back to article This machine-learning upstart trained software to snare online drug dealers. Now it's going after fake coronavirus test equipment peddlers

Machine-learning software to snare scammers hawking fake COVID-19 test kits on social media is being built by a tiny startup funded by the US National Institutes of Health. S-3 Research, founded by Timothy Mackey, an associate professor at the school of health sciences at the University of California, San Diego, was focused on …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "However, we fear the kind of person who believes a random tweet about a miracle cure won't listen to reason from experts."

    That summarises far too many people's mind-set. They believe only what they desperately want to believe - rather than subjecting the facts and theories to a critical examination.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      And then there's the people who think the "government" or 5G or the Chinese or Big Phama or the "Deep State", or, or, or are the ones spreading it so no way are they going to believe any official source anyway.

      1. Tom 7 Silver badge

        And then there's the "government"!

    2. Glen 1 Silver badge
      Paris Hilton

      "won't listen to reason from experts."

      Something something Brexit

  2. katrinab Silver badge
    Unhappy

    There is a twitter account with a blue tick and 76.6m followers that is touting fish tank sterilisation tablets as a cure for coronavirus. Any idea when it will be taken down?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      They might be on to something, I've never heard of human to fish virus transmission though I'm pretty certain the woman in the shape of water got crabs.

      1. katrinab Silver badge
        Unhappy

        Some people did take them following that advice. I don't know if it kills coronavirus, but it does definitely kill humans.

    2. Graham Dawson Silver badge

      No he isn't, don't be stupid. Hydrochloroquine has been successfully used as a treatment in several countries already and is a well-studied drug with well known dosing requirements. The fact that two inbred idiots decided to dose themselves with spoonfuls of their tank cleaner simply because it had it as one of the ingredients is only relevant to their own stupidity.

      There are plenty of real things to criticise trump for without making up more, especially when national health services in multiple countries agree with him on this one.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        No. There are trials going on at the moment on this drug as well as others with results some months away, but the trial the orange one keeps quoting as being revolutionary and proving the treatment will be available in a few weeks was a deeply flawed trial in France with a few dozen people that has been widely panned by serious doctors.

        1. Graham Dawson Silver badge

          https://www.upi.com/Top_News/World-News/2020/03/12/South-Korea-experts-recommend-anti-HIV-anti-malaria-drugs-for-COVID-19/6961584012321/

          Already in use in Korea on the recommendation of their central health body, I believe from before trump mentioned it. He may have focused on a flawed trial because he is, to put it very mildly, a flawed man, but the mere fact that he is positive about the drug is not a reason to dismiss out of hand. It appears to work and is being used as a successful treatment by several nations.

          1. Graham Dawson Silver badge

            I was going to edit, but I missed the deadline. Several of the trials you mentioned are less about if the drug works than they are about why it works. The mechanism by which it reduces viral load is poorly understood.

  3. redpawn Silver badge

    I believe my government not scammers

    "Anyone who want's a test can get one." "One day it's like a miracle, it will disappear".

  4. A-nonCoward
    Unhappy

    phone scams any time now?

    SO easy to find, track, nuke robocallers.

    But noooooo.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: phone scams any time now?

      I haven't had a single scam call since India went into lock-down.

      1. Tom 7 Silver badge

        Re: phone scams any time now?

        I have! Got a recorded message saying they've got post brexit investment advice press 1 to be connected to an advisor. Pressed 1 and the call dropped. Seemed about right.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: phone scams any time now?

          "Pressed 1 and the call dropped."

          The UK oven cleaning recorded message is like that. A few days later I had a call from a woman wanting me to book an appointment for my oven to be cleaned. When I mentioned OFCOM and TPS she apologised and said she would remove me from their list.

          It struck me that she was a franchisee of that service - probably lots of them dotted round the country getting leads. On other fora people have reported that the booking call asks for payment up front with credit/debit card details.

          1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
            Thumb Up

            Re: phone scams any time now?

            Well, at least they are working from home and likely never, ever actually sending people out, breaking social distancing rules to actually clean your oven!

    2. Version 1.0 Silver badge
      Unhappy

      Re: phone scams any time now?

      I see scam calls all the time on the answering machines. I just delete them because when you try and report any of these scams, nothing ever happens. You file all the details and then you are told to talk to your lawyer.

      1. IGotOut Silver badge

        Re: phone scams any time now?

        'I just delete them because when you try and report any of these scams, nothing ever happens. You file all the details and then you are told to talk to your lawyer."

        Clearly you a)Not British or b) reporting it to some scam artist.

        It takes 2 minutes to register a scam call and they even mention they won't contact you back.

        People whine all the time about scam calls then do NOTHING to help stop them.

        1. Milo Tsukroff
          FAIL

          Re: phone scams any time now?

          > People whine all the time about scam calls then do NOTHING to help stop them.

          In the US of A, last year, the FTC had a novel idea: How about actually PROSECUTING phone scammers?? Wow, what a concept!! (Up until then, the only thing that getting caught running a multi-million-dollar phone scam system would get you, would be a subpoena to appear before Congress.)

  5. SuperGeek

    "It can't be solved by technology alone: people need to be educated and told the reality of the tests and treatments, so that they don't buy bogus stuff online."

    Good luck with that! When we're still struggling to stop people being scammed by Nigerian princes, and fake bank alerts, for what, the last 10+ years? Coronavirus will probably be history by the time the education even starts!

    My Aunty has been scammed by Nigerians, twice, the second time still after a heavy tutoring from me following the first. Human nature is strange....

    1. Stuart Castle Silver badge

      "Good luck with that! When we're still struggling to stop people being scammed by Nigerian princes, and fake bank alerts, for what, the last 10+ years? Coronavirus will probably be history by the time the education even starts!"

      In fairness to the person being scammed, some scammers are very talented. I'm aware of a lot of these kinds of scams, how they work and everything. I'm also intelligent and cynical (so I do tend to assume others are trying to rip me off). I've nearly been fooled.

      Education about scams *is* important, but the problem is, there is a sizeable percentage of people who don't know about things like this, and are likely to just ignore (or even turn off) anything attempting to educate them about scamming.

  6. This post has been deleted by its author

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "Idiots" is the wrong term. They are the "gullible". That can break down into classes like "trusting", "greedy", "poorly educated", "not yet aware".

      What surprises me is that cold callers from presumably the same operation never take people off their list. When they use the standard spiel - and get a mouthful of invective in reply every time - you would think they would learn they are wasting their resources.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Back in the old pre-lockdown days when these calls were common, I had that conversation with a "Microsoft representative" once. After wasting about 10 minutes of his time I explained that I had plenty of spare time on my hands and that every time they called me I would waste more of their time. Instead of getting abusive as they often do, he simply said, ok , we won't call you any more. The number of "MS support" calls did drop by at least 1/3rd after that.

      2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        "you would think they would learn they are wasting their resources."

        Wasting it more thoroughly might help. Rather than nvective tell them you're interested but could they please hold the line a moment - there's someone at the door or whatever. Put the phone aside for 10 minutes or so before they hang up.

        It worked for me. I seem to have been taken off the scam lists; I've even only had one probable computer scam and, to my disappointment, they rung while I was out.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          I used to get a lot of scam calls asking for the significant other by her maiden name. Presumably they bought a list with her old name on it, so I would always know it was a scam before they said anything if asking for her by that name. I would just say I was getting her, then put the receiver down and see how long they waited before hanging up.

    2. Smooth Newt Silver badge
      Windows

      Money back into circulation?

      While I've nothing but contempt for these criminals, they're taking money from idiots. The criminals will then put this money back into circulation where it will generate further (legitimate) economic activity.

      This is a reworking of the broken window fallacy. You assume that the money would be out of circulation - stored in a mattress or a big glass jar - if it was not spent on these things. But the people who buy this stuff would actually be spending the money instead on other things.

      Other things that do not cause harm. If you focus just on economic arguments, what of the economic costs of mitigating that harm - there is an opportunity cost because these expenses cannot be spent on something more worthwhile than getting you back to where you would have been if the harm had not been done.

  7. osakajin Bronze badge

    Err chinese herbs are effective medicine. Dont know about for this.

    1. IGotOut Silver badge

      I wouldn't have down voted you except for

      "Dont know about for this."

    2. Insert sadsack pun here

      If "Traditional Chinese Medicine" worked, it would be called just "medicine".

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Traditional medicine is where we get modern medicine.

        Traditional myths and riturals, is where we get scams.

    3. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      I'm sure that some herbs are, for some very specific things. Many are not, or are used for things they aren't useful for. None will work against a virus.

      1. Tom 7 Silver badge

        Wood works against a virus. If you burn enough of it beneath a sufferer their symptoms will disappear.

    4. osakajin Bronze badge

      Wtf. Only me gets downvotes!

  8. Chris the bean counter Bronze badge

    Online advertisers should be forced to prove identity before being able to advertise

    Hi

    Websites should have to prove identity of advertisers. Makes frauds more hassle. Tighten loopholes that allow them to receive payments too. Yes I know there are workarounds for both but the more hassle the workaround the less people bother.

  9. Shadow Systems Silver badge

    Follow the money.

    The advertisers have to get paid by someone to place the ads in the first place. Follow the money.

    The ads have to point to contact points (phone number, email address, website, etc) that collected the scam funds. Follow the money.

    The site had to be hosted on a domain that got paid to host the site. Follow the money.

    The site needed some way to transact financial details, EG the purchase of scummy tat. Follow the money.

    Sure it's a lot of legwork, but you eventually wind up with a lot of folks in deep shite for having helped the scam to exist/propigate. Eventually you will find out whom ultimately profited from such scams, And once you know that last bit, where the buck stopped, you know whom to string up & use as a pinata.

    Follow The Money.

    1. Tom 7 Silver badge

      Re: Follow the money.

      But money is designed to be unfollowable, It would be very easy for our government to legislate so that money cannot be moved to somewhere it can be untraceable but that would shut down the City overnight.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Shut down the whole country?

    "It would be very easy for our government to legislate so that money cannot be moved to somewhere it can be untraceable but that would shut down the City overnight."

    And?

  11. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    I like sledghammers

    Simply make it illegal to sell something as a cure if there is no evidence that it will cure the intended disease.

    Do not just take down false adverts, go after the advertiser and slam them in jail for endangering lives. And when the inevitable "but it won't hurt anyone !" argument rolls around, add fraud and deception to the list of charges.

    No, I don't like half-measures. How did you guess ?

    1. ILLQO

      Re: I like sledghammers

      I am relatively sure that selling something as "Medicine" for something that it doesn't cure is already prohibited or illegal. What most of these people do is sell it as a "Supplement" which at least in the states lets them scapegoat a lot of our FDA rules and regulations. Always watch their wording when they are selling it and you can usually spot this tapdance.

      Even here in the states when our elected officials have been trying to push inappropriate advice I have seen a few catch phrases "I have heard" or "People have said" seems to be the current favorite trend.

      I admit that I am currently furious with the generation that raised me always going" Don't believe everything you see on TV or the Internet" automatically seem to believe obvious double talk or denial. This reversal has led me to fear that someday the elasticity of my thoughts will petrify to the point that I lose the ability to question or debate, hopefully its just generational and not age causing a lot of these issues, if not I really hope I don't get to the point that I do more harm than good like what I am currently seeing.

  12. julian.smith
    Mushroom

    Facebook

    Can it probe Facebook?

    If scams and crap were eliminated would Facebook even be a thing?

  13. Fatman
    Joke

    random tweets

    <quote>However, we fear the kind of person who believes a random tweet about a miracle cure won't listen to reason from experts.</quote>

    Do you mean Trump supporters???

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