Hundreds of small British businesses and minor celebrities have been targeted by a sophisticated blackmail scam orchestrated by “rogue editors” at Wikipedia, The Independent can reveal.
The victims, who range from a wedding photographer in Dorset to a high-end jewellery shop in Shoreditch, east London, faced demands for hundreds of pounds to “protect” or update Wikipedia pages about their businesses. A former Britain’s Got Talent contestant was among dozens of individuals targeted.
Wikipedia has taken action against what it described as the “co-ordinated group” of fraudsters by blocking 381 accounts. An investigation had found that the accounts were controlled by Wikipedia users offering to change articles about companies and private individuals in exchange for payment.
In some cases, the requests for money amounted to blackmail, Wikipedia told The Independent.
The crackdown represents the culmination of a two-month investigation, dubbed “Orangemoody” after the first questionable account was identified earlier this year. It is suspected that many of the suspect accounts were “sock puppets” – meaning they were controlled by the same person. The true identity of the scammers – or scammer – is still unknown.
The scam worked by targeting firms struggling to get pages about their businesses on Wikipedia. They were often told their articles had been rejected due to concerns of excessive promotional content – although in some cases the scammers themselves may have been the ones causing the articles to be removed.
According to a Wikipedia insider, at this stage the scammers would demand a payment of up to several hundred pounds to successfully “re-post or re-surface” the article, and in some cases demanded an on-going monthly payment to “protect” the articles. The fraudster usually claimed to be a Wikipedia editor or administrator.
Wikipedia, which has grown to nearly five million English articles since 2001, uses a team of more than 250,000 people to protect the authenticity of its content. However the scam has underlined the weakness in the website’s reliance on volunteers to create and edit its online content, leaving it vulnerable to abuse.
SOURCE: JAMIE MERRILL, JONATHAN OWEN