An Official Fake Scam Web Site

Borrowing the tactics of stock market con artists, the Securities and Exchange Commission created a fake investment scam web site, luring thousands of users who are ultimately told they've been scammed.

Experienced searchers know that the web is home to all manner of bogus information and opportunities for suckers to be separated from their cash by shysters and crooks. Nonetheless, countless inexperienced users have fallen prey to online scams. The U.S. SEC apparently thought the problem was big enough that it launched an "educational" effort to warn unwary web users about the perils of believing everything read online.

The SEC's site features information and product offerings from "McWhortle Enterprises, Inc." To promote the site, the SEC issued a press release with the cooperation of PR Newswire, which subsequently was picked up by other web distribution sources including Yahoo and Northern Light.

The site touts investment opportunities offering tremendous financial gains. But anyone who tries to invest is instead led to a page that warns, "If you responded to an investment idea like this... you could get scammed!" The page also tells investors how to research investment offers and where to call for help.

The SEC says that the site drew more than 150,000 visitors in the first three days of operation.

"We're thrilled with the response," said SEC Chairman Harvey L. Pitt. "In a perfect world, everyone would read our educational brochures before they ran into a scam, but they don't. What we're trying to do is warn investors while their guard is down. The next time, when they encounter a real scam, these investors won't let excitement cloud their better judgment."

The McWhortle project is a laudable effort on the part of a government agency to educate by using "real world" examples rather than simply issuing bland warnings. It'll be interesting to see how many more of these "official" fake sites pop up in the future, and whether they succeed in warning gullible users about the dangers of uncritical acceptance of everything posted on the web.

McWhortle Enterprises, Inc.

Press Release:
McWhortle Enterprises Registers to Go Public; SEC 'Pre-Approves' IPO for Manufacturer of Anti-terrorism Device
The text of the "McWhortle" press release announcing the fake web site.

Regulators Launch Fake Scam Websites To Warn Investors About Fraud
The "official" press release from the SEC explaining the reasons behind the McWhortle site.

Evaluating The Quality Of Information On The Internet
An outstanding tutorial on how to recognize legitimate sources of information and detect scams, hoaxes, and other forms of online charlatanism, from super legal searcher Genie Tyburski.

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About the author

Chris Sherman is a frequent contributor to several information industry journals. He's written several books, including The McGraw-Hill CD ROM Handbook and The Invisible Web: Uncovering Information Sources Search Engines Can't See, co-authored with Gary Price. Chris has written about search and search engines since 1994, when he developed online searching tutorials for several clients. From 1998 to 2001, he was's Web Search Guide.