The Independent has come out with an investigative piece revealing a scam carried out by "rogue editors" of Wikipedia targeting hundreds of small British businesses and minor celebrities.
The scam operates with fraudsters targeting firms which are struggling to get pages about their businesses on Wikipedia to get more potential customer interest. The businesses were contacted and told by those posing as Wikipedia editors or administrators that their articles had been rejected due to "concerns of excessive promotional content". There are cases when the scammers themselves may have been behind the removal of said articles themselves. The scammers would then offer a "solution" to the confused business owners or their staff by demanding a payment of up to several hundred pounds to successfully "re-post or re-surface" a particular article.
Once the money demanded was paid, the concerned article was then supposedly "reviewed" by another Wikipedia user and moved to the article space section of Wikipedia and would be ready for publication. There are also cases where the scammers would even demand an on-going monthly payment to "protect" the articles.
Victims range from a wedding photographer in Dorset to a high-end jewelry shop in Shoreditch, east London to a former Britain's Got Talent contestant. Wikipedia after getting wind of the scan has taken action against what it described as the "coordinated group" of fraudsters by blocking 381 suspicious accounts. It launched a thorough investigation that lasted two months and found that questionable accounts were controlled by Wikipedia users offering to change and protect articles about companies and private individuals in exchange for payment.
Wikipedia also suspected that many of the dubious accounts were "sock puppets"- they were controlled by the same person. At this stage, Wikipedia says the true identity of the scammers is still unknown.
Wikipedia has also observed some common descriptions of the scammed articles- they were generally promotional in nature, and often included biases or skewed information, contain unattributed material, and have potential copyright violations.
Wikipedia as a free online encyclopedia has grown to almost five million English articles since 2001. It uses a team of more than 250,000 people to protect the authenticity of its content. The scam has shown the weakness in the website's dependence on volunteers to create and edit its online content, however. Such set-up leaves the site vulnerable to abuse.
The site has appealed to users to "be kind to the article subjects", describing them as the "victims in this situation."