| | | Effective PR

Truth in advertising

Nigel Morris-Co...

There's a lot of dispute over exactly what constitutes "spam" with legislation influenced by the advertising and marketing industry often defining the term far more narrowly than the public at large. Whether it's legally spam or not, one thing happens far more than it should in unsolicited advertising. That thing is where the e-mail is dishonest in some respect ranging from fake senders through misleading content to out and out lies. The basic rule for recipients is simple: if a mail fails a simple test - "is it true?" - the only safe option is to bin it and block the sender.

An e-mail from someone called "Heather Nye" demonstrates a raft of failures against that basic test.
The first is the domain name: safe.org, referred to in the e-mail.

According to www.whois.net, safe.org is registered by GoDaddy (a registrar much favoured by criminals of various kinds and therefore an immediate warning sign) and registered to an address in Australia.

Registrant Name:Kevin Andrews
Registrant Organization:Andrews Multimedia
Registrant Street: 56/139 Pring Street
Registrant City:Hendra QLD
Registrant State/Province:Queensland
Registrant Postal Code:4011
Registrant Country:AU
Registrant Phone:+61.732681748
Registrant Phone Ext:
Registrant Fax:
Registrant Fax Ext:
Registrant Email:kevin_andrews_76@yahoo.com

But the e-mail purports to originate from a different domain, "staysafe.org"

That is registered by a different registrar and the registered owner is something of a surprise

Registrant Name: Domain Administrator
Registrant Organization: Microsoft Corporation
Registrant Street: One Microsoft Way
Registrant City: Redmond
Registrant State/Province: WA
Registrant Postal Code: 98052
Registrant Country: US
Registrant Phone: +1.4258828080
Registrant Phone Ext:
Registrant Fax: +1.4259367329
Registrant Fax Ext:
Registrant Email: domains@microsoft.com


The address given in the e-mail is "National Home Security Alliance, Staysafe.org, 1200 G Street, NW, Washington D.C. 20005"

1200 G Street, NW, Washington D.C. 20005 is a an office block in multiple occuption. According to www.whitepages.com, there are a number of empty units. There are two business centres (i.e. companies that provide short term or shared office space and virtual office services. However, the address given in the website does not provide a "suite number," which is code in the USA for mailbox nor does it provide any location information within the building such as a floor number. This is, of itself, suspicious, suggesting that paper mail would not be deliverable. Moreover, "National Home Security Alliance" is not listed on that website as an occupier. Of course, such information is only indicative. It is not possible without further inquiry to ascertain whether the information is up to date.

Even so, a web search for "National Home Security Alliance" does produce one entry, and only one. It refers to the web address "staysafe.org." That website claims to be copyright 2018 - and no reference to Microsoft anywhere on the site, suggesting that the registration might not be all that it seems.

The search engine preview of that website says "RESOURCES FOR KEEPING YOUR HOME AND FAMILY SAFE. GET STARTED. You want to keep your home and family safe, and sometimes that's a challenge. But StaySafe.org is here to help you minimize the risks we all face. Whether you're taking care of young children, teens, or seniors—or just taking care of yourself ." It claims to have resources for "Seniors Safety, Home Safety, Safety Resources Center, Online Safety." That ticks most of the trendy boxes. For the sake of security, we suggest you do not directly open the web page. Here's why...

First, .org addresses are supposed to be registered only by non-profit organisations such as charities. While registrars do not police this effectively, the use of .org by a commercial organisation is at least misleading and arguably fraudulent.

Secondly, the mail received says "I was just checking in to see if you had any problems switching out the dead link we discussed not long ago." Here's the thing. The mail is addressed to me, personally and I have had no discussion of any kind, by any means of communication, with any person from that organisation nor with anyone called Heather Nye. The e-mail therefore contains a blatant lie. Also, if that were in fact the purpose of the e-mail, she would have been able to check the relevant page and see if the link were active.

Third, the address to which the e-mail was sent is formulated in such a way that it is clear that it has come from a mailing list widely used by spammers (no details here .. what's important is that there is a way we can tell). In fact, if the first statement had been true, then the only way she could have contacted me would be via a web link and if that had happened, and if I had replied, the e-mail address she had would not have been formulated in that way.

So, what's the point of the e-mail?