For website operators trying to get information out into the public eye, the last thing they need are legal threats claiming they’ve infringed on someone’s copyright.
Copyright lawsuits have a reputation for being expensive to defend. Therefore, when threatened, most people choose the simpler solution. A new wave of copyright complaints being sent in now provides an extremely easy exit ramp for alleged infringers. This is because the scammers behind it actually want people to go that route.
Alleged violation of “copyrighted images”
In March 2022, Richard Byrne of freetech4teachers.com discovered a scam in which website operators were told by the supposed law firm Arthur Davidson Legal that they had infringed the copyright on an image and that a trial could follow. However, if the recipient would simply log into a domain and post a credit on their site, the case would be closed.
A similar scam optimistically targeted TorrentFreak last year, but a few response articles are unlikely to stop these schemes from spreading and claiming even more victims.
In a new article this week, Richard Byrne reports on an email sent to him by another bogus law firm, this time calling itself “Nationwide Legal”. [nationwidelaw[D0T]org]. The email does not mention Byrne by name (a red flag in itself) but attempts to achieve the same goals: link to a site, credit the “source”, and Byrne will not be sued for violation of the copyright.
The image referenced in the email as the original copyrighted image is suspiciously hosted on Imgur. It took us less than 20 seconds to see that the image is offered on Pixabay and marked “Free for commercial use” and “No attribution required.”
There is no copyright infringement and scammers know it.
The objectives of the scam
These scams have only one initial goal in mind: to get as many domains as possible related to a specific domain in order to increase its perceived value in the eyes of search engines. This time the scammers are trying to drive traffic to [briandcruzhypnoplus[D0T]com]which claims to represent the business of a UK-based hypnotherapist called Brian D’Cruz.
As shown in the screenshot below, reputable third-party sites are already falling for this fake credit and link scam.
The [briandcruzhypnoplus[D0T]com]domain that people are forced to credit and link to was registered on January 1, 2022 and allegedly contains commercial information related to Brian D’Cruz and his practice of hypnotherapy.
It will come as no surprise that there is nothing simple about the website or the person it claims to represent. But before we dive down the rabbit hole, let’s take a look at who this campaign targeted.
Victim sites are mostly linked to mental health issues
One of the measures used by search engines to determine the value of external links pointing to a domain is whether the content of linking sites (those that have received a fake DMCA notice) is relevant to the content of the site. target, in this case the fake hypnotherapy site.
From the available information, it seems that scammers mainly focus on sites dealing with mental illnesses and diseases affecting the mind, such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Since they now all contain links to the scam hypnotherapy site, they are not hard to find.
Some of the targeted sites are listed below. The title of the article appears first with a link to the source page, which at the time of writing contains credits and links to the fake hypnotherapy site.
Trauma-Informed Pedagogy – Barnard College / Columbia University
Health and Counseling Services – Bard College Berlin
Occupational Therapists and Mental Health Interventions – Moving With HOPE
Grieving: A nursing student struggles with the loss of her father – Grief Healing Blog
Exhaustion and Submersion – Buddhistdoor Global
New AI-based algorithm to detect brain bleeds – NoCamels
Mental health during crises like Covid 19 – Safe Communities Portugal
“Effective treatment” for Alzheimer’s disease – EyesOnALZ
We Can Do Better – Association for the chronically mentally ill
What is a mental health crisis? – Jonathan’s Voice (UK-based mental health charity)
The above list is by no means exhaustive and seems to be growing over time.
DMCA Scam misleads by misusing real information
Identifying who is behind these scams is never easy, but with the right tools and patience, shedding light on the mechanics is entirely possible. With that in mind, it’s worth briefly drawing attention to Brian D’Cruz, who has come into the limelight (whether he likes it or not) thanks to this campaign. It turns out that Mr. D’Cruz, whoever he is, is a useful channel for finding additional information.
From everything we’ve seen so far, Brian D’Cruz does exist. As the fake website makes clear, he practices hypnotherapy in the south of England, or did at one time. However, if one crosses Brian D’Cruz’s name with listings from the General Hypnotherapy Registry, the scammer’s website is not the one listed.
In fact, the listing links D’Cruz to BeyondBoundariesHypnotherapy.com, a seemingly dead site that contains much of the same information as the new one released in January. A copy of the Wayback Machine also reveals that the therapist’s photographs are dramatically different when compared from site to site, indicating a deliberate change.
ghosts of the past
Since the email address available to Brian D’Cruz is linked to the now lost “Beyond Boundaries” domain, it was impossible to contact him. However, we were able to establish that the original “Beyond Boundaries” domain was created several years ago and registered in the name of one Sam D’Cruz.
As the archive copy of the Beyond Boundaries website on the Wayback Machine clearly shows in the footer, the site was created by web design/SEO company i New Media. Sam is currently listed on their “friends” page and appears to have a strong connection to the company.
As of this writing, we have yet to receive a response from Sam to our requests for comment. We haven’t received a response from I-New Media either. It’s really a shame, considering the number of questions we have.
I-New Media also got image credits and backlinks
According to its website, I New Media offers search engine optimization (SEO) services, as do many companies. However, we were surprised to learn that the company also receives backlinks from sites that appear to credit them for ownership of images to which they do not own the rights.
For example, there’s this piece on the WeGrowValue.com website, where an image is credited to the company for no apparent reason. Next to it is a link to the i-newmedia.com/media URL.
This next example of a credit and link to I-New Media provides more irony than anyone could have hoped for.
Lewis Silkin is a leading international law firm with indisputable expertise in all areas of law, including copyright. In fact, Lewis Silkin worked in the UK to help identify suspected BitTorrent pirates so they could receive a letter in the post from rights holders alleging copyright infringement. Of course, beneficiaries could choose to settle their cases by taking positive action, in this case paying a settlement.
In this case, it appears that Lewis Silkin received a link request to I-New Media and under threat of a copyright lawsuit, decided to comply with the scammers.
Other sites crediting I-New Media for image content they do not own include:
What is Social Media Marketing? – GetSocialGuide.com
Social media use may contribute to sleep deprivation – HealthTechInsider.com
A Quick Guide to Tracking Social Media Followers – Bad Rhino Inc.
There are many other examples of sites crediting and referring to I-New Media, but the missing link is why they chose to do so. Did they do it under duress or maybe they have a relationship with the company and did it voluntarily?
At this point, reference should be made to the email received by Richard Byrne from freetech4teachers.com. We mentioned it at the beginning of this article and that is why we embarked on this mission. The email was sent by Nationwide Legal’s ‘trademark department’, it mentioned the DMCA and warned that legal action for copyright infringement could follow in the event of non-compliance. So we started reaching out to people who tuned in to I-New Media to find out what made them do it.
We received a number of responses and they all told the same story. An unsolicited email alleging copyright infringement of the images asked them to credit I-New Media and link to a specific URL. In return, past and future “violations” would be ignored and no prosecution would ensue.
As mentioned earlier, we reached out to Sam D’Cruz and I-New Media for comment, but none responded. That means we can’t get answers to some of those other questions either, which is disappointing given the circumstances.
Some coincidences to clarify
Since the Hypnotherapist’s fraudulent website was copied from a website originally designed by I-New Media, we wanted to clear the facts with the company. Is this one of those one-in-a-million coincidences that happens once in a while, or is there another explanation?
Also, is it a coincidence that a person called Sam D’Cruz, who works for I-New Media, is not only registered as the domain name holder for the original hypnotherapy site, but also shares the same unusual last name as the hypnotherapist? Stranger things have happened, but we wanted to clear that up as well.
So given the links above, coincidence or not, what are the odds that the same fraudulent law firm is sending identical legal threats to drive traffic to the fake hypnotherapy site, while apparently doing the exact same thing for the I-New Media website? Or is I-New Media an unfortunate victim in all of this?
These are questions that need to be answered, but as we said our emails are not being answered. If they were, we’d also be asking about another coincidence. It concerns the choice of hosting the I-New Media site and that of the fraudulent site of the hypnotherapist.
Domain names and ages aside, their WHOIS reports look exactly the same and even though the IP address points to shared hosting used by a large number of other websites, there are an extraordinary number of IP addresses available. online where one site (or the other) could have been located instead.
Adding the exact same DNS server for both domains on top of this IP address coincidence sounds mathematically extraordinary, but what will happen next is unknown.
TorrentFreak is aware that at least one of the companies targeted by a bogus DMCA notice is already consulting with its legal team and we wouldn’t be surprised if others were considering their options as well.