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The Bit Bucket (Greg Low): IDisposable

Ramblings of Greg Low (SQL Server MVP, MCM and Microsoft RD) - SQL Down Under

Should IT Professionals Refuse to Implement Scams (and #MYOBFail)

Not long back, it became very common for dodgy domain registration companies to send letters to domain owners that they weren't dealing with. Rather than saying "hey we're a great registrar and here's why you should switch to us", the common ploy was to send out something that looked like a renewal notice, hoping that the receiver would just authorize and pay it without thinking. In Australia, the ACCC (basically the consumer watchdog) has been chasing down and taking action against such practices.

This has me thinking though about the role that we as IT professionals play in enabling these sorts of scams. If we ever want IT to be taken seriously, we have to stop being the ones that enable this nonsense. Recently I was doing work for a client that would greatly enhance their ability to send out bulk emails. Jokingly, I was suggesting inserting a rule that would always omit my email addresses from any of their systems. But it again left me torn as to whether I should be helping them or not.

What really concerns me though is I'm now seeing companies that I would have previously regarded as reputable heading further and further down this path. One I received today particularly annoyed me. Some time back, we purchased an MYOB license for our company. We were offered an annual maintenance subscription and declined. Ever since then, I've been constantly contacted by MYOB-related salespeople trying to get me to purchase a maintenance subscription. Each and every time, I say "I have no interest in this. Please don't call again." What makes it worse, is I'm often paying for global roaming fees on the phone calls they insist on making. But today they've gone a step further. Look at the following letter:

 

It's hard to perceive this as anything but an attempt to get someone to try to inadvertently pay for a maintenance subscription that they didn't order. (I'm sure the MYOB folk would try to justify it somehow and I'm sure it's borderline legal). It is designed to look like an overdue account, not like an offer to provide the maintenance that I've constantly told them I don't want. The irony is that instead of making me consider maintenance, it will now make me never wish to deal with the company again and to endlessly tell others why I don't want to. Overall, it will have a much worse outcome than what they could have achieved. #MYOBFAIL

But the bigger question is whether we as IT professionals should be helping generate this sort of thing. Clearly, IT folk are deeply involved in enabling this. Alternately, is the desperation for work all that matters and "if I don't do it, someone else will" ?

Published Monday, November 09, 2009 10:36 AM by Greg Low

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Liam McLennan said:

Excellent post Greg. I too am greatly annoyed by these scams. The wording 'expired renewal notice' is particularly damning, since it implies that you previously subscribed. Much of this activity goes unreported because people are afraid of litigation, which is another form of enabling.

November 8, 2009 8:40 PM
 

David Gardiner said:

Probably plays into the hands of competing products like http://www.saasu.com/ too.

I've been using Saasu for a few months now, and find it quite good (especially as I've managed to keep in the 'free' threshold!)

-dave

November 8, 2009 8:44 PM
 

Greg Low said:

Hi Liam,

Thanks. I've bounced it to the ACCC as well. Will be interested to see their take on it.

Regards,

Greg

November 8, 2009 9:15 PM
 

Kirsty Low said:

Hey dad.

Now, I know I'm not an IT professional (as you would know well...) But, I actually found this 'rambling' really interesting and it does bring up an extremely great argument about whether or not morals and ethics should apply when 'doing your job'.....and which ones have priority over the others.  I know that I definitely would have been putting a rule in saying 'DON'T SEND TO ME!!!!' (if I knew how. lol).

But, great question posed here!

November 8, 2009 11:27 PM
 

David Bellette said:

Hi Greg,

Haven't heard from you for a while - good to see you're doing well at SolidQ.

These sorts of scams have been around for a long long time and I recall reading one recently where a scammer sent magazine subscription renewals for a magazine with a similar name to a well known publication. He actually published a mag but only printed 99 copies, sent invoices to the companies he copied ads for out of the original mag and on the back, in very small print in a colour difficult to read due to the colour of the paper, wrote something along the lines of 'you ar enot aboliged to pay if you are not happy with the quality'. Well, most actually paid and the guy made a handsome sum - and got away with it when it was tested in court.

Try googling "scammer sending invoices" and perhaps this link http://www.scambusters.org/invoicescams.html

That's slightly off topic regarding the IT ethics, but where do we draw the line? There is a law that says you cannot post threatening or demanding letters via Australia Post, but the ATO does it all the time... should IT professionals refuse to work there? What about telephone sex services? Where do we draw the line with the morals?

November 9, 2009 5:46 AM
 

Denny Cherry said:

Greg,

I take it you made it home after SQL PASS last week.

I would love to say that as IT people we should take a stand against this sort of stuff.  Unfortunately it does fall into the if I don't do it someone else will.  And when working as a full time employee, we can't take must of a stand against our employers as we all to often need to pass a background check with them.  And if they have on file that we are a pain in the *ss, and that makes it into the background check we can kiss the next job good by.

Now while that isn't legal (at least here in the US) I'm sure it happens.

I must say, I'm impressed that your kid(s) read your blog.  I can barely get my wife to remember that I write one.

Best,

Denny

November 10, 2009 11:36 PM
 

John Walker said:

Hi Greg

these arrests might help people draw the line between what they should and shouldn't do

Two computer programers have been arrested by the FBI for allegedly cooking the books for Wall Street conman Bernard Madoff......

http://www.smh.com.au/technology/technology-news/fbi-arrests-madoff-computer-programmers-20091116-ihau.html

November 15, 2009 11:00 PM
 

Marc Lehmann said:

Heh Dave Gardiner, thanks for the nice comment about Saasu!

F.T.R.

Saasu took a position of free support and free tax tables way back in 2000 when we started. The world has changed now and service is something people shouldn't pay huge dollars for to a software company because in this social age which is very leveraged, service is actually a word of mouth sales channel. It's trending towards a benefit rather than a cost in a web application and software business model.

November 29, 2009 3:57 PM
 

Neil said:

Ethics in IT??  Kirsty You hit it...  why just in IT???  you need to whisper in your dads ear more.  I also love that you read his blog.

I have in my past resigned from companies who ordered me to do a job which I felt was unethical..  and refused to take on such jobs while working for myself...   while my bank balance suffers greatly...  I sleep pretty well...  

What if we all slept pretty well...  how much better would our world be...  

Caving in for the money?  or even the prestige of working for a high profile client? And what did you do for them?  Well I wrote an app that targeted People under 18 and encouraged them to smoke...   Sheesh who would want that on their resume...

The argument if "I dont do it someone else will" I feel is a poor one.   If my oposition took on a job which I rejected on ethical grounds...  I would probably highlight that in the hopes of focusing negative attention on my oposition.

The more relevant question is where do you draw the line at what is ethical...  certainly contributing to scamming would be unethical...

December 3, 2009 8:59 AM

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