Beware of fancy infographics–spammers may be lurking behind them

Infographics are the latest trick for suckering you into signing up for spammy Web sites. Here's a story about one of them.

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How, I wondered, could running a link to an infographic adversely affect my site, some two years down the road? Why would Google think I’d traded something for that link? Who was OnlineSchools, exactly, and what the heck did they want from me?

A further series of email exchanges with Bergstrom did not get me any closer to an answer to those questions. And the more I looked into OnlineSchools.org, the skeevier it began to appear.

To be clear, the site is professionally designed and has some depth. It’s chock full of generic information about online schools. It has 100 of these elaborate infographics, which could not have been cheap to produce. It has video interviews with recent graduates of online schools. It has a “library” with more than 150 brief educational tomes. It has freakin’ Lou Ferrigno, for godsakes.

Someone with money is clearly behind this business. But who, exactly? There’s no contact information, no executive profiles or board of advisors, and no physical address, just an extremely vague “About Us” page and an anonymous Web contact form (which, by the way, didn’t work). The domain owner’s name is masked. The site’s privacy policy is a joke.

The worst part, though, is the site’s reason for existence: lead generation. It exists solely to capture information about people who are in the market for online college degrees, and to sell that information to as many parties as possible.

Using the Find A School Web app on the home page, I signed up to see what would happen. I told OnlineSchools I was looking to get a bachelor’s degree in information technology. I gave it all the data it asked for, which was a lot -- my name, age, email address, street address, phone number, highest level of education completed, and when I wanted to start school.

The site proceeded to run me through brief applications for more than 15 schools, some well known and others totally obscure. Some of these schools didn’t even offer a degree in my chosen field but, no matter, the site showed me them anyway. As soon as I clicked through one brief application, the next one would automatically load on my screen. After the 16th application I gave up. Who knows how long this process would have gone on if I hadn't.

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