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Strange and pointless posts on Here?

I could not think of another place to post this and I am wondering is these are somehow a scam,
But I have been seeing several really odd posts by either first time posters or very very knew posters. That seam to have no actual point.
They are on step up from something like “In London it often rains, it is suggested that one use an umbrella in that case”
Kind of posts.
I am wondering if this is some sort of advertising or click bate or what? Does the poster of these want yo claim they give advice on RS web site or something? Maybe the recent increase in online and email scams has me seeing ghosts but I do wonder what is going on with these kinds of posts and if it is one person/company that is using more then one log in ID?

Anyway I was just wondering what you folks think about this,

Posted by
5044 posts

There are plenty of strange or seemingly pointless or inane threads that are started on these forums. And not just by newbies. Some may be scams if they are including links to unknown sites. Others...who knows what motivates them. Either report them or ignore them.

Posted by
8597 posts

Yes, I think you are correct. After a while, you get a sense of when something is not a real post but rather advertising. May even be bots, not real people posting. They seem to come in waves. If you're not up early, you may not see how many get reported and are gone before most people read them.

Posted by
15993 posts

Yep, pretty sure it's AI generated. I picked this detection tool up from a different site I belong to.

https://www.zerogpt.com

Copy paste the suspicious text into the "Detect Text" box for result.
I just did this with the text from one post today and it came up 100% suspect of being AI generated. Evidently if it comes up as 50% suspect or more, it's most likely an AI post: more of the text block highlighted in yellow, the greater the chance.

Just as a test, I copy/pasted in the text of your reply above, Stan, and it came up as "most likely human written"...which it is. :O)

Posted by
8597 posts

Thanks Kathy, it appears the assimilation is not yet complete.

Posted by
4574 posts

I have noticed it too, and figure a number are AI generated...no links but reading more like a newbie travel guide to 'wherever. I report those I can tell is spamming, but not the AI suspects yet....particularly when there are several replies to the statement.

Posted by
23432 posts

Na, I think we are over speculating. There are a couple of long time posters who like to throw out "subjects for discussion." Maybe a notch or two short of a troll but something just to be entertained with a discussion. To me the scam postings or ever advertising don't last long as they get reported quickly and web masters response is good at deleting these postings. I think some of our posters get bored and like to stir the pot a bit. And maybe a few more recently. But none like we used to get from "he who shall be named."

Posted by
222 posts

Probably overspeculating but...

"Ask HN: What are these strange random strings spamming my blog?"

I recognize that IP address! Your site is being used as a pawn in a rather sneaky attack, and I was hit by it recently. Those email addresses belong to the victims—like me.

Let’s say I’m a hacker. I’ve gotten into Alice’s Amazon account and
want to place a bunch of orders using her payment info. However, I
don’t want her to notice until after I’ve received the ill-gotten
goods.

To ensure she doesn’t notice the email notifications from Amazon, I
want to “bury” those emails with spam. I can do this by entering her
email into tons of online forms. Most will only send a single
email—for example, your blog will probably only ask Alice to confirm
her email—but once is enough.

This happened to me a couple weeks ago with Apple. Someone used the
default billing and shipping info on my Apple account to place an
order for an iPhone 14 Pro Max. I woke up to hundreds of emails from
various blogs and other sites asking me to confirm my email. Being a
security researcher, I knew that meant someone didn’t want me to see
something else that had landed in my inbox.

I went through each one by hand. One included the IP address that
submitted the form, which was interesting but not particularly useful.
Eventually I found the receipt from Apple.

Posted by
7573 posts

You’re right, douglas, I’ve recently noticed several seemingly innocuous postings (usually by a first-time or pretty new “poster”) and initially thought it was a scam. But then I didn’t see any link buried in the text, nothing on which to click and maybe get phished or pirated.

I guessed it was someone trying to be helpful, or thinking they were enlightening the world. Reading some of these responses, maybe it’s an AI with nothing better to do. Or maybe there actually is something nefarious afoot.

Posted by
33133 posts

yup nefarious.

In many but not all cases.

They think that they'll get caught as a first timer spammer, but they think if they put in 2 or 3 decoy posts they won't get caught by the post count checker.

Or they post an innocuous sleeper post. When they think they've been missed they insert a link or change the text or both.

And when people respond to the posts their little app captures the activity and they know they have a fish on the line.

That's why our Webmaster cries little tears when a good Samaritan posts "reported to Webmaster" or some other variety of comment on a spammer thread.

Posted by
14163 posts

Kathy that is an awesome tool!

And yes, Douglas, I've noticed as well.

Yea for the webmaster!

Posted by
9780 posts

Kathy - wow ! Very interesting.

Nigel - I hadn't thought of most of the possible tricks you describe. Also very interesting.

Posted by
8597 posts

I've thought that some of these posts that dont include a suspicious link, were actually setting things up for another spammer to make a reply with the suspicious link.

Posted by
33133 posts

the spammers are always looking for ways to be one step ahead.

I have found over the years that I can sniff out most. I'm sure some still get by in the huge flow of posts there is here now, but if we all go about quietly reporting them we'll get most of them.

I saw one the other day that had changed so long ago the thread had self sealed from inactivity. Too bad -and too late to do anything....

Posted by
1160 posts

Often the spam messages are created in the evening or on the weekend when the good folks in the RS office aren't around to take them down. On some other forums there are volunteer moderators with the power to at least suspend a post or a thread until the forum administrators can take a look. This gives coverage pretty much around the clock. It seems like that would be a good idea here too. Some posters on the forum have been around quite a while and I think the RS forum could entrust a few willing to volunteer with these powers.

Another thing some forums do is require the first post or two by new members to be approved by an administrator prior to showing up on the forum. This isn't bulletproof but at least raises the bar a bit.

Posted by
7573 posts

OK, so are these people (or AI bots) really thieves, intent on stealing from naive victims? Or malevolent crooks, trying to ruin people? Or sleazeballs trying to make an easy buck, taking unfair advantage of a Website with an audience?

Or they just don’t have anything better to do? Does somebody responding with a “Reported to Webmaster” really put people at risk - financial, personal safety, mental or emotional? If this is more than an annoyance, there must be places all over the Web where the evil people are trying to break in, looking for a foothold to begin their crimes. Can the Webmaster confirm what to do or not do, and how, and when?

Posted by
1097 posts

Read RobertH's post above! ^^
Good stuff. I work InfoSecurity-adjacent and this was a new one to me. Thanks for sharing.

Posted by
963 posts

"Can the Webmaster confirm what to do or not do, and how, and when?"

Please just report it and don't reply to it.

Getting multiple reports about a post is not a problem for us, though I appreciate that part of the intent of replying is so that others don't need to use their time to report it. Still, please don't reply. We've tried to make our reporting process super fast and easy so that it's not a big deal and doesn't take more than a few seconds as you move about the forum.

It's mostly for behavioral reasons, but our guideline about not responding to guideline violations is inclusive of these scenarios. It's less about somehow becoming a victim as a result of saying "reported," and more about giving any signal that their thread has found some sort of traction. Keep in mind every reply bumps the thread to the top of the message boards. Let spam or suspected spam slide down the message board, and let us review and clean it up.

Thanks also for the notes about other ways to handle it. Many of you have been here so long that you probably haven't noticed that we've significantly tightened the screws on new accounts. I'm not giving any details here as I don't wish it to be publicly posted, but it's there.

Empowering other forum members as moderators is still a nice idea, but it requires an expansion of our admin system and additional oversight. We may get there someday, but we don't have the kind of volume to necessitate it at this time. Also, we sincerely appreciate the help we already get from you in your reports, and to some extent we don't want to put any additional burden on anyone! This community is pretty great in how it looks out for each other.

Posted by
222 posts

@celeste: They're usually pretty tech competent at HN but I'm still going to look for confirmation in other places. This is just the first place I've seen it.

Posted by
8597 posts

Cyn,

OK, so are these people (or AI bots) really thieves, intent on stealing from naive victims? Or malevolent crooks, trying to ruin people? Or sleazeballs trying to make an easy buck, taking unfair advantage of a Website with an audience?

I dont think most of the ones I see are evil-doers. Most seem to be people trying to make a buck by selling stuff, even if it's just ad revenue from hits on their sites.

I think the screening system here works good compared to other sites I visit. The RS forum is not a revenue generator (maybe indirectly) so it can't be something we should expect them to invest too many $$ and man-hours to perfect. And we all owe thanks to Nigel and other outside the US who report violations in the hours we are asleep.

Posted by
7573 posts

Webmaster and stan,

Thank you both for the additional input. I couldn’t fathom how an annoying post could be emptying the bank account of Rick Steves, his company, or any poster/viewer of a suspicious thread who doesn’t click on a suspicious embedded link. But if there’s ad revenue to be had, I can understand the appeal of posting something here, however inane.

I also couldn’t understand how a simple “Reported” amounted to the no-no of feeding the troll, but with these bogus/useless/frivolous/seemingly nonsensical posts, the less said, the better. Report it and move on … got it.

Posted by
804 posts

I do not think that many posts are AI. They say that there are no stupid questions, but there are lazy ones. There are many post here whereby I can answer their questions in less than a couple minutes by using google. Why the poster has never gone that route before posting is beyond me. They are lazy.
There are also pointless answers to questions. Maybe someone asks about eating in Munich, someone might answer they have never been to Munich, but that 10 years ago they had a great meal at such and such in Rome.
Many many posts here can be easily answered with RS tips section. Yet people continue us to post questions that they could have accessed there.
Why?

Posted by
8597 posts

treemoss2, some people have suggested a generational difference. Whereas older folks are more prone to doing research (like guidebooks) as part of their planning research, younger people are used to jumping to social media as their initial research. Somehow a belief its more reliable and easier to get others to do your research. Happens on every forum I'm familiar with. And getting people to do Searches and read FAQs is hopeless.

Posted by
740 posts

The posts I was referring to were on at least two occasions the first post of said account. And the third was something like the second or third post. And they were not attempts to start discussions. I occasionally to start discussions if things seams slow. These had nothing to reply to.