Christian Heilmann

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Archive for June, 2010

A sickening trend in online dating sites – very dirty scams

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

A few days ago I was at a party in my neighbourhood and – as it happens when you are the token geek – people talked to me a lot about the internet and how scary it is.

wedding ringsscam

The internets are scary and full of evil people

Normally I shrug at this as a lot of evil things on the web are just plain obvious. For example I never understood the whole thing about the Nigeria scams. If you are really that greedy and thick that you think someone you don’t know needs to dump a gazillion dollars in your account and gives you a share you deserve to be fooled. It is like a guy asking you on the street if he could stash 50kg of Cocaine in your house till the police stops checking on his and you’ll get a share of the sales – would you do that?

Turns out, the internets are scary – at least in a very active subsection

What annoyed and subsequently disgusted me though was a very evil routine a lot of scammers infiltrating dating sites pull right now:

  • They make contact with a person looking for a relationship/shag/meeting and do a great job of flattering you and appearing sincere.
  • Once they got your confidence and offer a meeting they start getting sketchy
  • Reluctantly they admit that it is very hard to meet as they look after a sick sibling/partner/parent and that their time is limited and they can’t travel or afford a hotel
  • Sooner or later they will ask for a “big favour” to lend some money till the end of the month for medication and they swear that you’ll get it back once you meet.

To prove that this really happens I created some fake accounts (with both sexes – the scam works both ways but more women are targeted) and waited. A few winks later and some email back and forth I can safely say that this scam is pretty much rampant on several free dating sites at the moment.

Well, it is obvious that you should never ever give a stranger money – no matter how nice they appear but the sheer amount of deceit in this scam is the really sickening part of it. To a degree it is genius:

  • People on dating sites are already emotionally involved
  • They want to meet a nice, sincere person with feelings
  • Someone tending to a sick person must be a wonderful human being and naturally doesn’t have time to go out and naturally would want to do everything online
  • The scammers really do a great job using the right language to make you feel good and give up some of your information

I don’t even want to think about the other implications – like people sending naughty photos to these scammers and then becoming blackmail victims. This would be especially the case with people who are married and look for fun on the side.

Countermeasures – be safe out there

So the main things I found these scammers to do are a few steps – so be very cautious when this happens:

  • Do not fall for the “let’s email each other instead – this is too slow here”. Granted, they have a point. A lot of dating sites take ages to send messages to each other (I guess as they are monitored for illegal content) and it can be frustrating to wait. If the dating site systems offered an email notification that would make things much easier – and a good live chat on the site. Most offer these things, but only for a paid account and the sites I tried all sucked big time to use on a phone.
  • Scammers delete their profiles really fast – claiming they “found you – I don’t need wait for more”.
  • Don’t believe in photos without a special – it is nice to get a lovely photo but be adamant to get another one that proves this person is real – ask them to hold a candle or a can of soup or whatever and check for obvious photoshop stuff.
  • People who want to go on messenger with you and don’t have a working camera are scammers – why else would you move to messenger? You can chat on other systems. Messenger is as personal as it gets, don’t forget that.
  • Don’t go to any other web site – if they want to send a photo – make it an email attachment.
  • Use a new email dedicated to this – don’t use any where you store other important information and never – ever – use your company email!
  • Be aware of overly warm language – if the “dear”, “sweetie” and “missed you soo much” sentences crop up very early at a stage where you really don’t know anything about each other you have a scammer.
  • Ask for specifics – if a person claims to be from a certain area, ask about things you know that are there. Make up wrong things and see if they claim they are true. “Oh I loved to go to the Ivy there – wonderful pub, is it still around?”

Why this sucks

Despite the obvious sickening piggy-backing on the terrible happening of someone dying of a terminal disease this scam furthermore fortifies the believe that people are all bastards, can’t be trusted and will try to take advantage of you – especially on the internet. In a society that largely stops talking to another in public (unless we live in the state of inebriation) this is where a lot of people go to find someone else which makes that very hard for anyone to find happiness. This also means that if you really are a warm hearted human being on the web who tries to find someone you will have a damn hard time to do so – as people predefine you as fake before you even start saying anything.

It would be interesting to see what dating sites could do to battle this trend.

TTMMHTM: CSS stuff, government websites, writing guides and some 80ies shoot-em-up

Tuesday, June 29th, 2010

Things that made me happy this morning:

Yahoo Placefinder – and an explorer interface for it

Thursday, June 24th, 2010

Yesterday Yahoo released another geo API - Yahoo Placefinder which is gives you street level information about the world.

The API is pretty straight forward and has some cool features like street crossing information and nearest airport features. To give you an idea of what the API returns, I created a small explorer hack:

Placefinder Explorer

You can download the explorer on GitHub in case you want to play with it yourself.

Apps for good – an “IT for good” programme with an educational edge

Friday, June 18th, 2010

Yesterday night I went to the Apps for Good graduation event in Brixton, South London. Apps for good is an interesting program that aims to improve the lives of young people by teaching them skills to build mobile applications and letting them have a go at planning, executing and building their own app.

The power behind the programme is CDI who have been very successful with similar work in Brazil getting kids of the streets and away from drug dealing. Other partners that made the first round of the apps for good course possible are Dell and the High Trees Development Trust. You can learn more about the programme and the players on the about page.

The problem with “IT for good” events

As you know I spend most of my time these days on conferences, hack days and application competitions and in the past I’ve been part of a lot of “for good” IT events (Social Innovation Camp, Together 08, my own Scripting Enabled) and to be fair I was a bit tainted by my experiences. A lot of “IT for good” events left me pretty disappointed – they felt like a chance to “feel good” and “do something for people less well off than us” but in the end resulted in a handful of projects that petered out a few days after the event or competing products all doing the same thing (how many carbon footprint calculators do you know?). If I were a total cynic I’d say they are a great chance to get good PR and not spend much money as you get it back from tax anyway. However, I refuse to acknowledge this as deep down I honestly believe in doing good and sharing and educating as being the most fulfilling experience you can have in this world.

In essence, I am frustrated with the execution of a lot of these events and programs as they are not helping people much and also fail to bridge the gap between charities and the IT world. Developers are busy people who you can get easily excited and are always happy to help. If you don’t walk at their pace though you will lose them very quickly. If you do a “for good” project and want technical help don’t just dump the building of the product on volunteer developers and then go away – work with them or you won’t achieve anything. And please – if you get an email answer them immediately, don’t wait for three days and then give them a call – this is as inefficient. We can email and code at the same time – using a phone is another story.

A welcome change in approach

This event, however was very different and I am happy having been dragged to it by my friend Carin. Instead of partnering with professional developers the programme mentored students to build the apps themselves – students who never touched any code before and due to that were totally hyper about having achieved so much in such a short time. The apps really weren’t that important – their ideas and the boost of confidence they gave the students (who never considered IT as an option for education) was what made this program really work. This was not about building apps to change the world and get funding for them to blow on a nice logo – this was about the liberation of young people by showing them the opportunities the mobile and IT sector offers. Instead of money the organisers paid in knowledge, coaching and mentoring.

The graduation event started with introductions to the history of the program and the background of CDI. After this we got to see a showcase of the apps:

  • StudioPhly by Lemel Frank, Symon Morgan and Foyzul Hassan is an app where young and aspiring musicians can find recording studios either locally or with specific equipment and sound. This could be pretty cool if we also can find studios to donate free mixing time for unknown artists.
  • Student Voice by Moses Sonson, Matthew Tanti and Carlos Mateus is a university guide that gives you an overview of all the universities in the UK with locations, equipment and links to Google streetview and campus information. Much like a university focused facebook.
  • Stop&Search by Aaron Sonson, Satwant Singh and Gregory Paczkowski was my favourite. It is an application that gives you information about the police practice of stopping and searching people randomly in the street. This practice is very important but also – according to the research of the team – amazingly inefficient. In 10000 searches in the UK apparently only a handful resulted in people being arrested. Stop&Search allows you to get the information about your rights when you are being searched, you can rate the way the police behaved when searching you and it automatically geolocates you and adds the search to a central database. What this app now needs is a text messaging interface to allow people to use it with any handset.

Everything is already available

The thing I liked the most about the event is that instead of another “let’s build only iphone/ipad apps and call it mobile” event all of the applications were done for Android (this was because of two reasons – one was Dell as the sponsor wanting to see people build for their new handset and two because you can get the apps out without waiting for approval by Apple). This means that they will run on a variety of handsets and that all of the apps are already available on the Android store.

Building the future

Now the plan of action for the event is to take the apps further with more mentoring and also financial support and to run another round of the course later this year. For this, CDI want to put together a board of advisors and helpers and need technical people to lend a helping hand for the next round of aspiring developers. You can contact CDI Europe on their page or just give them a ping on Twitter at @appsforgoodcdi.

I will do my best to get on the board and do my share for this programme although my travelling can be in the way. We’ll see. After all I was very impressed with the event and I have never seen hackers thank the organisers in the following way before:

La Red Innova – Yahoo – opening the web for you

Tuesday, June 15th, 2010

I am currently in Madrid, Spain for the La Red Innova conference. My talk was a hybrid of explaining the social graph and Yahoo Firehose and showing off some of the free technologies Yahoo has for publishers and bloggers.

I’ve recorded the audio of the talk and will publish it once I checked the quality (the stage was very noisy so I am not sure if it worked out). I’ll also upload the official Yahoo slide deck once the connection here is a bit more stable.

Here are my slides and links:

The slide deck

Yahoo – opening the web for you

Notes and links of the conference

Blogs I write for: