It took the world by storm. Only days before the Olympics, a convincing and elaborate online ticketing scam (beijingticketing.com) was uncovered.
This article was written by Daniel Banik, founder and director of marketing services at Melbourne-based digital agency, August.
It fleeced an estimated $50 million from hundreds of victims across the globe.
The site was convincing, clean in design, quite functional and here’s the clincher – it ranked number one in Google search (before the site was taken down), despite having no official IOC endorsement.
So what are the lessons here?
It’s clear that small-time shysters and large-scale organised internet fraud operations alike are honing their web development capabilities and that the perception and “look” of a website site is often enough to encourage even quite discerning and otherwise intelligent people (some very high-profile people were reportedly duped) to part with their hard earned cash.
What’s clear is that the line between dubious and “legit” operation is becoming increasingly blurred; in fact this dodgy website has better design and functionality than many authentic and legitimate e-commerce sites.
The alleged mastermind behind this scheme was a middle-aged Brit, who is apparently a serial offender when it comes to online ticketing scams. One thing is for sure – he (or his dastardly team) knew the principles of good web design and usability, and how they could use that to gain trust and credibility.
Here are seven things the scammers did well:
- SEO number 1 Google ranking (the Google brand inspires trust).
- Legitimate e-commerce application and payment gateway.
- Logo design and branding (very similar to official logo and incidentally breaches copyright).
- Clean, streamlined and professional looking design (to the untrained eye).
- Intuitive navigation and logical structure (relatively speaking).
- British-based call centre for phone inquiries.
- Use of high-quality stock library images.
There were a few clues that this site was not the real deal (such as listing a British phone number with a street address in Phoenix, Arizona, and contradictory information about whether it was a public or private company), but for the most part it was a convincing and well-thought out operation.
You can’t always judge a website by its cover. Online businesses can learn from the basic strategy and formula used by these crooks; adhering to good design and layout, importance of SEO, strong branding, high-quality imagery, intuitive navigation.
You can help keep SmartCompany free for everyone to read
Small and medium businesses and startups have never needed credible, independent journalism and information more than now.
That’s our job at SmartCompany: to keep you informed with the news, interviews and analysis you need to manage your way through this unprecedented crisis.
Now, there’s a way you can help us keep doing this: by becoming a SmartCompany Supporter.
Even a small contribution will help us to keep doing the journalism that keeps Australia’s entrepreneurs informed.
And it’s not all one-way traffic either. SmartCompany Super Supporters get to dial into our monthly editor’s meeting and attend a monthly, invite-only webinar with a big-name entrepreneur.