You especially loyal readers might remember a column I did two years ago on the strange case of Ray Boze, AKA Matt Roe. For those less diligent readers, the column concerned an alleged scam artist who was preying on a subset of the bluegrass music community: specifically, those musicians who played the Dobro, a type of guitar used in that style of music. It seemed Mr. Roe/Boze ingratiated himself into the online Dobro community and began an aggressive business of making and selling Dobro guitars, putting on workshops and events, and launching a Dobro-focused print magazine. People sent in their deposits for products and even sent guitars in for trade, all on the basis of his online personality--the Matt Roe personality.
Pretty soon those same folks began wondering why their guitars never arrived, why the magazine never got printed and events never seemed to go as planned. Roe always had a good excuse: his wife had just died, or his father had just had a heart attack and died as well.
Everyone was concerned--until a little Google checking by the online community revealed that a similar set of circumstances had befallen people 10 years ago, when a guy named Ray Boze was also making Dobro guitars and not delivering them, using the same type of excuses. Even his alleged children's names were the same.
As you can guess, eventually the community pieced it together via online chat and e-mail and discovered that Boze and Roe were the same guy. The defrauded organized themselves to bring him to justice. And by the way, his wife and father were very much alive, with his wife and children joining him on the lam. A few weeks ago, Boze and family were captured during a routine traffic violation and he was extradited to Texas to await trial. And because members of the community were able to combine their total losses, instead of a misdemeanor, the crime reached felony status.
The case shows the power of e-mail and online communities to protect themselves--as well as to set themselves up as unwitting victims of scam artists in the first place.
Way back when I first started writing this column, I wrote about the so-called Nigerian 419 E-mail Scam. That article became notorious--but not for the reasons I imagined. At the time, the term Nigerian e-mail scam was fairly unknown, so I was, on the one hand, vilified as a racist by half the readers, while the other half thanked me for making them aware of a potential threat. One gentleman actually wrote me to say he was just about to fall for the e-mail scam when he read my article. Today, the Nigerian scam is so well known that it is even the basis of "Saturday Night Live" skits. Here is a link to the Wikipedia entry on the problem: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Advance_fee_fraud.
A while back I wrote about marketers that use affiliate lists without realizing that those affiliates were using e-mail as a major channel to drive traffic. Specifically, I mentioned speaking at an affiliate conference for the online gambling community and showing data that connected e-mails that contained links to specific gambling sites, with spikes in traffic to those sites. Immediately after my presentation, an audience member questioned an executive from one of the top gambling sites featured in my presentation about its e-mail marketing efforts--only to be told quite clearly that the company does not do e-mail. In other words, the company itself was completely unaware of the e-mail marketing efforts being done on its behalf.
The practice still goes on. The ignorance of how much e-mail is driving traffic in the direct marketing community was driven home a few months ago, when I was at a trade show and speaking to a direct marketer who swore his company did not do e-mail. In fact, company executives specifically told their affiliate members that they were banned from using e-mail. I love a challenge--and was able to show them that, in fact, over the previous 30 days, I had a record of nearly 250 e-mails that we had monitored driving traffic to their site. The marketer was completely floored.
And, speaking of which, the recent ban on online gambling in the U.S. has done little to slow down e-mail marketing efforts. While, as a rule, the overall volume of e-mail marketing promoting online gambling decreased sharply after the law was enacted, we have noticed a steady increase in marketing efforts via e-mail over the past couple of months. It is hard to keep a good marketer down.
Next week, on to new business.