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Alarmist emails from unscrupulous development companies

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As a person who designs and routinely gives much needed updates to websites for a living, I chuckle and roll my eyes every time I get certain kinds of spam emails from web developers. You may know the type…they either start off something like, “Not sure if you knew this but your website brookechao.com has some problems that you might want to consider looking into. I spent 2-3 minutes looking around and found…” or “I came across your website today and was impressed with your work and the services you provide. I work for a development firm located in Northern Utah and I can help you create additional revenue.”

The reason I tend to chuckle is because they’re often talking to me as if they’re completely ignorant of the work I do, the actual content on my website, and are basically offering me many of the same services I offer.  However, it can be no laughing matter for another business owner, who doesn’t know they’re up to, leading them to wonder if there really is something wrong with their current site, and get worried, or wonder if maybe they should take these folks up on their offer.

The truth is, almost assuredly these folks haven’t looked at your site at all, and are just spamming a list of domain names using the contact info in their domain registration.  They are playing the odds that if they spam enough people, they’re bound to get a few people who believe them. Ethically it’s questionable, at best, but in some cases, those who take them up on their offer would be giving an unknown company access to their website’s hosting and/or back end access, which could be a risky proposition.

Here’s an example of what I mean. This morning, I received the following email:

Dear Team at brookechao.com,

Not sure if you knew this but your website brookechao.com has some problems that you might want to consider looking into. I spent 2-3 minutes looking around and found:

- It doesn’t work properly on Mobile Phones, at all (which is how people browse the web these days).
- It doesn’t adjust properly when you resize the screen (Google recommends RESPONSIVE Websites rather than ADAPTIVE)
- It’s hard to read on larger displays
- The design looks really, really dated compared to some of your competitors.

I actually do web design as a living so I figured I’d reach out and let you know there’s serious room for dead easy(and affordable) improvement. If you would like, I can send you some of my previous work samples.

I can develop the website on a more advanced platform at an affordable price. That price also includes making it complete mobile responsive which will support all modern devices including all ranges of screen sizes.

Is that something you’d be interested in?

Thanks & Regards,

James Parker | Business Development Manager
Brandenic USA LLC, CA
Web: www.brandenic.com
Call: +1 (760) 284 3365
Skype: sales_85360

Okay, just sounds like a good Samaritan looking out for me, right?  Why not just say “no thank you” or ignore him?  Well, my first red flag that this is someone who doesn’t have my best interest at heart is the fact that they’ve lied to me.  While there are always things that can be improved about any site, mine included, these facts easily refute most if not all of his claims aobut the serious “problems” he supposedly found on my site:

  • My site is fully responsive, and has been for years.
  • It definitely resizes and works properly on mobile screens.
  • It looks fine on larger displays, and is not hard to read.  I have a 27” iMac, and “old eyes” and no problems reading the content on my site.
  • It was recently updated, and while it may not have all the bells and whistles of some sites, and I will probably keeping making improvements to it, it works well, loads well, and is not “really dated” in any meaningful way.

My second red flag is that when I hover over his email address in my email app, or hit “reply” it shows that his email address is NOT “jamesparker@brandenic.com” it is actually “james06@digitalmarketingagencynow.com.”  That’s a pretty odd thing to see for someone talking to me about web standards.  It’s really best practices to make sure that you have an email address that matches your domain name.  And any company offering web development or web design services will know this, and want to make sure they seem legit.  This oversight on this person’s part tells me that either this person is *pretending* to be from brandenic.com, and using that website to create a false impression that he works for that company, OR, brandenic.com is part of a larger conglomeration, or is a front, that uses several URLs and company names to do business. So, despite the email’s content, this is not some friendly web designer seeking to offer his services to a hapless website owner.  This is a spammer, and/or scammer, full-stop.

Another set of red flags can be found on their website, itself. First of all, never, ever click on a link in these emails.  Ever.  If you’re curious, always go type in the URL, directly, in your browser. When I type in brandenic.com and visit the site, at first glance it does look like a fairly polished site for a web design and marketing company. However, there are some interesting clues that give them away.

  • They state right up front, in their footer info that it’s a “team of award-winning designers, developers and interenet marketers.”  So, again, not a web designer like they claimed, but someone from their marketing team.
  • If you look at their plethora of social media links in their footer, absolutely *none* of them link to anything. They just keep you on the page.  Pretty odd for someone claiming they found errors on *your* website, right?
  • They state that they are located in San Fransisco, California, but they give absolutely no street address, mailing address, and their phone number is most likely one that will redirect you to a call center elsewhere, possibly in another country.  For grins and giggles, and called it, and sure enough, some random person answered “hello?” like it was their personal phone and not the main business number of a large company of designers, developers and marketers.v
  • When you do a “WhoIs” search on brandenic.com, you find that they’re hiding who owns this domain behind a proxy service in Arizona.  So you have no way of knowing who REALLY owns that domain, and is running that company.
  • Their “About Us” page is super vague, is really only a brief mission statement, and includes not one name, nothing about how the company was founded, who started it, and any of the “team” who work with their clients.
  • If you look up the domain of the *actual* email address that emailed me, you get a placeholder for a domain that has no website
  • Too boot, their prices are absolutely astoundingly high for things like SEO, and abnormally low for web development. All of it is suspicious.
  • On their contact page, their main email is sales…meaning their main aim is to sell to you.
  • They offer 24/7 Tech support which is really unlikely and a suspicious claim…especially for a site you spent $500 for

And there are several people on Yelp who have learned the hard way that this individual/company is not trustworthy.

Now, I did the digging in this article to show you what’s actually behind a lot of these emails, but I would not recommend that most people reply to these folks at all.  Don’t even let them know your email address is a working one by replying.  Don’t use their “unsubscribe” links in the bottom of the emails. What they’re actually doing is getting you to verify that’s a valid email, by requiring you to enter it again to “unsubscribe.”  Instead, simply mark it as “spam” or “junk” and treat it like the sketchy garbage it is.  For me, because I can tend to be a bit on the mischievious side, I let them know they barked up the wrong tree, that I know what they’re up to, and tell them to take me off of their list, and then I mark it as spam/junk, and block the email addresses.

If you are worried about what they are telling you about your website, there are other things you can do to check and even remedy the situation.  I have a few articles that talk about things like SEO, image use, choosing responsive themes for WordPress, and other website concerns.

You can easily check what your website looks like, and how it operates, on a mobile device by pulling it up on your smart phone, a tablet, or having a friend try it on their devices. Should you find that there are actually issues you’d like to address with your website, your best bet is to find a well rated web designer in your area, through a local business search, or through word of mouth from other people you know who run online busineses. Bonus points if the person is a local designer, or owns a local firm, who can actually be more responsive to your needs, and who you can meet with, in person, and with whom you can develop a good working relationship.

I hope you found this article helpful in avoiding being mislead and exploited by these unscrupulous types of companies and individuals.