Wednesday, December 16, 2015

From ExposingJohns to FlushTheJohns

It seems that some scams are here to stay. Whether it's the notorious 419 scam or fake lotteries, some ideas have so much traction that there will always be new people out there willing to give it a try for themselves.

Such is the case with ExposingJohns.com and its copycats. I've seen or heard of various sites that will post a man's name, phone number, city of residence and photo, etc and accuse him of soliciting prostitutes via the Internet. Sites like these claim to be acting in the Public Good and men whose information has been posted are expected to either pay hundreds of dollars to have their information removed from the site or risk their friends, relatives and coworkers seeing it and to suffer the resulting damage to their reputations.

I wrote about another would-be ExposingJohns replacement, Solicitly.com, which I stated was a rather unimpressive site which the people behind it seemed to have given-up working on. In the comments for that blog post, I was informed of yet another new blackmail site called FlushTheJohns.org and I decided to have a look.

Overall, it's pretty well-made. They seem to have copypasted text directly off ExposingJohns' site before it was taken down and put it up on their own without changing the text. See this on their Removal FAQ page
Why are ExposingJohns.com users doing this? Don’t we have a right to privacy? 
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. ExposingJohns.com 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, we're not dealing with mental giants here. At last count, the site has 8,554 listed posted. Most of these don't have the personal names of the men who supposedly called, though many do have city of residence. Random checks of phone numbers through the Facebook search engine yield no matches, so far. So, FlushTheJohns seems to not want to invest as much effort behind its site as ExposingJohns did.

Of course, the website is registered anonymously. Frankly, I would have shat myself if they weren't.

However, the servers are out of Sofia, Bulgaria and this gives us a place to start. The servers are owned by a Bulgarian company called Qhoster and it appears to be a legitimate company that's been around for awhile. As pointed-out in a previous article, Bulgaria doesn't even have any laws related to Internet-based crime, so using Bulgarian servers would seem like a good play.

On their site, FlushTheJohns says this
Can I pay you to take down a post about me? 
No. You may not pay us to take down a post about you. We would not take down a post for any amount of money. You can offer us $1,000, $10,000 or $100,000. We do not remove posts simply upon demand, request, nor as a result of threats, cajoling, or assertions of liability. We only remove posts if ordered to do so by a court order, the original poster or a trusted arbitrator.
Since the site is using foreign servers and gives no address where a court order would be served, the last sentence is a fucking joke. As far as who a "trusted arbitrator" would be, you only need to go to one of the entries and click the button that says
 

Doing that takes you off Flushthejohns.org and to DisputeThis.net which is a website that claims to serve as an arbitrator that resolves disputes over Internet content.

The agreement that you see at the link (here's a sample) informs you that you must agree to pay $399 to have the content removed. It also contains rather odd language for a legal agreement, rather like a layman wrote it. I'll underline and bold the relevant part:
By submitting a Complaint with us, the decision rendered by DisputeThis constitutes their sole and exclusive remedy and the you waives any and all claims and causes of action, actual and potential, known and unknown, accruing from the beginning of time until the effective date of the arbitration decision, against DisputeThis, the original host website, and their representatives, contractors, and employees. 
"From the beginning of time"? Are you fucking stupid?

This idiotic language inspired me to have a closer look at DisputeThis, despite the rather hostile tone FlushTheJohns takes against them
In an effort to help facilitate people who may be falsely posted as a cheater on our website, we used to use a 3rd party arbitration company called DisputeThis. However, they have been doing things behind our backs to take us down and have been asking too many questions about who we are. If you us their service, tell them to leave us alone, not the webmasters. You can also use a service called Truth In Posting (truthinposting.com) for removal.
Given that ExposingJohns seemed to have a similar relationship with their one-time advertiser, InternetReputation.com, I don't take this statement seriously and neither should you.

Okay, first of all, DisputeThis.net seems to be a very new site, only being created in October 2014. It is also anonymously registered and its servers are in the Netherlands. The Dutch servers are interesting, especially since the mailing addresses given on their website are in Australia and Vietnam, with the Vietnam office apparently being their headquarters.

This sounds like the "trusted arbitrators" are trying very hard to not have people know who and where they are. This is further evidenced by the provided pictures of their "staff".
Paul Walshe
Recognize this guy? You should. According to DisputeThis, he is their case manager and his name is Paul Walshe. But, doing a quick and simple Google Image search reveals that this picture is apparently clip art and this picture is given various names across various websites.

Karen Wilson
How about her? According to DisputeThis, she's Karen Wilson, the business account manager. You'll find her picture in many of the same places as the first one.
Nick Eubanks
Supposedly, this is Nick Eubanks, who handles software support. You may have guessed by now that he's just another piece of clip art.

So, neither of these sites could be trusted.

The "Evidence"

Getting back to FlushTheJohns, looking through the profiles they've posted so far, it's obvious that they haven't invested as much effort as ExposingJohns did. While they post phone numbers, they typically don't include photos of the men they are accusing. 

As far as the accusatory texts offered as evidence, ExposingJohns showed that texts could easily be fabricated. While some of the texts shown are rather tame (e.g. saying "What's up?:) others are a bit more flagrant and certainly do look like the type of message sent to prostitutes by potential johns.

Nevertheless, there is no real evidence that any of the phone numbers given on FlushTheJohns is really the source of the texts displayed. For matters of  criminal prosecution, there is no unbroken line of evidence. It's simply the word of whoever is behind FlushTheJohns and the men being accused.

If any man receives a text from FlushTheJohns demanding payment to delete the profile or that they would press charges, the potential victim can simply tell them to go fuck themselves. There is absolutely nothing that could be done to any of the accused men based on "evidence" posted on the website.

Here are two things any first year law student could tell you:
  1. Suspicion is not evidence; and
  2. Accusation does not equal guilt,
In Conclusion

If your name and/or phone number is posted on FlushTheJohns and they send you a text message demanding payment, tell them to fuck-off and then change your phone number. If anyone asks you why you changed your number, tell them that telemarketers are harassing you.

If a friend, relative, coworker, employer or spouse confronts you with whatever is posted about you on the site, deny everything. Tell them that you've been receiving harassing text messages from Internet scammers or telemarketers.

If they ask how they got your phone number, tell them that you don't know. Maybe they hacked a website (e.g. Amazon.com) that you bought something from. Who knows?

Let me tell you one way that scammers can get your phone number and discover your name and city of residence:

There are millions of cellphone numbers out there and many of them have been collected by hackers over the years and put up for sale on the Dark Web. Numerous banks, online merchants and even the Federal Government have fallen prey to hackers.

Someone planning a scam, like FlushTheJohns, could buy some of these lists and enter the phone numbers into an address book. Once entered, they go to Facebook and click "Find Friends" and Facebook will search for profiles with that phone number. Too many people enter their phone numbers when they sign-up for Facebook, especially when they use the mobile app. If they make themselves searchable by their phone number, it's that much easier for scammers to find your profile, which tells them your name and city of residence.

It could be done even more simply by using a computer program to generate the numbers for them, so they won't have to pay for the lists.

With this knowledge, they can generate a profile for you on their site, create some phony texts messages on a template and post it online.

This is all done with the somewhat justifiable hope that the costs of acquiring the phone numbers, as well as the expense of maintaining the website will be offset by payments from frantic men eager to have the profile deleted as quickly as possible.

So, any threats of criminal prosecution by FlushTheJohns are empty threats and shouldn't be taken seriously. Just follow the advice I've offered and you should be okay.

The Nuclear Option

I feel that I should mention that one reason ExposingJohns may no longer exist is that it pissed-off the wrong person. That person went on to Hackers List and paid someone to hack ExposingJohns and take it offline. My blog entries related to ExposingJohns experienced a sudden and dramatic increase in views on the days after the hit was put out. Only a few days later, ExposingJohns was no longer posting john-shaming profiles and now serves as a site where you can download files.

For the record: it wasn't me who hacked ExposingJohns and I have no idea who put out the contract. Even if I knew, I wouldn't rat them out, because Anonymous is Legion. They don't forgive and they don't forget.

So, the people behind FlushTheJohns may not want to invest too much time behind this scheme, since lightning could conceivably strike twice. They posted over eight thousand profiles so far. So, for all this to be worth what time, effort and money they have already invested, at least half of their prospective victims will have to pay-up. If not, it was all for nothing.

Duane Browning


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