Scott Hanselman

Technical Analysis: The Abercrombie and Fitch Brown Pants Fiasco, "Splogs," and you

March 22, '12 Comments [25] Posted in Blogging
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Offensive Abercrombie and Fitch Pants on a Chinese Knockoff SiteWARNING - This post will ultimately lead you to sites using offensive racial terms.

My Twitter friend Wesley pointed me this apparent Abercrombie and Fitch website advertising a pair of N***** Brown Pants. Here's a screenshot if that link dies. After the shock and frustration wears off, you ask yourself "How could this happen?" This link is spreading all over Twitter and the social web right now, and I'm sure that the Abercrombie PR machine will jump on it when their Twitter person wakes up.

Let me walk you through a few things.

  • First, what a technical-type person does (or should do) in this situation.
  • Second, why the internet is WAY WAY more screwed up than you ever thought
  • Third, why no one should really be buying anything on the web.

The Technical Details

While it's possible that an idiot at Abercombie entered the N-word text, my eye immediately went to the domain:

abercrombie-and-fitchoutlet.com

Note the dashes and the "and?" No internationally-known and copyrighted brand would have such a lousy domain. I'd expect Abercrombie.com, full stop. In fact, it is.

I loaded up Domain Tools to see who owns this obvious knockoff. Like actual physical knockoffs of pants, there's no good way to tell what's real and what's not. I hit: http://whois.domaintools.com/abercrombie-and-fitchoutlet.com

Registrant Contact:
   su ye
   ye su 
   +86.095156230147 fax: +86.095156230147
   NO.217 North Street, Yinchuan Qinghe
   yinchuanshi ningxia 750000
   CN

The domain is registered in China. OK, this is NOT Abercrombie's site. It can also be confirmed by the poor English on the site's about page as well as the throwaway reference to Chinese piracy:

A&F is the favorite brand of American college students, a lovely deer printed on the front of the youth fashion. Its fashion and personalized style always the certain reason some youngsters follow. Nowadays, Abercrombie and Fitch piracy in China has spread to unimaginable proportions. Soft cotton is comfortable in the apparel.

OK, so how much of a problem is this and these pants? The combination of the N-word along with a unique brand-name like Abercrombie makes for a good hash. That means these words together, especially if you add "pants," makes for a search term that is unlikely to happen in the wild.

It's worse than you think

If we then Google for the four words together (forgive me) you can see hundreds if not thousands of fake domains. For Example:

  • newabercrombies.com
  • abercrombieandfitchoutletsale.com
  • abercromibesaleonlione.com
  • marvelousabercombie.com
  • afsonlinesale.com
  • cheapabercrombiestore.com

You get the idea. There are at least hundreds. All with the same pants, all registered in China. I can't imagine, sadly, that there's ANYTHING that Abercrombie could do about this except try to get the domains shut down - one by one.

How could your Mom possibly know this?

These are automatically generated sites, like "splogs." Splogs are spam blogs. They aren't real stores, there aren't real people behind them. They are almost like computer viruses, except they make stores. In this case, it appears that someone in China at some point designed a system that could churn out fake stores from a single database. That's why these pants keep appearing on hundreds of other sites.

Imagine if you just wanted a regular pair of pants and didn't see this pair? How could you possibly tell if this the site you want? There's no good way. Here's what you CAN do.

  1. Make sure the URL starts with https:// when you are checking out.
  2. Click the lock in your URL and see if the company name looks legit. Sadly, these can be faked also, but it's a start. HTTPS (SSL) doesn't mean "I can trust this site," it means "this conversation is private." You still might be having a private conversation with Satan.
    Check the lock
  3. Even better, if your Address Bar is green, click on it! This is a special "high trust" certificate that says you are really talking to who you think you are. This screenshot means "I am having a private conversation with a company that is KNOWN to be Twitter." Banks and big companies often use these special certs.
    Green Address Bar is good

Ultimately, you, me, Mom and the Web need to develop a better "Internet Sense of Smell." The bad guys want our credit card numbers and will do everything they can to get them, even make ten-thousand fake Abercrombie and Fitch sites.

UPDATE: Thanks for the comments! If you (or Mom) had the Web of Trust installed, this is what you would have seen when visiting an evil site like this. I'm installing this free tool on Mom's machine today.

web of trust

Good luck out there. It's a messed up web.

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Thursday, March 22, 2012 8:19:53 PM UTC
web of trust points it out. event in the tweet. http://www.mywot.com/
ctrlShiftBryan
Thursday, March 22, 2012 8:28:21 PM UTC
Scott,

Thanks for the update on this, including how I can help my parents understand a bit more about how to spot a real business domain.

Tom
Thursday, March 22, 2012 8:37:27 PM UTC
It's worth mentioning that sites like these are "knock-off sites" much more often than they are credit card stealing sites. Meaning, if you order something from one of these sites, you will most likely actually get clothes in the mail, however they will be absolutely counterfeit. Even so-called "good fakes" are a terrible idea for countless reasons. Great post!
Thursday, March 22, 2012 8:39:22 PM UTC
Brian - Good point.
Thursday, March 22, 2012 8:41:50 PM UTC
At least with my mom, installing the web of trust addon has helped. I can't test it now to see how that link would have shown up, but she has learned to look to make sure she has the green circle before doing anything on a site.
Thursday, March 22, 2012 8:43:14 PM UTC
I'm going to check this Web Of Trust add-on out!
Thursday, March 22, 2012 9:27:46 PM UTC
Well, check out the real A&F site:

N Pants
Thursday, March 22, 2012 9:49:03 PM UTC
Note the dashes and the "and?" No internationally-known and copyrighted brand would have such a lousy domain. I'd expect Abercrombie.com, full stop. In fact, it is.


It's funny you say that. Because they actually OWN the domain name: http://www.abercrombie-and-fitch.com/

It happens to automatically redirect to http://www.abercrombie.com/
Thursday, March 22, 2012 9:50:36 PM UTC
Web of Trust is essential gear these days, but not just for the red flags it occasionally throws up. It adds useful information without adding much friction to browsing experience, so it's a great first step toward developing the 'Internet sense of smell' Scott talks about.

Once a person realizes that the web is a wretched hive of scum and villainy, they're more likely to embrace tools like ScriptNo, NoScript or Ghostery. That leads to safer Non-Technical Friends, which means happier techies everywhere.
Thursday, March 22, 2012 9:55:38 PM UTC
One of the problems I see with retailers is that they avoid keywords they should know are popular. For example, try to find information on Burberry outlets. They do exist, and before they closed the one in Freeport Maine, I use to shop there for my wife at Christmas. Since they closed I went to their main site to find a list of outlets or an online outlet, not a word about it. So I went to Google. All the results, except for their main site (which contains no references), were to sites not owned by the company.

Looking at Abercrombie and Fitch website, try to find information about an outlet (they do exist). Looking at the URL I'm guessing that is how someone landed at the fake site you reference.

I'm sure the geniuses in the marketing departments don't want to acknowledge the outlets exist because that would take away business from the stores. Of course their customers will still try to find information about the outlets which leads their customers to the fraud sites.

BTW, although more banks should use High Trust certificates, less than half of the major ones use it, even Chase doesn't have a green bar.
Josh
Thursday, March 22, 2012 10:11:20 PM UTC
Thanks for the analysis on this! I had only recently started seeing something pop up in my facebook and tumblr feeds. Now, I'm off to help diffuse the situation and calm some feelings down.
Thursday, March 22, 2012 10:49:28 PM UTC
Hey Scott,
the google search link is broken.
Thursday, March 22, 2012 11:17:20 PM UTC
Fixed
Friday, March 23, 2012 12:03:19 AM UTC
Should be built into the main browsers
PaulJ
Friday, March 23, 2012 2:27:43 AM UTC
Excellent article. Wesley Faulkner mentioned you in a post about the Abercrombie Fitch debacle (on FB). Since reading your article, I've enabled both the WOT and the Noscript Firefox add-ons. Your research is impeccable and thank you, thank you, thank you for this posting! -- Michele
Friday, March 23, 2012 3:03:42 AM UTC
It's funny you say that. Because they actually OWN the domain name: http://www.abercrombie-and-fitch.com/

It happens to automatically redirect to http://www.abercrombie.com/



A lot of legitimate companies are forced to engage in the practice of defensive registrations and/ or legal/ administrative actions in order to keep poachers and crooks from registering domains for such similar uses as we see here with abercrombie-and-fitchoutlet.com...

Apparently Abercrombie & Fitch engages in this practice at least to some extent (abercrombie-and-fitch.com)... the fact that it automatically redirects to Abercrombie.com speaks to that.

You just can't possibly account for every possible combination.
Seth
Friday, March 23, 2012 5:39:21 AM UTC
wow, just wow. I expect this is also happening with brands such as Canada Goose and other retailers/products with a lot of fake and counterfeits.
Friday, March 23, 2012 9:14:18 AM UTC
The internet olfactory organ would be greatly helped if something akin to domain tool's ownership output was welded into the browser address bar information in a similar fashion to how the https certificate check works.

So, you'd be able to click on hanselman.com and see (Private individual) in WA, USA, or microsoft.com and see Microsoft Corporation in WA, USA. Seeing that Twitter's domain and SSL certificate are registered from the same place would be a good extra check.

I'm sure the geniuses in the marketing departments don't want to acknowledge the outlets exist because that would take away business from the stores. Of course their customers will still try to find information about the outlets which leads their customers to the fraud sites.

Quite. They should nevertheless provide some way of confirming that an outlet is genuine. The fraud sites not only take business away but sully the brand...
Richard Smith
Friday, March 23, 2012 10:26:51 AM UTC
Banks? Forget high-trust certs, we need high-trust _banks_...
Friday, March 23, 2012 3:37:16 PM UTC
Technically, I think you are spot on in your analysis of the problems with knock-off sites such as this Scott. The thing I find funny about this story though is the reasoning behind how this has gone viral.

As someone who has visited many parts of Asia and also lived there, this whole situation is funny to me. Generally speaking, there is a fascination in Asia with putting various random English words/phrases on things, especially clothing. A lot of it just doesn't make any sense and often it is humorous to native speakers (for many examples see websites such as Engrish.com).

Of course, it goes both ways. Americans get random Chinese characters tattooed on their bodies without really knowing what they mean as well. I'm sure there are occasions when these usages are just as funny to Asian people as their use of English is to us.

The reason this particular bad usage of the English language on a knock-off site has gone so viral is because they are using a word that is shocking and offensive to most native speakers. People see this as almost a hate crime. Furthermore, it's a knock-off of a big brand name that's already had many controversies associated with it. But the racism angle is really pretty ridiculous because the people who created these websites almost certainly had no understanding of what they were writing here. They want you to think it's Abercrombie stuff and buy it. They have no desire to either make you hate Abercrombie or for you to see their knock-off website as a phony. They make no money off you when that happens.

Fake brand name clothing being sold by knock-off companies is nothing new, online or otherwise. It's been going on for much longer than the internet has been around. Maybe this situation is good since it calls attention to it as a problem. The web is certainly full of Bad Things, and full of racial hatred as well. This example may be one of the former, but I seriously doubt it's one of the latter.
Hughes Hilton
Friday, March 23, 2012 4:51:01 PM UTC
::HTTPS (SSL) doesn't mean "I can trust this site," it means "this conversation is private." You still might be having a private conversation with Satan.::


This is a great quote!! Can I borrow this?? :-)
Steve G
Friday, March 23, 2012 5:18:49 PM UTC
I would second that the web is much more twisted and screwed up than most people think.
We are a SEO shop and sometimes have to investigate strange links pointing to a client's website.

At the source of these links you will find pages or entire sites - apparently generated - with lots of links and generated incomprehensible pseudo english text. These sites are only visible to robots, a human visitor would be immediatly forwarded somewhere else by script.

As to the purpose of these sites - some seem to be link farms used to fool search engines, others - I just don't know. Maybe my mind is not twisted enough ...
Sunday, March 25, 2012 6:31:16 PM UTC
The fear I have about putting WoT on my mother's computer would be the constant phone calls asking, "This popped up, what should I do."
Monday, March 26, 2012 1:39:53 AM UTC
Scott, I use OpenDNS to handle things like this. When I navigate to that site, it's already blocked.
Wednesday, April 03, 2013 12:56:01 PM UTC
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like to start a blog so I can easily share my own experience
and thoughts online. Please let me know if you have any suggestions or tips for brand new
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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.