Is FixYa Dead? Have the scammers won?

FixYa is a site where people can post ‘how do i fix…’ questions online, and other members volunteer suggestions to solve the problem. This is similar to Quora and Yahoo Answers. While there have been debates on the quality of the answers (FixYa seems to reward speed over accuracy), the quality of the questions (many seekers are not good at articulating their problem, or even the make and model of device they are using), or the revenue model (every question gets a ‘suggested answer’ to pay for telephone support from, I have been participating from time to time on the free site, for the good feeling of helping others.

However, the FixYa site is now overrun with ‘questions’ that consist of spam. The form this is taking are posts that provide a phone number for support for a particular company or product, such as “GMail Support for New York l8OO.333~l23.5 Toll Free “, interspersing characters and substituting alphabetic lookalikes for numbers. (to skirt a simple ###-###-#### filter that would reject the post. FixYa’s elementary algorithm is fooled by the simplest of evasions).

Update Nov. 8 2019: I sent an email to VerticalScope corporate outlining the issue and requesting a response.

Update Nov. 14 2019: No reply from VerticalScope or FixYa. But in a perverse turn of events, FixYa has now blocked my account from posting answers or comments. I also see that the top spam deleting Expert “Antispam” has not posted in the past 24 hours, I have no way of knowing whether FixYa has blocked him or not. Yet our most persistent spammer “Anku Singhala” who was reported 4 weeks ago, is still spamming strong today with 805 scam posts up (despite having 1000’s deleted).

Update Nov 15 Account reinstated with no explanation…

The dark side is that these toll free numbers will connect unsuspecting users with criminal call centers,

Is this Avast’s phone number. I . Don’t. Think. So.
The scammer reused boilerplate from a Dell support scam post, and said that Avast was founded by Michael Avast (instead of Michael Dell). Typical of the random text they insert to avoid detection.

Once a user phones, the operators will attempt to get the user to log into a poisoned website where the operator will take over the user’s computer to install viruses, spyware, ransomware, or to steal the user’s identity. Or they could use social engineering, persuasion or bullying tactics to directly extort money, charge card information, or other valuables.

CBC recently reported on a tech-support scam call centre in India, where they were pulling in $2,000-$3,000 in scammed money per operator, per day, with dozens or hundreds of operators. The BBC ran a similar article.

That FixYa permits these posts to remain on the site for more than 1 minute is inexcusable.

FixYa Support scam photo
A ‘Question’ on FixYa The scammer was sloppy with this post and one of the phone numbers got trapped and *******’ed out.
These template-generated posts are crude and easy to spot because of the nonsensical grammar and repetition but don’t be complacent. The scammers will get better writing and editing, and help-site users who are in distress with a problem are not prone to thinking all that critically.

The FixYa FAQ says this about reporting: “Click the “Report Abuse” link or icon (small flag)”.
See if you can spot the “Report Abuse” link below.

Yeah, it is hiding under the “Flag” text, no Flag icon to be found.

As of Oct 18 User “BROWN” (brown-42171) already had 658 spams and rising. Three days later they are still active and have 450 spams despite a concerted effort to delete them. User “Love Guru” (ravi-miits-31691) is posting prolifically on Oct 25 after being reported Oct 17.

Once an answering user (a FixYa Expert) has passed a certain score threshold (for answers, “helpful” ratings, etc.), they are able to use additional links to delete posts or edit the post. I am using this new-found Expert power to post warnings and delete 800 numbers.

I am trying to warn FixYa readers to never use these 1-800 numbers. Ironically, answers are subject to automatic censorship at posting – the word “Fraud” is **** ‘ed out, and if you try to post the same answer to more than one question, then FixYa says “Oops” and blocks posting of the answer. (This results in having to manipulate each answer by changing some punctuation or wording to be able to post the next one.)

In the past four weeks I have edited, flagged or deleted more than 10,000 scam posts and reported over 550 users. And they come in faster than I can copy and paste the reports – at least hundreds of spam posts per hour. As far as I can tell there are about four other FixYa Experts doing the same, I am estimating volunteer Experts are deleting 5,000 – 10,000 spam per day. Some of these Experts report that this has been going on for weeks.

FixYa, which was originally based in California, is now owned by VerticalScope, a content and advertising company based in Toronto who operates numerous websites, which is in turn majority owned by Torstar, publisher and owner of the Toronto Star newspaper among others. VerticalScope went through a downsizing in staff in 2018, although it is recruiting for staff in Community Growth, Business Development and Ad Operations and Programmatic Performance.

FixYa gets revenue from onsite advertising (there are a lot of intrusive ads) and from their paid service, 6Ya, which sells subscriptions and recruits Gig-economy freelance ‘Experts’ to make money delivering phone support.

Torstar recently reported a sharp downturn in revenues, the lowest stock price in their history, and suspended their dividends til at least 2020

I have consolidated reports to the FixYa support mailbox outlining the offending usernames and the numbers (hundreds) of spam posts per username.
I have yet to receive a reply of any kind from FixYa or any evidence that any of these reported users have been deleted for spamming.
Or any evidence, frankly, that there is any staff moderation going on at all.

It is at the stage where scam ‘questions’ and answers outnumber legitimate how-to questions more than 100 : 1 in some categories, notably printers, computers, software and cellphones (and oddly, Carrier Air Conditioners, presumably a misapplication of the search term Cell Network Carrier, and probably assigned by an algorithm). If you are trying to work in an affected category the site is mostly unusable.

Update Nov 8: Today I checked the Unanswered Questions list. It takes scrolling down over 50 pages (147 scam questions) before you can reach the first real question. The Computer and Internet Unanswered Questions has about 600 scam posts before you get to a real question. This really raises the concern, is the FixYa site usable at all?

Note: Oct 18 The FixYa site is suffering major slowdowns and frequent Bad Gateway errors. Is it possible that the posting volume of scammers is actually causing a Denial of Service attack?

Update: Oct 20 the site is back to medium performance, and the efforts of the volunteer users is making some headway against the bulkage of spam so some questions can be found between the spams. But new spammer accounts keep appearing at the rate of dozens per day, and ‘vintage’ spammer accounts are still active despite being reported.

Doing a deeper dive, I see posts from over a year ago where six different answers are posted to a question, each with a different 1-800 number and or web link for (example) “Canon Printer Support” – none of which are the actual Canon number or website.

Answer scams: Checking these users’ answer histories, they have used their same 1-800 number and or website for ‘support’ for every question from Apple to Dell to Zebra. It is beyond the realm of possibility that these posts are anything other than;
at best – stealth advertising for paid support sites,
at worst – scam / criminal tech support fraud.
Both are in direct contravention of FixYa Terms and Conditions, yet these scam answers are still online over a year later.

The question is, will FixYa do what it takes to turn the tide on this inundation of dangerous spam? Will they continue to rely on the volunteer moderator community, or will they dedicate staff effort to fix this quickly and effectively? Will they give it only a quick fix, or should it provoke a deep-think about the structure of the site?

If you run an online forum you have to moderate it. And if you can’t train an algorithm to see how they are scrambling the information to evade simple filters, and to limit post by frequency, content or IP source, then you need to have direct human moderation. And not just volunteer moderators.

You are providing a platform for criminals and lending them your credibility. Unsuspecting consumers are getting hurt.

I can spot these scammers; why can’t you, FixYa.

FixYa owners, FixYourself.

Postscript: I have given up on FixYa, personally. I have never received a reply from Support despite dozens of requests. When I looked into the site recently, it appeared relatively spam free, with a smattering of nuisance and nonsense posts. Oddly, someone tried to post comments here on this blog, complaining that some FixYa user was being “bullied” by another user, and that user 2 should be banned. The credibility of these comments was undermined by multiple identical comments arriving from the same IP address, with different fake usernames. One doesn’t have to stretch to guess what manner of user it is who is complaining about being deleted.

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3 Responses to Is FixYa Dead? Have the scammers won?

  1. Ichabod says:

    all true.
    and on real web sites we use spam engines, off top black lists.
    I can then capture all IPs of the illegal spammers, (and really are DOS attacks)
    The idiots that do this kill there own illegal craft, if nobody can use the web site
    then how can steal folks, personal data. DERPS they are.
    A sharp admin person knows how to do this,. FIXYA is 100% clueless.

    In most cases we find the IPs are all from one tiny region, so we block all that.
    Trace routed , omg, I see its all from one switch in IRAN….. amazing no?

  2. steve says:

    antispam is alive and well at fixya. i assure you the site has improved somewhat as they dont have near as much spam as they once did. had nothing to do with people who run the site either. there are a few of us there that really care about helping people with their issues for free actually. the whiners who you mention are still there with other usernames but they are kept in check by long time users such as myself. its a free site and works ok but it could use some real moderators for sure. i highly doubt that will happen though. we can only hope so.

    • quill says:

      Amusing side note: I received a rant from someone who I assume is one of the spammers, saying that “Steve” is a bully and needs to be banned from Fixya for deleting their posts.

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