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Clever new SEO scam hijacks Harvard emails and student blogs

Futurism has the awful/impressive story about how SEO link scammers — the ones that litter the comments on every article with spammy links for penis enlargement or whatever — managed to get a hold of official Harvard email addresses, which they use to create “official” student blogs comprised of the same spam content.

According to emails advertising the scheme obtained by Futurism, a Harvard blog post from a fake student like John can be bought for as little as $300 via PayPal. Some are anodyne, promoting things like hair loss treatments and car insurance. Others are disturbing, like a post on an account that appeared to be halfheartedly impersonating Harvard itself, with the username “Harvard2,” that made overtly racist and sexist generalizations about women and advertised a site purporting to sell “mail order brides.”

In short, swathes of Harvard.edu have become a spammer free-for-all where fake students and other accounts hawk an endless parade of dubious stuff: online casinossynthetic urinereal estate in FloridaCBDwireless speakerscouponstourism in Krakowgarage door openersUV sanitizersDUI attorneysnutritional supplementsfitness supplementsorthodontistspet productsmore pet productscannabis deliverybathroom fixturesa random moving company in New Yorkonline therapyconcealed carry holsterskitchen sinksmore kitchen sinksmore kitchen sinksmore kitchen sinksbitcoin miningvacuum cleanersfoot massagersob/gyn clinicslawn decorationsbouncy castlesottoman bedsautomotive mechanicsseasonal depression lampsexercise equipmentmore exercise equipmenta realtor in Winnipegweighted blanketshome security alarmsroller skatesnarration servicesketo-friendly snacksa site for hiring motivational speakersflatscreen TVscreatine supplementsfertility doctorscommercial power washing services, and many more incongruous yet trashy brands and services.

Further down in the article, Futurism explains how they contacted some of the businesses that benefitted from this sort of advertising — and how those businesses, in turn, passed Futurism onto the advertising firms they had hired in the first place. Unsurprisingly, these marketing agencies saw nothing wrong with paying Harvard-affiliated people (presumably under-the-table) to create these fake student accounts on which to piggyback their back-link business. In fact, they were even shameless enough to pay these entrepreneurial Harvard students (and/or staff, unclear to pimp their own shady marketing services on Harvard.edu as well.

While these companies are clearly shady con men, there is a slight sense of Schadenfreude emanating from the idea that institution as large and powerful as Harvard can’t even protect themselves from being exploited like this.

Scammers Are Creating Fake Students on Harvard.edu and Using Them to Shill Brands [Jon Christian / Futurism]

Image: Ingfbruno / Wikimedia Commons (CC-BY-SA 3.0)

Clever new SEO scam hijacks Harvard emails and student blogs