A New Scam Emerges! Google Calendar ... Spam?

Sheldon P.
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The world of digital marketing is still, in many ways, the Wild West. Every day, new technologies and platforms are being created, and every day, people find new ways to use or abuse them.
 

While the first goal of any marketing campaign is to cut through the noise, there are generally good and bad ways to do this.
 

Offering good content that gives value to your audience and goes viral is obviously the best way to achieve attention.
 

Using a “hack” to get past people’s spam filters and trick them into clicking on something is obviously dodgy.

 

What the Scam Looked Like

This morning, I opened up my calendar to find the latest one of these “hacks”. To my surprise, I was met with a “Notification” informing me that my email had been selected as a “winner”:

 

 

As far as I can tell, someone has come up with the idea of creating calendar invites and adding people’s emails (Gmail) to have it show up on their calendar. Honestly, even if you know it’s a scam, you’re still going to be curious to see what’s inside (I know I was).
 

The body of the invite showed a bitly link (mostly likely to mask the real domain) after a message claiming that I had won some sort of prize. The guest list was also hidden, telling me that many people were targeted at a time.

 

 

Obviously, I had to click the link. But I did so in incognito mode (just in case).

Warning: I would recommend that anyone else getting similar messages to simply delete the invite. Clicking on a malicious link, could open up your device to attack.
 

I was greeted with an alert from bitly. To their credit, by the time I had clicked on the link, they had already identified it as malicious and flashed a very clear warning screen not to proceed. Honestly, I was impressed.

 

 

Clicking through to the next page, I finally landed on the site:

 

 

Looks like they took a decent amount of time to put this together:

 

 

They included “reviews”:

 

 

Oh good, I’m protected by Kaspersky:

 

 

Let me click on the “disclaimer”:

 

 

Lol. Ok, enough fooling around. Let’s actually scroll back to the top and click on the main call-to-action:

 

The "Meat and Potatoes"

 

This button (the one in blue) brought me to a screen to play a game:

 

 

Wow, I won!

 

 

I played through three times and tallied my total “winnings”:

 

 

They haven’t asked me for anything yet … maybe I actually won something?! Wait, what’s a “control charge”?

 

 

Obviously, I put in my credit card and am now waiting for my prize money.
 

So this turned out to be a scam after all. Good on me, totally didn’t fall for it.

 

Why This Works

For better or worse, this definitely does a good job of the AIDA process. (For those of you unfamiliar with AIDA, you can read more about it here) It definitely grabbed my attention. In fact, I showed this to a bunch of my friends who got a kick out of it and asked me what the invite contained.
 

This means that it definitely got me and my friends interested. Even if we know it’s a scam, it still does a great job at creating interest and curiosity. The danger is when someone doesn’t immediately realize what’s going on.
 

Once I clicked on the link, there were some obvious red flags from bitly (again, koodos on a great job on taking steps to protect the public). Nonetheless, someone might still end up on the “game” page.
 

The game page does a great job of using tactics like “social proof” and clear messaging to generate desire. The graphics and messaging were super clear. The “social proof” is actually pretty well thought out to build excitement and alleviate fear. There were some comments about overcoming technical issues and where to click.
 

The game and build up to the finale really creates engaging, entertaining, and exciting experience. The user interface it super easy to use. The funnel is well thought out and clear.
 

By the time you get to the credit card form, you are all warmed up to take that final action.
 

Just enter your card to perform the “control charge” and you’ll get your prize money! What’s $35 to validate $24k?!
 

It’s unfortunately, but we can still see how well these tactics work. The site is an example of a marketing funnel that is surprisingly well executed.
 

At the end of the day, marketing is just communications and driving people towards an action. Whoever put this together clearly put time and thought into what they were doing and did a surprisingly great job of … well … scamming people.
 

Credit where credit is due, I guess.