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Content Scam Alert: Using Foreign Characters to Make the Piece Look Unique

content scam Content Scam Alert: Using Foreign Characters to Make the Piece Look UniqueManaging a huge and active guest blogging community is exciting. I never stop discovering new and new things.

In fact, the scam I am going to share today isn’t new at all.

It’s been around for ages, but considering I’ve been involved in the content marketing for quite some time and have never seen this before, I’ve figured it may be new to you as well.

If you accept guest articles or outsource content creation, you’ll be as surprised to hear about this scam as I was. It’s almost impossible to catch!

The scam is not easy to explain, so let’s start with a short exercise:

Do these pieces look exactly the same?
“This post looks at one type of content re-packaging: turning your old content into an image…” “This pоst lооks at оne type оf cоntent re-packaging: turning yоur оld cоntent intо an image…”

Well, they are not… Let’s compare the source code in the editor:

“This post looks at one type of content re-packaging: turning your old content into an image…” “This pоst lооks at оne type оf cоntent re-packaging: turning yоur оld cоntent intо an image…”
content scam 01 Content Scam Alert: Using Foreign Characters to Make the Piece Look Unique content scam 02 Content Scam Alert: Using Foreign Characters to Make the Piece Look Unique

Note: If you select the source code in the second column and click “View Selection Source”, you are most likely to be unable to see the wicked symbols even there (the above screenshots are made from the HTML editor).

Now try also searching Google by directly copy-pasting each text from *each* column:

“This post looks at one type of content re-packaging: turning your old content into an image…” “This pоst lооks at оne type оf cоntent re-packaging: turning yоur оld cоntent intо an image…”
content scam 04 Content Scam Alert: Using Foreign Characters to Make the Piece Look Unique content scam 05 Content Scam Alert: Using Foreign Characters to Make the Piece Look Unique

Wicked, huh?

Like Google, no duplicate content checker will ever recognize that line of text as a copy from the existing text.

How the Heck Could This Happen?

Simple. The text from the second column contains Cyrillic character “о” which looks exactly the same as the English “o” but, taken from another language, it forms a new word.

Here a better explanation:

every word is actually a mix of Western European and Cyrillic characters. Cyrillic is made of unique characters, as well as characters that look exactly like ours. E.g. the letters “M” “o” “c” “b” etc. display the same in Russian and in English, but they actually have a different code

How Do I Detect the Scam?

>>>Search Google: as in the screenshot above, Google won’t find *anything*, even a very common word, when it has foreign characters. Or at least it’ll treat it as a mistyped word:

content scam 06 Content Scam Alert: Using Foreign Characters to Make the Piece Look Unique

>>>Use UTF Converters (this one for example) to any errors:

content scam 07 Content Scam Alert: Using Foreign Characters to Make the Piece Look Unique

>>>Try Google Translate: It won’t be able to either read the phrase in voice or translate it:

content scam 08 Content Scam Alert: Using Foreign Characters to Make the Piece Look Unique

WordPress plugin: There’s absolutely cool new plugin that can decode your WordPress content to UTF-8. lease download it and always get alarmed of stolen content:

decode your wordpress content to utf 8 Content Scam Alert: Using Foreign Characters to Make the Piece Look Unique

How Can the “Alien” Characters Be Stripped?

If you have identified the scam and want to find where the article was initially published, that’s not going to be easy. Simply put, there are hardly any…

WYSIWYG editor - Our very-much-loved WordPress Editor not only fails to strip the alien characters (which is quite natural as who knows what they should be converted into), but also fails to signal about them in any way (it turns the corresponding code into normally-looking characters). So if you are using WordPress and copy-paste the text from the second column into the “Visual” editor, you won’t notice anything. This makes the scam even more dangerous and easier to go away with. My WordPress even didn’t highlight the words with foreign characters as errors.

content scam 09 Content Scam Alert: Using Foreign Characters to Make the Piece Look Unique

Notepads (or any clipping utility that is meant to strip the code): not all of them. Unicode Notepad (any modern Windows or Mac version now runs them) won’t strip the alien characters unless you save the file and choose to save ASCII (not Unicode), then close the file and re-open it. The words having alien characters might be highlighted as errors in some cases:

content scam 03 Content Scam Alert: Using Foreign Characters to Make the Piece Look Unique

Conclusion

The best advice here: search Google! Even if the article you are going to publish passes Copyscape, grab a long phrase from it and search for the exact match to make sure Google understands it.

Good luck!

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by alancleaver_2000

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 Content Scam Alert: Using Foreign Characters to Make the Piece Look Unique
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  1. 12 Responses to “Content Scam Alert: Using Foreign Characters to Make the Piece Look Unique”

  2. Hi Ann
    These guys are clever – pitty they can’t find a better outlet for their intelligence.

    Thanks for the warning.

    By Keith Davis on Dec 10, 2011

  3. Yow Ann!

    Good thing I got this heads up quite early. Been wondering how some of obviously copied articles still come up clean on plagiarism checks. Will look out for this one from now on.

    Ai

    By Lean Airo on Dec 10, 2011

  4. Nice catch,Ann! This is a new one to me. As Keith said, what a shame they can’t put their brain to better use.

    I’d expect that Google would be able to easily detect such tricks, if they consider it worthy of their attention. Since there’s little chance of any organic SEO benefit from such tactics, though, I suspect the most likely purpose is to bilk buyers of articles. Though dropping a link on someone else’s blog is certainly a possibility.

    Thanks for the heads-up.

    By Doc Sheldon on Dec 10, 2011

  5. @Doc, Google is already best at identifying the scam (this is why I encourage everyone to search Google). But many people buying content and accepting guest posts may be unaware of the fact they are publishing nonsense! Unless they search Google, they will never be able to find out.

    And you’d be surprised how well the scam is spread already. Several people in the thread I linked to above said, they had come across such scammers once or twice!

    By Ann Smarty on Dec 10, 2011

  6. So the flip side is, someone else could be ripping off your content, selling it to the unsuspecting, and making it that much harder for you to find the instances of copyright violation (which it still IS). GREAT.

    By Holly Jahangiri on Dec 12, 2011

  7. This article is totally new for me. I have never think for such type of alert.l have heard about a lot of scam but it is totally different. Thanks for putting this blog and to alert everyone…

    By kelvin on Dec 13, 2011

  8. @Holly, well, yes, but.

    The good thing is that the content that the scammer creates by ripping your articles and substituting some characters, that content in the end makes no sense to Google

    It will still look good for the end reader but hopefully that reader won’t be able to find it (since the page won’t be normally indexed as an English one and thus won’t be found anywhere in Google)

    By Ann Smarty on Dec 13, 2011

  9. Its an occupational hazard this copying menace, and the sooner a solution is found to eradicate it, the better.

    By Imtiaz Hami on Dec 14, 2011

  10. Wow, never thought about it. There are many languages and many letters which could be mixed this way.
    But for scammers it also takes times to compose such “articles”. It seems for me it’s not popular technique, but of course bloggers must be aware of it

    By Flodner on Jan 25, 2012

  11. Ann,

    Wow. This is really shady! Thank you for posting it.

    In a shameless self-promotion, I’ve created a simple edit for your WordPress theme that will automatically uncover this hidden character scam in the same way that the decode tool to does:

    http://www.gregboggs.com/decode-your-wordpress-content-to-utf-8/

    By Greg Boggs on Jan 28, 2012

  12. Awesome, Greg! I have update the article to include your plugin!

    By Ann Smarty on Jan 29, 2012

  13. “The best advice here: search Google! Even if the article you are going to publish passes Copyscape, grab a long phrase from it and search for the exact match to make sure Google understands it.”

    – – –

    You should add that you can’t copy and paste it into google because then you’re pasting the foreign characters. To check if its original, manually type 5-6 of the words all in quotations for the exact phrase search. Chances are, it won’t be original (at least the sources it was created from) but if it’s intended for SEO as well, that’s not even the issue. The bigger issue is it’s probably going to have negative value to google because to a computer (or word processor), it’s a mashup of nonsense characters from different languages with contain no real keywords or even words at all.

    To google’s eyes, an artile in UTF with foreign characters will have about as much value as a page full of random letters and numbers. Because that’s exactly what it is…

    And yes I just got scammed by this on a Fiverr gig. Going to see what can be done about it.

    By Danny on Sep 26, 2012

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