The Felonyspy.com Scam
(UPDATE 02/10/2011: I’m getting lots of traffic to this post and want to clarify one thing. The FelonSpy.com web site itself appears to be satire, but the emails going around claiming it’s legit are the scam. Read below for details.)
We’ve all seen internet scams, but we don’t all recognize that they’re scams. Smart people often get sucked in. Not all internet scams are costly or harmful, but they can waste our time when we read and forward them.
One scam site that looks legitimate on the surface is FelonSpy.com, which purports to “[mine] data from across the nation, from the web and otherwise, and combines it into a single, easy to use interface” so users can identify convicted felons in their neighborhoods. You enter an address and get a map claiming to show the locations of convicted felons nearby. But careful observers will note ample clues that the site is junk.
The first clue is the first paragraph on the main page:
You deserve to know where felons are and should have access to free public criminal background check systems. Remember, safety starts with good information, even if it ends with a loaded .44 caliber pistol. While FelonSpy.com can’t help you get a gun, we can certainly help you figure out which direction to point it in.
Even if you aren’t paying attention and miss that, the search results themselves often can’t be taken seriously. For one thing, they results—locations, names, etc.—are different every time you hit “search.” The site claims this is because of hackers, the itinerancy of criminals, or the site’s success in tracking them, but even those explanations contain red flags:
Criminals move very quickly… They move fast, but we pay the very highest price imaginable, and as such, our database is able to move more quickly than the criminals.
Most people, of course, won’t bother reading the “Why do our search results keep changing?” page, but they don’t have to. In the course of just a couple minutes of doing that, I got results suggesting that hundreds of convicted felons were living in about a 6 square mile area around my residence, something I would expect if I lived down the street from a prison, which I don’t.
And if that isn’t enough of a hint, my results included people supposedly residing in the middle of the town cemetery, atop the undeveloped hill near the center of town where our water tanks (and nothing else) sit, and at addresses whose residents and neighbors I have known for years. The site has explanations for that, too, but they aren’t plausible, either.
But if you still aren’t convinced and need further verification that this site isn’t legit, take a look at their disclaimer page, which reads in part:
Not recommended for small children. Prerecorded for this time zone. Reproduction strictly prohibited. No alcohol, dogs or horses. Not for resale. List at least two alternate dates. Blackout dates may apply. Viewing by pregnant women may result in fetal injury, premature birth and low birth weight. First pull up, then pull down. Insert Tab A into Slot B. Call toll free number before digging. This space (____________) intentionally left blank.
In other words, the people who run this site freely provide ample evidence that it isn’t what it appears to be, yet people still pass it around as a serious and useful tool. No wonder scammers who take pains not to tip people off are so successful. The moral of the story is to pay attention, read carefully, and even then, lector emptor. And don’t forget to use your common sense. A mind is a terrible thing to waste.