Posts Tagged ‘theft’

Perpetual Vigilance

January 23rd, 2013
Gwyn Headley

by Gwyn Headley

Managing Director

I don’t know if it’s age, cynicism or personal general grumpiness but there seem to be a lot more villains around now than when I were a lad.

If you run a shop, shrinkage is the name you give to shoplifting. I guess it’s endemic. If you run a website like fotoLibra, you make sure you are as well protected as possible from shoplifters, or hackers if we use a general term for web-based criminality.

To put it in terms that I understand, we have to stop thieves. We have two sorts — those who want to steal your photographs, and those who want to steal our money. The latter is far more common, I’m sorry to say.

Stealing photographs, first of all. The basic fact is they can’t, not unless they can design and mount an incredibly expensive and sophisticated assault on our firewalled servers. But frankly, we’re not Cartier or Tiffany. It’s much cheaper to buy an image from us than spend months trying to figure out how to steal it. So there’s little incentive. The few infringements we do spot are people using fotoLibra watermarked Previews on their websites, on the basis that if it’s on the internet, it must be free. On behalf of our Pro and Platinum members, we have successfully sued every commercial infringer we have discovered in our jurisdiction.

Stealing money is far more devious, and we fell for it once — and only once. This is how it works. First ‘You’ steal someone’s credit card details. Then You join fotoLibra as a free member and upload one picture. Then You join fotoLibra as a buyer, using the name on the stolen credit card. Then You buy the picture You’ve just uploaded for a humungous amount of money, using Your stolen credit card.

Unfortunately for You, we at fotoLibra scrutinise every sale carefully, and if something doesn’t look right, we pounce — unlike lethargic banks and credit card companies.

There was an incident last year when an Indonesian photographer uploaded a couple of images and six hours later two separate women in the USA signed up as buyers and bought his images for large sums of money. We notify photographers of sales every 30 days, but somehow our Indonesian chummy felt sure his images had been sold long before we would have informed him and pestered us daily to pay him ‘his’ money. We didn’t, and six weeks later the bank removed the entire amount from our account, citing credit card fraud. Strange that we never heard back from the photographer after we informed him a criminal investigation was under way.

Yesterday and today we made two big image sales, both of (I’m sorry to say) of unremarkable images, both uploaded by different Vietnamese photographers. One was bought for a great deal of money by an Australian, the other for nearly as much money by a lady in Leicestershire.

Now if my name is Gwyn Headley, I can’t for the life of me see why I should open a Hotmail account under the name of phil.bennett.1972@hotmail.com. It’s just not logical. So when we saw the lady in Leicestershire — let’s call her Lulu Leicester — had ‘bought’ the image using the email address Debbie Derby the first warning bells began to ring.

We searched for ‘Lulu Leicester’ online, and found a telephone number for her. She is a respected academic. We rang her and asked ‘Have you recently bought a photograph from fotoLibra.com?’ No, she hadn’t heard of us. ‘Does your credit card end in 1234?’ Yes, it does. “Cancel it immediately,’ we said, ‘it has been compromised and has been used in an attempt to commit fraud.’

We haven’t contacted the Australian gentleman, but as he signed up as a buyer seven minutes after the second Vietnamese photographer joined up and uploaded his one photograph we suspect he’s probably not what he claims to be.

All this takes time and vigilance. The scam works this way: we pay 50% of the money we receive to the photographer, the thieves prove the use of a working credit card and go on to empty its resources in a matter of hours. Six weeks later (it’s always a little over six weeks, never any quicker) the banks wake up and deduct the money from our account, never informing us in advance.

The Australian purchaser tried three different credit cards in three different names before the fourth went through. We cancelled these transactions immediately.

We can track these people down — we know where they are — and we would be happy to pass the information on to the competent authority. The trouble is, who has the authority? And are they competent?

Wouldn’t it be nice if the banks were as alert as we try to be?

We have come across websites which are using fotoLibra images without paying for them. They are using watermarked Preview images, which anyone is at liberty to drag off the site, but not for commercial use.

I’ve borrowed the following piece in its entirety from Jacqui Norman’s May fotoLibra Newsletter because I think an important function of a picture library is not only to sell but also to guard and protect our photographers’ assets, and if we come across any unauthorised image usage it is our duty to harry and beset the perpetrators as best we can. In Britain we have the Small Claims Court which we will unhesitatingly use — overseas it’s more difficult, but there are ways and means — one of which Jacqui proposes at the end of her article.

The benefit for fotoLibra photographers is that a complaint from a company will usually carry more weight then a complaint from an individual. A company is generally perceived to have deeper pockets and better legal support than most individuals, and will usually be prepared to pursue trivial debts which a sole person may not be able to afford, in time or money.

We’re mainly talking here about image sales in the region of £25 / $40. This is not going to rescue Greece’s economy, but if our photographers are losing money through illegal usage, then so are we. We are going to do something about it — but you have to help us by following this procedure. Over to Jacqui:

fotoLibra Member Bob Crook alerted us when he found one of his images with a large fotoLibra watermark being used on somebody’s blog. He asked if we’d made the sale, and we hadn’t —  the thief had simply stolen the lo-res watermarked Preview and posted it on her blog.

But Do Not Panic. Your original images are safe. They cannot be downloaded from the fotoLibra site without our knowledge. But anyone can drag Thumbnails and Previews off any website, which is why in our case they are protected with embedded metadata and, in the case of Previews, with embedded watermarks too. We don’t mind students using such images for free in dissertations and essays. If they want to use an unwatermarked version they have to pay, which of course outrages them because they think everything on the internet should be free.

If it’s not for student use, we charge. But how do you track down unauthorised usage of your images?

Here’s how Bob does it, slightly adapted to suit all fotoLibra members:

Open Google Images in one browser.
In another browser, go to your Portfolio in the fotoLibra Control Centre. Choose one of your images. Double click to enlarge it into a watermarked Preview image.
Highlight the image, and slide it onto the bar on the Google page.
It will take only a few seconds to search.
When it has finished you will see the image at the top of the page and a list underneath of where it is being used.

It also attempts to show you similar images by matching the colours. Sometimes this is impressive. Sometimes it makes you realise how alien a computer’s “intelligence” can be.

If you have some curiosity and spare time, please check through some of your images this way. If you do find evidence that one or more of your images is being used without your knowledge or consent, this is what we want you to do: Email me [that’s jacqui (dot) norman (at) fotoLibra (dot) com] with a) the FOT number of your image, and b) the precise, full URL of where you saw that image being used.

We will contact the abusers and demand payment on your behalf. We can never guarantee success, particularly in overseas jurisdictions, but we can certainly frighten them, and we can name and shame them.

In fact — here’s a thought — if people don’t pay up, I might publish a regular Cheat List, where we can publicise URLs where any unpaid for fotoLibra Preview images appear, and fotoLibra members and friends can then comment on the probity and honesty (or otherwise) of the offending sites. What do you think?

Well Jacqui, I think it’s a good idea. Not a great one, because at heart I’m not confrontational, but if I sit down and think about this I can work myself up into quite a state of indignation. These people — I don’t know how many of them there are — are thieves. Bob Crook has found two, and checking through ten of my underwhelming images I have already found two which are currently being used illegally. That’s 20%. Admittedly I did choose ten images I thought might lend themselves most readily to theft. Tineye is another good way of uncovering shady image use.

I’m happy to name and shame any site which uses a fotoLibra watermarked image without permission. However I won’t rush straight in whirling my bat around my head because I’ve stepped up to the plate for young Bob before, when he claimed some publisher had used a fotoLibra image without permission. We investigated and discovered the image had been uploaded to fotoLibra three weeks after the book had been published — Bob had sold it through another picture library and had forgotten all about it. We had our ears torn off by a slider from the publisher and I don’t think we’ll be selling them any images for a while.

So we’ll tread softly. And carry a big stick.

Credit Card Scam

January 31st, 2012
Gwyn Headley

by Gwyn Headley

Managing Director

The perceived risk of buying and selling using a credit card on the internet was the biggest single barrier to the growth of the World Wide Web.

In the eighteen years since I launched my first web site, that fear has largely been allayed. Internet users who now won’t buy with credit cards are a tiny minority. If your card is compromised in any way, the banks and card companies will refund your money and issue a new card.

But what protection is there for the merchants? The punter must be recompensed — but the financial organisations aren’t going to be the ones who lose. Someone has to pay. It’s going to be the merchants.

Here’s the Dramatis Personae of our little play:

  • Innocent Punter
  • Evil Fraudster
  • Innocent Merchant
  • Innocent Photographers
  • Innocent Credit Card Company
  • Innocent Bank

This is what happened to us. On Nov 17 Evil Fraudster used Innocent Punter’s credit card details to buy six images — over $800 worth — from us, the Innocent Merchant, and download them to Innocent Punter’s apparent email address.

On Nov 25 Innocent Punter signed an affidavit to say his card had been used in a fraudulent transaction, i.e. the purchase of $800 worth of images from fotoLibra. Innocent Merchant isn’t told of this, either by the bank or the credit card company. All we know is that $800 has been paid into our account and the images have been downloaded.

The $800 payment appears on our next bank statement. Christmas intervenes, and we make all the payments to our photographers on Jan 21. The $800 payment is still visible in our bank statements.

This morning, Jan 31, we receive a letter through the post from the bank telling us there has been a fraudulent transaction involving a credit card payment on Nov 17 and they are removing the $800 to pay for it. So the status quo of the Dramatis Personae is now as follows:

  • Innocent Punter — unscathed
  • Evil Fraudster — 6 digital images the richer
  • Innocent Merchant – $800 poorer
  • Innocent Photographers – $400 richer
  • Innocent Credit Card Company – unscathed
  • Innocent Bank – unscathed

My questions are

  1. Who benefits from this fraud? Evil Fraudster gets 6 images (which haven’t been used as far as we can tell). Innocent Photographers get $400. Assuming the photographers aren’t linked to Evil Fraudster, they’re doing better than he is.
  2. We pay the credit card companies substantial annual fees for the privilege of using their service. If they authorise a payment, we have to take their word for it. We cannot check every individual credit card transaction ourselves — that’s what we pay them to do.
  3. So why is Innocent Merchant the only loser in this scenario? If the bank and the card company says ‘Here’s the money — spend it wisely’, how come they can snatch it back nearly three months after they’ve given it to us?
  4. Most importantly, if the fraudulent transaction was reported on Nov 25, why weren’t we informed till Jan 31? That is OUTRAGEOUS.

Damien our IT guru has traced the route the transaction has taken. Unsurprisingly it trails back to those bastard Nigerians again. They’re not doing their country any favours at all. Could anyone ever trust a Nigerian nowadays?

Obviously the villain of the piece is the rogue Nigerian, but I fail to see how he can benefit from the scam. Can anyone enlighten me?

The end result is that we’ll just have to wait longer paying photographers after making a credit card sale from someone we haven’t dealt with before. 99% of credit card sales made through fotoLibra are perfectly legit. In fact, this is only the second one that’s gone wrong. The first one was such a blatant blag that even I could see through it — someone in Brazil signed up as a photographer and uploaded 4 photographs. The following day someone else from Brazil signed up as a buyer and bought the four images for £2,000. We then should have paid the Brazilian photographer £1,000. But we had our suspicions. We waited. And the bank claimed back the money after three months. We were not compensated.

But I cannot figure this scam out.