I've thought several times about writing this post, but with the recent discovery that another, widely popular blog is indeed a scam, I've finally made the decision that this is as good a time as any to share what little bit of experience I might have to add to the conversation.
Having been personally duped by a fake blog about a year ago, and having observed (but thankfully not invested any energy, links, etc. into) the blog referred to above, I feel somewhat experienced in the art of spotting some potential red flags that might signal a scammer or a fake blog.
Here are a few fake blog red flags that I've identified:
> The blog author posts few to no pictures of him/herself and his/her life (like his/her family and friends, house, town/city, etc.). Both of the fake blogs I have experience never showed a single photo (face) of the author of the blog, and showed very few, if any, pictures of his/her life. There are some bloggers who like to protect their privacy, but by it's very nature, blogs are an incredibly public form of communication, and most people who get into blogging (for honest reasons) are very open about their lives...those bloggers who desire privacy usually set their blogs to "private" so that they are only viewable by a select few people. A blogger (especially one that has thousands of followers) who never posts a a picture of him/herself has always seemed a bit of an odd thing to me.
> The author uses an alias and/or refuses to post his/her real name or other personal info like hometown, names of hospitals, etc. Both of the fake blogs I have experience with had authors who either refused to post their real name, or often used an alias when posting. It's one thing to use nicknames for your wife or your kids or your friends, but it's another thing to not want people to know your real, full name. Again, blogging tends to attract people who don't mind some of their basic personal info being displayed to the world.
Personally speaking, we have been very open about our story, using pictures and much of our personal information. Our story has also been well documented in news papers and on television, and we have met countless blog readers in person who would be more than happy to vouch for our existence. Although we do atempt to protect our privacy to some degree, we have always welcomed a certain level of publicity for several reasons, not the least of which being to give ourselves some credibility should anyone (and some have tried) attack our integrity.
> There are multiple anonymous people authoring (posting) the blog. Both of the fake blogs I have experience with had multiple authors/posters. And, as it turned out, each of the scammers had also, to some extent, scammed the other author(s) of their own blog into believing their story and posting for them. Obviously the scammer realizes he/she is creating a web of lies, and it appears to me that, to use multiple authors gives the scammer a false sense of security and authenticity.
> The blog asks for money/donations of some kind that directly benefit the blogger. Without a doubt, money is one of the biggest reasons these fake bloggers get into it. Both of the scammers that I have experienced asked for personal donations or gifts.
On a personal note, before my blog became so popular, I had a link on my sidebar that asked for people to consider donating to Tricia's health care trust fund. Shortly after the blog exploded, however, I decided that it would be best for us not to use this blog to ask for personal financial support because 1) I determined that was not the purpose of this blog, 2) I knew it would turn some people off from reading our story, and 3) I didn't want our asking for personal financial support to come back and bite us in the butt. In fact, a year ago, when a popular CF related blog that I had linked to was found to be fake, several people (read trolls) began, very publicly, pointing fingers at me, accusing me of scamming people because I was also constantly asking for personal financial support...fortunately, several of my level headed blog readers also pointed out that had not been asking for any personal financial support for several months, and wisdom and truth prevailed.
> Something doesn't feel right. Bottom line, trust your instincts. If something feels off or if things just don't seem to add up, nobody is pressuring you to support or even read any blog. Again, we're each responsible for our own decisions, and even if thousands of others are hooked, you don't have to be.
I personally had some doubts about the legitimacy of the fake blog that I linked to last year before it was found to be fake. After it hit the fan, I realized that my doubts were legitimate and should have taken them seriously and trusted my instincts.
Now, having identified a few red flags, it is incredibly important that you understand that I am NOT attempting to purposely bring suspicion to any blog that has not already been proven to be fake, nor do I believe that every blog that includes any or even all of these red flags is indeed fake. Furthermore, my list of red flags certainly is not an exhaustive list, and I have no doubt that there are many authentic blogs out there that might include some or all of the red flags I just mentioned. I know of several blogs that I believe are legit whose authors maintain a high level or privacy, use multiple authors, and offer the opportunity for people to donate and support financially...there are some very good reasons to do those things, but they tend to be the exception, not the rule. I'm certainly not an expert on this subject, and I did not sleep at a Holiday Inn last night...
Here are a few more thoughts that I've posted before about scamming blogs.
> Fake blogs and scammers have the potential to do great harm for those who are completely honest in sharing their stories of medical hardships and miracles. They mock people who are dealing with very real and serious health issues and bring an unfair level of doubt and scrutiny to honest bloggers. Because of scamming blogs, I have been told by a few people online that they have vowed to never again read mine or anyone else's blog simply because we talk the same topics as those of fake blogs.
> People react in a very hostile and knee-jerk way when they have been fooled by a fake blog. People who have been hurt begin going on witch hunts, accusations start flying all over the place, and blame is passed to any blogger who also innocently linked to the scammers. The only people to blame for these fake blogs are those who knowingly participated in the deception, which, it turns out, is usually just one or two people.
> Scams have the potential to do great harm to reputable organizations like CFF who raise funds and are making a huge difference in our world. Because fake blogs are often accused of raising moneys through fraud, many people are tempted to write off any future online fundraising opportunities as possible scams and accuse those who might be participating as fakes.
> Truth is truth, no matter the messenger. Whether concerning a health issue, discussions about faith, or posts about life in general, even the most twisted and deceitful person can still share very real and honest facts. Often, people are so quick and extreme to react to fake blogs that they throw the baby out with the bath water...they disregard everything the author wrote as one big fat lie, when, in fact, some of what was written is very true and very helpful.
Discovering a blog is fake is very frustrating, and really, nobody comes out looking good. People are seriously hurt, because blogging, by nature, is a very personal thing. The stories that scammers use are aimed at pulling at our heart strings and drawing us into an emotional attachment and involvement. It is frustrating beyond words to place your trust in somebody who asks for so much compassion, only to be made a fool.
While some become extremely jaded by a fake blog, most people understand that there is a healthy balance to be found between compassion and common sense. I'd personally rather be open and willing to show compassion at the risk of being called a fool than to be hard-hearted and cynical to anyone who appears to be in need of love. There is something good to be said about a world that can show such incredible love to perfect strangers.
Anyway, I'm probably preaching to the choir, and all of what I've just written may have been pointless. But, feel free to ad your healthy thoughts and comments, and I'd be more than happy to try and answer any general questions about fake blogs and online scams.