Fraudulent Websites targeting scientists and patients – Be wary out there!

By Eloise Mikkonen

It still continues to surprise me the way in which crowdfunding ventures are successful. Complete strangers supporting each other with a big leap of faith. The importance is not lost on me, I am eternally grateful that I jumped in the deep end and took on the adventure of funding my own research in this way – and even more so for the support that I received. But I thought I’d write this blogpost with a sense of warning about the possible dangers than one can come across in this age of the internet of things.

Since publishing in easily accessible open access journals online (which is highly encouraged nowadays to enable the visibility and sharing of research), I have been bombarded with a plethora of emails from editors of journals requesting that I publish with them because of my ‘esteemed knowledge and expertise’ on such-and-such a topic. There have been many instances of fraud and dodgy journals acting in despicable manners on the interwebs, and whilst I haven’t fallen victim to any (as yet), I think it’s important to point out the possibility and the variety of ways they can act with a few examples.

I was recently requested to participate as a speaker in a conference in the US. While this is an enormous honour for an early stage researcher, I was a little wary because of almost falling for an earlier trap to write a comment article on our recently published works that turned out to be a predatory journal (they take your paper, make you pay for it to be published, then don’t submit it to peer-review, and sometimes don’t even publish it! The catch being that you cannot then re-publish it anywhere else). So I did a bit of background research – they had a legitimate website set up, with a couple of well-known speakers, and it in all honesty looked pretty sound. But one last check I thought I’d try. I noticed a highly esteemed Professor listed as a speaker on the website. So I emailed him and asked whether he was due to talk at this conference. He responded that he was not at all involved (alarmingly he didn’t respond when I said that this website has him listed as a speaker and is probably using his name on some level of fraud to convince others to join). So the whole thing was a ruse to get researchers to sign up, pay registration fees (usually quite large sums), and probably hotel fees through the site’s own hotel booking system. A scam.

A more lighthearted experience I had was when I was requested to write a paper for a journal called the “Annals of Surgery and Perioperative Care”. Due to my experience in the field, I was requested to write a manuscript to submit for a “Special Issue on Autopsy” dealing with “recent advancements and challenges in treating Autopsy.” Yes, you read that right, apparently there’s treatments for death out there…

But there are more sinister acting individuals out there. I can’t remember how I came across this one, but surfing the web one day I came across a site for Memory Repair Protocol. Considering I walk in the field of Alzheimer’s and dementia, to suddenly come across a site claiming cures for these diseases, my alarm bells were clanging already before I was quarter of the way down the page (it’s a very long page). But I read on, because I thought perhaps they had some solid arguments for their theories. I will admit I used about half an hour to read through the site and do a little hunting further to determine the legitimacy of their supposed cure of dementia. What worried me was that many, many people had not. Reading through the comments on their website and also reviews on other websites, I was alarmed at the number of people that bought (paid actual money!) for something that they didn’t really know much about, save the legit-looking website. Only a few people (presumably the site moderators had deleted the majority of these ‘questionable’ messages) commented that in their hunt for actual published articles from the supposed professional attached to the studies they had found none! Another scam, but a much more serious one considering they prey on those in desperate need of a cure from a horrible disease.

So a word of warning to all out there – be wary of the danger of internet scams no matter how legit they may seem! Until next time!

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