FBI agent who's coming to get me. I'm not the first person to receive this email and I don't think I'll be the last.

Duane Browning

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Fighting Identity Theft

Years ago, I realized that I had a problem.

Like most people, I had store receipts, bank statements, etc that had important, personal information about myself that could do me real harm if they ever got into the hands of someone who wanted to steal my identity. Rather than take my chances or try to destroy them by tearing them up or even burning them, I bought a paper shredder. Going through that mountain of papers that I no longer needed, but couldn't allow to get into the wrong hands, took awhile.

At the end of that first Big Shred, I felt an enormous peace of mind. In addition to the important stuff, I also shredded newspapers and junk mail, in order to better frustrate all but the most hardworking identity thief. Anything paper went into the shredder. So far, my efforts seem to have paid-off.

With many pieces of mail I receive (e.g. utility bills, bank statements) I also receive envelopes in which to mail replies or payments. I save these to put store receipts in, to better mix them up in the Pile of shredded paper.

I've gone through three paper shredders over the years. I typically buy the type made for offices, which are made for shredding large amounts of paper into hard-to-reassemble fragments. A somewhat costly initial investment (between $50 to $60) that has given me years of nearly guaranteed assurance that there's no one out there taking out a credit card in my name due to some slip-up on my part.

I've even learned how to keep my shredder blades clean in order to prolong the life of my shredder. After unplugging the device, I open it up to reveal the blades and manually pick out the stuck pieces. I save empty cereal boxes and - after reattaching the top portion of the shredder and plugging it back in - run them through the shredder to get out any remaining fragments stuck in the blades. I do this a few times until the blades look clean.

People might ask me what the odds really are that someone would try to steal my identity. My answer would be that my odds are no better or worse than anyone else's and if past victims of identity theft had taken the steps that I have, they might not have been victimized in the first place.

So, if you're willing to invest the time, effort and money:
1) go buy yourself a good, office-quality paper shredder. The best kind are the ones that cut the paper into tiny, diamond shaped pieces;
2) collect all papers you have that contain information you don't want to get into the wrong hands (e.g. store receipts, credit card statements, credit card applications, bank statements, etc) that you really don't need to hang onto;
3) collect a certain amount of extra unimportant papers (e.g. junk mail, newspapers, election year mailings) to shred and mix in with the important stuff;
4) gather a good number of envelopes that came with the mail. You'll put the store receipts in these. Put in as many as can fit that will still allow the shredder to cut properly. You can simply close the envelope with scotch tape, so you don't get that disgusting taste in your mouth;
5) start shredding. If you don't have a lot to start with, you don't need to worry so much. Just get it done. But, if you're like me and had a lot to start, just take your time. Take a break once in awhile, to allow the machine to cool off. Empty the bin if it gets full. I usually prefer to use a 30 gallon trash bag to put it all in. Shred important stuff and unimportant stuff at the same time to allow the papers to mix in the bin;
6) once you're done, you can throw in a few more things to discourage anyone from going through your pile, such as water, old milk or used cooking oil to help the ink on the paper run or dissolve the fragments better. Toss in some household trash, if you like.

You may be wondering if this is all worth it. Would a potential identity thief go through all this trouble? Enduring the smell of your rotting garbage, trying to reassemble your shredded papers, etc?

Well, the really hardcore type would either do it themselves or have some lackey do it. If you're a home owner, an elderly person with good credit, a business owner, an 18 to 24 year old that puts too much information about themselves on the Internet or anyone else that an identity thief think they'll be able to get some good credit cards by impersonating, then: Yes, they would.

After the initial shred, hold onto those return envelopes you get in the mail, if you're not going to use them, and keep them to put store receipts in that you don't need to keep. At the end of the day or once a week, put the receipts into one of these envelopes and shred them. Shred any pieces of mail you get that you don't need for later. Don't let the paper pile-up and you won't again have a big pile to shred later or be tempted to simply throw them away.

I'll grant that this is a very basic, even amateurish approach. Computer hackers can steal your passwords simply hacking into your computer, your smartphone, credit card company or bank databases. But, these things are outside your control and we're forced to rely on computer professionals to try to prevent this sort of thing from happening.

But, the papers you have are under your control and you can take this step to try to put some of your own effort into protecting yourself.

Duane Browning

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Spam Caller

I received a phone call from 213-784-2616 late yesterday afternoon. I answered and said "hello" repeatedly, but the other party didn't reply and simply disconnected.

Doing a simple Google search informed me that this number is associated with spam and other harassing calls.

The caller seems to be calling people in Hawaii these days. He reportedly sometimes asks for a woman by name and the names vary.

Even calling Directory Assistance gave me no more information than I already possessed.

It appears to be a landline, registered in Los Angeles, CA and is either a cellphone or unlisted.

Since my new iPhone (I switched from an Android) has a Block Caller feature, I availed myself of it.

Hopefully, I won't be bothered by this asshole again.

Duane Browning

Sunday, September 21, 2014

So, You Want to Quit Facebook?

In all the time I've been on Facebook, I've heard people complaining about it and either threatening to quit or announcing that they were quitting. In fact, a lot of people have either reduced their participation in the social networking site or have even left entirely.

If you're thinking about quitting, but you still want to be part of a social networking site, you've got a Big Question looming in front of you: Where will you go?

For some people, leaving Facebook simply means increasing their participation on Twitter. It's a very popular site with lots of members. You can share pictures and videos, but all of your posts are limited to 140 characters, unless you use a third party site like Twitlonger.

But, let's suppose that you want something like Facebook that isn't Facebook. What then?

I'd say that you're shit out of luck. Really.

In years past, sites like Myspace dominated the Internet for places to meet-up with your friends and relatives. But, Myspace had some serious drawbacks and when Facebook came around, people abandoned Myspace like a sinking ship, which is essentially what it was until Justin Timberlake bought it. Even with Mr Timberlake's involvement, I honestly can't say if anyone I know is even a member anymore. Sure, they may have opened an account out of curiosity, but that's a far cry from being an active daily user. I have an account there, but I haven't been active in a long time. It's mostly geared towards music and performance art, so it's not really a good substitute for Facebook.

When Google announced the launch of Google+, people seemed to be scrambling to sign-up. Hearts were beating with excitement, wondering if the Megalodon of the Internet (i.e. Google) could build a better social networking site than Mark Zuckerberg. Given the big G's past failures (e.g. Google Buzz and Orkut spring to mind) people with memories weren't anticipating that things would be different. Still, it seemed at least possible that Google could have learned from past mistakes and done a better job this time around.

In fairness, Google+ is better than FB in some ways, not so good in others. While I don't see much in the way of people sharing pictures of their cats or that morning's breakfast, I have to admit that there is a healthy bit of discussion when people comment on news articles. Google+ does seem to be the grownups' version of Facebook. However, most of the people I know on Facebook either don't have a G+ account or have one but don't use it. So, don't count on your high school classmates finding you there.

China and Russia have their own social networking sites and they seem to have a lot of participation. China, which blocks FB entirely, has WeChat, TenCent Weibo and Sina Weibo, while Russia has VKontakte (also known simply as VK) and Odnoklassniki, however Facebook has made serious inroads there.

I found it rather difficult to sign-up for the Chinese services, since I don't live in China and can't read Mandarin. VK is very easy to join, but Odnoklassniki seems to only allow people in Russia or former Soviet countries to sign-up.

VK looks just like Facebook and I suspect that to be deliberate on the part of the site's owners. It functions well and you could virtually clone your Facebook page in VK and barely notice a difference. However, it is a Russian site, so unless you can read the language or have Google Translate in your browser, you'll spend a lot of time online with no one to talk to. Russia's social networking scene is becoming reminiscent of the Soviet Era, as both VK and Odnoklassniki are owned by the same people and those people have strong ties to the Putin administration.

So, nothing's perfect in an imperfect world, right?

Other social networking sites I looked at are popular only in one or two non-English-speaking countries and really didn't have much to offer. Still other sites looked like they're geared toward finding romantic partners and charge money for full membership.

As I said, you're shit out of luck.

For all its obvious flaws and the seemingly rapturous joy with which Facebook decides at random opportunities to be a bunch of dicks to their members, FB is the most popular social network in the fucking world right now. That is just a fact.

In all fairness, unless you like seeing pictures of your friends' pets and reading their daily or even hourly posts about how bad a day they're having, I'd say that you should just make yourself at home on Twitter. Some days, all I do is check my Twitter feed and totally ignore Facebook.

But, let's say that you want a Facebook substitute and you want all the bells & whistles. Let's make this easier and say you go to VK and copy all the stuff from your FB profile and put it on your VK profile. Okay, you're all set.

The big hurdle - and it is a BIG one - is to get your friends, relatives and/or coworkers to go with you, even to just set-up an account there.

Chances are that they won't. At all.

Even though people have pissed and moaned about Facebook over the years, they are still the #1 game in town, far out in front of even the Chinese networks with their (literally) captive audiences. For the handful of people who quit FB every year, those people are like individual grains of sand on a very big beach and Zuckerberg et al don't worry about them!

But, if you really, really, really want to quit Facebook, go ahead and join VKontakte. Invite all your friends and whatever. Find people on Twitter about quitting Facebook and invite them too. Give it your best shot, buddy. You may like VK better. Who knows?

If you want, at least, one friend on VK, you can friend me. I'll be like what's-his-name on Myspace for you.

Duane Browning

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Eating Healthy When You're Poor

I've seen a few YouTube videos and blog posts about how people can eat healthy food while living on SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps) benefits. Their intentions were to help the impoverished eat healthier foods that were in their limited budget, instead of relying largely - or entirely - on cheap processed foods which have little nutritional value.

Sure, junk food will fill you up when you're hungry, but the end result of living on it often includes obesity, diabetes and other health problems. This is why poor people in the United States are often overweight and subsisting on a diet high in fat, salt and sugar will not only make you fat, it will adversely impact your health.

However, guidance for people in such financial straits is difficult to find and when it can be found is sometimes delivered in a rather condescending tone. Since nobody likes being talked down to, such "advice" gets ignored. I read a blog post by someone who tried to eat on $4 a day  for about a month and he seemed to delight in how clever he was in finding all those places he could eat for free, which may have been good for him since he knew he was only doing it for a limited time. However, his findings do little (if any) good for someone forced to live in such circumstances for months or years at a time.

Then, there are the comments posted under news items about hunger in the United States. It seems there's always some self-appointed genius who thinks that poor Americans should "just put a few seeds in the ground" and start to grow their own food. On the surface, that might seem like good advice, but it's actually rather stupid. Such advice-givers seem to assume that people actually live somewhere that they could have even a small garden. I'm not even going to ask where these people are supposed to get the seeds, fertilizer or even the knowledge of how to grow their own food. This would be good for people living in the countryside, but totally worthless for the urban poor for whom a garden plot is about as accessible as a winning lottery ticket. Even if there is unused land in their vicinity, it is likely to be owned by someone who might not take too kindly to people growing crops on their land. Slumlords aren't known for their civic-mindedness.

So, I've decided to locate some items on the Internet that actually try to help people eat healthy foods on about $4 a day.

First, there a cookbook published by the US Department of Agriculture and the Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion called "Recipes and Tips for Healthy, Thrifty Meals" which you can find here.

Next, there's "Good and Cheap" by Leanne Brown, a cookbook that she wrote to help people living on SNAP benefits to eat healthy foods when their food budget comes down to about $4 a day. You can find it online in PDF format and print it out for yourself or for someone you know living in such circumstances.
A much more extreme lifestyle would be trying to eat on $1 or less. While I hope that would never happen to anyone, there may be times that it would occur and it's good to have this information at hand.

I found out about "Live Below the Line", which is an annual event to raise awareness within the more affluent of how people in impoverished countries have to survive on $1 or less. Granted, that dollar includes total living expenses such as housing, medicine, food, etc. But, the event focuses on participants simply trying to eat on a dollar a day or less. A cookbook was designed to help people keep within their budget without starving themselves and it is available online. Bear in mind that the event is only for five days and the recipe book was not intended for long-term survival. I include the link in the event that someone may actually find themselves in such circumstances.
Of course, you can use recipes from any or all of these cookbooks in order to make the most of whatever money you have. I think it would be a good idea if somebody could actually combine these cookbooks together and maybe include a shopping list to make it easier to know what to look for when you go grocery shopping, like "Recipes and Tips for Healthy, Thrifty Meals" did.

If you - yes, I mean YOU - don't need any of these cookbooks yourself, but you know someone who might, it would be no small kindness to print them out and give them to someone who needs them. After all, they might not have access to a computer and/or a printer.

Given how many places in the United States are food deserts, I cannot even guarantee that all the ingredients in these cookbooks would even be available for people to purchase them.

There may be a way to further stretch your food budget by simply regrowing vegetables from leftover scraps. This could be done with foods such as Romaine lettuce, green onion, ginger, celery and avocado. Visit this link to see how. Most of these ideas don't require a plot of land.

If you don't mind watching videos and taking notes, there is an excellent video series on YouTube, called "Great Depression Cooking" hosted by Clara Cannucciari, who lived through the Great Depression. In her videos, she shared the recipes that helped her family survive the Depression years and to come out of them healthy and well-fed. Sadly, Clara died recently. But, she shared a lot of valuable information with her viewers before her passing.

I plan to add more to this posting as information becomes available to me.

Duane Browning

Monday, August 11, 2014

Phishing Attempt Posing As Job Offer

I received this message three times within a week, each time from a different email address. It's worth mentioning that each of the senders' supposed addresses came from a CSUN.EDU (California State University, Northridge) account, which makes me think that each of these people received the email and clicked on the included link, which may have hijacked their accounts' and now the scammers are using them.

Whatever the case may be, here is what I received:
Dear Secret Shopper, 
Please click here to read about job description
© Secret Shopper Inc
Simple enough, eh? It looks just like a million other Secret Shopper scam letters being sent and received around the world.

But, it's not as innocent lame as you might think.

While most people might expect to actually go to - which is a real website, btw - when they click the link in the message, they are actually sent here
and obviously, this webpage is based in Budapest, Hungary.

But, don't worry, that account has already been terminated. When I visited the page myself, I found this image with these kind words posted at the top:

Oh Deer!

This Account Has Been Suspended.
Please contact the billing department as soon as possible. We will address your request during regular business hours.
Account Suspended
"Deer". Get it?

Yes, it seems that some of the scammers' intended victims filed enough complaints that the page was terminated. Either that, or the webhost detected unusual activity on its servers, investigated it and pulled the plug.

I have no idea how many people were actually affected by these clowns. Fortunately, they were stopped, for now.

Duane Browning

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Gatorade Scam

This morning, I received the following text on my phone, apparently from 703-935-5763:

Cover your vehicle with a gatorade drink logo and get 300 dollars every week. If interested send an email to
I was immediately suspicious of this strange offer, partly because it directed me to send an email to an AOL address instead of to a corporate account (i.e. and because the "g" in "gatorade" wasn't capitalized.

So, I sent an email requesting more information and received this reply:

Thank you for your interest in working with us. All you need do is go about your regular routine, only with an advert for "Gatorade Logo®" plastered on your car. The ads are typically vinyl decals, also known as "auto wraps," that almost seem to be painted on the vehicle, and which will cover any portion of your car's exterior surface.

You will receive a Certified Check. As soon as you receive the check, you will cash the check for the decal wrapping on your car, deduct $ 300 as your up-front payment. The rest of the funds would be given to the Graphic artist that will wrap the decal on your car using information we will provide you.

Provide us with the following information. For every week you have the decal on your car, we pay $ 300.

Kindly provide us with the following information:

Your Full Name:
Full Contact Address:
Zip code:
Phone Number:
Type of Car and Color
Model / Year:
Present Condition and the Mileage:

Best Regards,

Anthony Devin
Hiring Manager
Energy Logo®
First of all, despite the use of the word "energy", Gatorade is not an energy drink (e.g. Monster, Red Bull) but is a sports drink whose primary purpose is to replenish the body with water and electrolytes.

Next, it would be odd if Gatorade had contracted with Energy Logo for an advertising campaign in the first place. Gatorade is part of the PepsiCo corporate family, which has its own advertising departments. PepsiCo already has a huge presence in the media and they're the official sports drink of numerous professional sports leagues. So, I doubt if Energy Logo could do more for the product than already is being done.

Besides, why go through all the trouble of recruiting people to have their vehicles auto wrapped and pay them $300 a week when they could simply post an ad on Facebook or Twitter, where more people will see it? Remember that Gatorade has already been around for a long time and is not some new startup desperately seeking attention.

Also interesting is the fact that Energy Logo doesn't appear in any Google search results for the company name and neither does Anthony Devin as their Hiring Agent.

Being already convinced that the whole thing is a scam, I decided to run an IP trace of the email itself and discovered that the email's likely place of origin was from the area of Bucharest, Romania. This is the second Romania-based scam that I have received. So, I guess they're trying to catch-up with the African scammers.

In Eastern Europe, it's entirely possible for people living there to not realize how famous Gatorade already is. Maybe a campaign like this would do well in Bucharest, but not in the USA.

This looks like some group of scammers trying to get your personal information.

The offer of a certified check may tempt some people, but understand that if the check is discovered to be fake, the person trying to cash it would face possible arrest and could be charged with attempted check fraud.

Duane Browning

Thursday, April 17, 2014

I Found and Returned a Cellphone

I found a rather disturbing news report out of Canada that spoke of a secret survey conducted in several Canadian cities. Several cellphones were left out in public and the survey's purpose was to find-out how many people would attempt to return a lost cellphone thay had found and/or if they'd try to browse through the phone and discover the owner's personal information. The result of the survey was disappointing. They discovered that about half of the finders would not attempt o retunr it and many of them would snoop through the phone and try to get into the user's personal data.

A couple of days ago, as I was walking up Bishop Street in Honolulu, I noticed a cellphone laying on the sidewalk near the Finance factors Building at 1164 Bishop. The phone had apparently been dropped and its battery cover had come off, but seemed to have suffered no real damage. I picked it up, replaced the cover and looked around to see if anyone was coming toward me to retrieve their phone, but no one did.

The phone was a Blackberry World Edition and looked brand new, aside from some scratches that I assumed were the result of it being dropped on concrete. My attempts to get the screen to activate proved fruitless and the only signs of life from the phone was a constantly flashing of a green indicator light in the corner of the phone whose purpose I could not fathom.

While on my rounds, I asked several people for assistance in trying to get the Blackberry to work. While they appreciated my efforts to return a lost phone, just about everyone was either an Android or iPhone user and had no knowledge regarding Blackberry phones. The one person who I met who did know something about Blackberry phones was a former user who had switched to an iPhone and was unfamiliar with the World Edition model. So, I was batting zero.

I decided to take the Blackberry to the one place I assumed would be able to help me: the Verizon Wireless store. I walked in and approached three staff members at the counter, apprised them of my situation and asked for their assistance. One of them took the phone and disinterestedly pushed a few buttons before handing it back to me. He said that the phone was on but the screen was broken. He then went back to what he was doing before I arrived.

With the verdict of the "experts", I departed and went back to work. I was contemplating simply handing the phone off to a police officer and washing my hands of the whole situation. Suddenly, a thought came to mind: Why not simply take the battery out, put it back in and then try to turn the phone on? It's what I do when my own phone (an Android) locks-up and it works without any apparent problems with the phones functionality. It was possible that the shock of being dropped on concrete had caused some sort of software glitch that a quick reboot would fix in short order.

Of course, I didn't know what effect this would have on the Blackberry and I didn't even know if the battery could be removed. But, lacking any other options I opened the battery compartment, took the battery out, put it back in and waited. Sure enough, the screen came to life and the Blackberry began to reboot itself!

Once fully rebooted, the phone's screen revealed that it was from a Hawaiian Tel account, which was the first good news I'd had since finding it. Hawaiian Tel has a branch on Bishop Street, right across from where I had first found the phone. If the owner didn't call his phone in an attempt to retrieve it, I could simply drop the phone off with them and they could return it themselves. It seemed like a win-win situation for me and the owner.

While finishing-up some work at the office, the owner finally called his phone. He had assumed that he had left it behind on the bus and was quite surprised that he had instead dropped it on the sidewalk. Due to his then being in Kailua and my being Downtown, it would have been impossible for him to get his phone back right away. We agreed that I would simply take the Blackberry to the Hawaiian Tel branch the next morning and turn it in to security. He could later go there himself and get his phone back.

I returned home after work and went to bed a few hours later. However, at 4am, I heard a buzzer going-off that woke me from a sound sleep. Searching for the source of this nuisance, I discovered that the Blackberry's owner also used his phone as an alarm clock! Since the phone had a security lock, I couldn't deactive it and could only use the Snooze button to temporarily silence it. I returned the phone to my messenger bag and went back to sleep, all the more anxious to return it to its owner.

A few hours later, I woke-up, made sure that the Blackberry was safely stored in my bag and went back into town to work. I couldn't get to the Hawaiian Tel branch before 10am, due to an early morning workload. The alarm went-off at least twice more during my rounds.

When I arrived at Hawaiian Tel, I approached the security desk, produced the phone and informed him of my purpose there. The guard had an obvious look of relief on his face, since the owner had already asked him twice if the phone had arrived. I handed him the phone, got back on my bike and headed back to the office.

I have to admit that I've been feeling pretty good about myself since then.

In case anyone is wondering: the owner didn't offer me a reward and I didn't ask for one. There shouldn't have to be a reward offered just for returning lost property to its owner.

So, even though my own experience ended on a positive note, not everyone is willing or able to return lost cellphones. This is due to the time involved and I think a lot of people blame the owners for losing their phone in the first place. But, I'm a bit more balanced when it comes to this sort of thing. After all, everyone loses things, whether it's your keys. your wallet or whatever. The fact is that people are imperfect by nature and we're going to lose something eventually. Sometimes it's something trivial and sometimes it's something important. I really don't think that we should judge anyone just because they lose something.

Duane Browning