By Pat Anson, Editor
The websites all have innocent sounding names, like Personal Medical Treatments, Personal Health, and Health Care Solutions Plus.
Their articles also sound interesting, with titles like “7 Ways to Relieve Fibromyalgia Pain” and “Alternatives Treatments: The Rx for Chronic Pain is Changing.”
But when you dig a little deeper things don’t add up. The websites have no advertising, so how are they funded? Why do they all seem to be based in Pakistan or Panama? Did “Zafar Iqbal” really write that article about alternative pain treatments in Duluth, Minnesota?
And why are all of their articles apparently stolen from other websites – a clear violation of copyright laws?
Those are some of the questions being asked by administrators and members of chronic pain support groups on Facebook, who have been deluged with thousands of links to these bogus websites for the last few months.
The links are usually posted by new group members who only recently joined Facebook and have very little information in their profiles. As fast as the bogus links and the suspicious posters are deleted, they return under new names with new links to articles such as the following:
"To a Friend With a Chronic Illness Who’s Feeling Hopeless" was apparently stolen from The Mighty.com.
“In the Shadow of an Opioid Crisis, Super Bowl Ad Spotlights Chronic Pain Patients” (allegedly written by the mysterious Zafar Iqbal) was copied and pasted from StatNews (the real author is Rebecca Robbins).
Pain News Network has been victimized in this scam too. Columnist Ellen Lenox Smith emailed me this week asking why her column “8 Tips for Patients Newly Diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos” reappeared without permission in CaringCare.Info.
“Is this appropriate?” Ellen wanted to know.
No Ellen, it is not. It’s called plagiarism.
The problem has become so acute that the administrators of a large Facebook support group recently closed it to new members.
“Due to an attack by plagiaristic & duplicate posters we are putting a temporary moratorium on new members,” wrote Barbara Mills, who made the move reluctantly because she knows many pain sufferers are looking for friendship and support in Facebook groups such as hers.
Barbara told me in the recent past she was offered money to post the links herself, but declined.
More is at stake here than plagiarism, copyright laws and unhappy editors like me who hate seeing their articles stolen. I think the ultimate goal of these con artists is to hack into our computers and smartphones. Click on one of their links, and you could pick up an unwanted cookie, computer virus, or even a “keylogger” that can be used to record your internet activity, usernames and passwords.
People who sign up for their newsletters by a providing their email address are also putting themselves at risk, not just for a deluge of spam, but for malicious programs such as a "trojan horse" they could download without even knowing it.
If you’re a Facebook member and you see these suspicious posts, what should you do?
- If you’re not familiar with the website, don’t share or “like” it. That only spreads the post like a virus to your friends and other groups. It’s also precisely what the spammers want you to do.
- If you see someone constantly sharing links to bogus websites, check the poster’s profile. If they have only a few photos, no friends and just recently joined Facebook, chances are they are fake.
- If you’re an administrator and you see these bogus posts appearing in your closed Facebook group, you may have to start deleting offenders and close your group to new members until the problem stops.
- Report suspicious posts and posters to Facebook by clicking here.
- Keep your anti-virus software up-to-date and your firewall on.
If you’re feeling really adventurous, you can visit HypeStat, which I use to see how legit a website is. Enter the website’s URL, click search and scroll down the page. You’ll see what country a website is registered in and how long they’ve been around.
You might even run into the prolific Zafar Iqbal, who has apparently abandoned Duluth and is now writing articles about British Airways crews making peanut allergy announcements and how cannabis kills 30,000 people a year.
Facebook has been a godsend for pain sufferers around the world seeking support, friendship, and solutions to their chronic pain issues. It’s a shame that others are taking advantage of the pain community -- which is already under attack in so many ways, not just online.