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Wanted, A Cure For Gullibility 20 August 2002 Edition
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Did you know that the word "gullible" is not in the dictionary?

That is a shame, because it seems that the Internet community is filled with people who seem to take everything at face value without question.

A good example of this surfaced on TV this morning when a Palmerston North woman appeared on TV1's Breakfast programme and was interviewed about her prize-winning poem.

It seems the woman, Ruth Harris, has been awarded a prize by The International Society of Poets and has been invited to Washington to collect it.

Unfortunately, Ms Harris really ought to have done a quick search on Google to check out the bona fides of this wonderful award.

The consensus is that this is little more than a scam which is carefully crafted to play on the pride of those individuals who are unwitting enough to fall for it.

This page will give you some insight into the operation and this page exposes the number and variety of similar scams that prey on those who are keen to see their writing become famous.

The way the scam appears to work is that the "winners" are invited to attend a conference where their award will be presented. Of course attendance involves a very significant fee and the purchase of a book containing your poem -- along with the poems of all the other victims (oops, I mean "winners").

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    "Winners" are lured to the conference (which carries an NZ$1,200 fee) with the promise that they may be in line for a US$5,000 book contract.

    Oh yes, the conference is a real event and a prize is handed out -- but a look at this page reveals exactly how the scam really works.

    I feel very sorry for Ms Harris, not only because she appears to have fallen victim to this scam but also because she seems to have done so in a very public way.

    One can't help wondering however, exactly why people who obviously use the Net don't take just a few moments to do a quick search that includes the word "scam" when confronted with offers or "awards" that appear in their mailbox.

    Like most other Net users, I'm still getting copies of the infamous Nigerian email that promises me tens of millions of dollars for simply providing a bank account through which funds can be cleared.

    That these guys are still sending out their faxes and emails are further proof that there must still be a small percentage of people who are just too gullible for words and actually believe this rubbish.

    A note to ISPs -- please, please, please -- consider writing (or having written) a "Beginners' Guide" to life on the Net. This little document should be a standard part of your sign-up kit and provided to every new customer.

    It should contain basic information on dealing with spam, checking out possible scams, the do's and don'ts of online security, basic rules for avoiding viruses, trojans and the like; along with other important material that many of us "experts" take for granted.

    Such a guide should not only be published online, but also provided in print form. A little booklet that can be stuck to the side of a user's PC monitor would be ideal. People still value printed material far more than online text which is easily ignored.

    Maybe one of the Net-magazine publications might want to produce such a booklet in conjunction with some ISPs (I see an advertising/branding opportunity here ;-).

    Oh, and if you actually got out your dictionary to check the veracity of the claims made in the first sentence of today's column then you really are gullible!

    Other Stuff
    As predicted last week in this column, it is now confirmed that The Internet Name Group has bitten the dust. Hip hip, hooray!

    IHUG (the sponsors of this column) have released a new service that converts email to speech for delivery to any phone (landline or mobile).

    I've got to admit that the URL is really confusing (to me) and for more than a moment or two I was wondering if TVNZ had given up one of its domain names.

    Does the domain name www.t2v.co.nz look stunningly similar to www.tv2.co.nz to you or am I just dyslexic?

    Please remember -- it's the kind folks at IHUG who make this column possible through their sponsorship. Don't just think about visiting their new site, go there now!

    Have your say.

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