Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Highland Titles Fake Newspaper Articles Scam Reported In Private Eye

Highland Titles have yet again been chastised (well as Private Eye say on their website, "The ASA gives a limp-wristed slap to a firm selling fake lairdships") by the Advertising Standards Authority, and have once again come to the attention of Private Eye magazine, issue No. 1339 page 11, buy your copy now.

Every company likes a bit of good publicity right? Highland Titles are no exception, so the idea of linking to existing newspaper articles as part of marketing strategy is quite attractive, cheap and easy. But wait, there's a snag, what if some of those articles have the odd less than complimentary statement and the odd comment they might wish nobody saw? Not a problem for the Highland Titles marketing machine apparently, simply use convincing cloned copies of the real newspaper articles with the offending bits changed or removed ... neat!

On the Highland Titles website on the "as seen on tv" page there were links (now changed to link to images of newspaper articles) to various newspaper articles which gave the appearance of the real thing. Many of the articles linked to (I counted ten) were actually fakes, very convincing clones of the real newspaper websites and articles, but actually forgeries. Some (or perhaps all?) of these articles had been adulterated and did not accurately reflect the original content, some had the comments section edited to remove negative comments etc.

The ASA stated the nature of the complaint in a Freedom of Information request response HERE 

For Instance an otherwise intact article from the San Francisco Chronicle had "The offer has been attacked as a fraud by internet critics" removed, an article from the Daily Record had the words "scam" and "phoney" removed, on a Scottish Express article Emily Farquarson's (the cheek!) unflattering comment had been removed entirely and so on. Highland Titles would rather readers did not know that some people suspect such buy Scottish land become a Laird, Lord, Lady conservation schemes, to be a fraudulent phoney scam.

The domain used to host these fake articles was newsfeed.ws, with web addresses starting with for example dailyrecord.newsfeed.ws/ used, to make them look like the real thing. The only content that I could  find on the newsfeed.ws server while searching was, cloned website pages with articles concerning Highland Titles, an mp3 file of a radio interview with Highland Titles (also linked to from the Highland Titles website) and a forgery of a pdf document nicked from baronage.co.uk, a forgery which had the content changed from the original in some apparent attempt to support some of the laird / land  vendors' claims about Scottish titles (this file has now been removed from the server).

Interestingly, a user named Peter Bevis (who would appear to me at least to be posting as the real deal director of Highland Titles) claimed on the Bletherskite website, that content on websites belonging to Highland Titles had been  faked by an internet troll. He did strangely fail to point out where any examples can be seen.  From http://www.bletherskite.net/2011/02/23/end-to-buying-a-fake-scottish-title/

Peter Bevis says:
"I have been shown several examples of fabricated content which has been created by a troll and which purports to reflect our web site content but which in fact only represents somebody’s skill with a graphics package"
 And this:
Peter Bevis says:
 "I do not clone web sites"
As the matter has been recorded by the Advertising Standards Authority, Highland Titles will hardly be able to claim this blog post is all lies, the work of internet trolls and that they did not make use of cloned websites containing errr,  favourably edited newspaper articles, as part of their mainstream advertising effort, will they? It strikes me that the real troll is in fact Highland Titles, exercising their skill at using cloned websites which purport to be real newspaper websites and articles, but which are in fact forgeries with adulterated content.

One article found at newsfeed.ws, though not linked to from the Highland Titles website, was a forgery of an article by the Daily Record, with a story about souvenir plot sales which mentions Highland Titles and contains some wild misquotations by Scottish MSP Rob Gibson. totally transforming his meaning. The quotations from Rob Gibson MSP from the real Daily Record report read as follows.

"MSP warns it exploits Scotland"
"But an angry MSP slammed the scheme, claiming it could attract "spivs and speculators". SNP rural affairs spokesman Rob Gibson said: "This exploitation of Scotland should be outlawed.""

"But Gibson urged Scots and visitors to stay away from the scheme."

"He said: "Selling square-feet souvenir plots of Scotland purely for financial gain is utterly unacceptable. I find this activity attracts spivs and speculators and people should avoid it with a bargepole."

"There should be some means to stop this. This is not the first time somebody has tried to make a fast buck out of selling a little piece of Scotland."
Whereas the quotations from the forged Daily Record report found on newsfeed.ws have been transformed to read:
"MSP welcomes boost for Scotland"
"An enthusiastic MSP praised the scheme, claiming it would attract "visitors and tourists are the life blood of the Scottish economy". SNP rural affairs spokesman Rob Gibson said: "This novel conservation of Scotland must be encouraged.""
"Gibson urged Scots and visitors to support the scheme and 'come and visit Scotland'.

"He said: "Selling square-feet souvenir plots of Scotland to support conservation is inspired. I find this activity attracts people who love Scotland to visit and so we should all give these people our full support."

"There should be some means for the Scottish Parliament to advertise their support for this. This is not the first time somebody has tried to make money out of selling a little piece of Scotland, but these people have the good of the whole nation at heart.".
Image capture of a forgery of the Daily Record website with a fake news article, sourced from the newsfeed.ws server. This article contained fake quotations from Rob Gibson MSP highlighted. Genuine Daily Record article here for comparison. Note the company involved and the locations have also been changed to suit.

It would appear that supporters of these fake lairdship schemes will stop at little to promote this tat, and seem to think nothing of making up comments from a Scottish MSP in apparent support of this nonsense. Fake titles, fake land sales, fake conservation, fake websites, fake newspaper articles, fake quotations, whatever will the fake lairdship lot fake up next? The mind boggles, the kilt shudders.

Images of a selection of the fake newspaper articles used by Highland Titles from newsfeed.ws, to give an idea of how like the real websites the fakes were.

Fake Express Website Page Used By Highland Titles

Fake Northern Star Website Page Used By Highland Titles 

Fake Daily Record Website Page Used By Highland Titles

Fake Goldcoast News Website Page Used By Highland Titles

The Private Eye article about the Highland Titles scam cloned web sites from Private Eye issue number 1339 page 11.
“Highland Titles, one of the largest firms selling ludicrous fake lairdships as gifts, has been given a slap on the wrist by advertising’s watchdogs after tidying up press cuttings on its website to remove any hint that the scheme is a scam.

The Guernsey-based firm, which sells Laird and Ladyships of Glencoe, although the Glencoe Woods being sold by the metre aren’t even part of the Glencoe estate (see Eye 1328), has a web page of links to press coverage from Scotland and around the world. While the articles looked like the real deal, they were actually mock-ups with cunningly disguised web addresses, such as dailyrecord.newsfeed.ws. The Daily Record article was largely copied from a real one but had been doctored to expunge the words “scam” and ‘phoney”.

Meanwhile an otherwise genuine article from the San Francisco Chronicle was tweaked to remove a paragraph noting: “The offer has been attacked as a fraud by internet critics.” The Advertising Standards Authority investigated the website and closed its file on the complaint after Highland Titles agreed to remove all links to the fake articles (though the fakes themselves remain online)” 
It should be noted the fakes have now been removed.

No comments:

Post a Comment