Pass on this 'press pass' to nowhere: Beware email's temptations

phony press pass email warningConsidering how much it costs these days to get into a concert or a ball game, wouldn't the lure of free passage as a member of the Fourth Estate be tempting? FI Media Group certainly thinks so, judging by this e-mail making the rounds advertising for a press pass:
Since there would be NO ADMISSION charged at all, would you be interested in covering an event for us in your area? We are seeking members of the public to report on events such as:

Major Sporting Events
Major Music Concerts
Restaurant Openings
Gallery Openings
And others

You would not need to have experience as a reporter, and again, there is NO ADMISSION CHARGED to any of the events that you would be reporting on for us.

We are only accepting a few people from your area, so if you are interested in further information let us know.

James Reid
Event Personal Director
FI Media Group
Seems like an interesting opportunity, so let's play along. Who wouldn't want to get into a hockey game or Blue Oyster Cult show for free? (OK -- maybe not Blue Oyster Cult -- but feel free to fill in Lady Gaga instead.)

Go to the website mentioned at the end of the writer's signature. Seems reasonable, if seasoned a bit with that "out of a box" flavor. Until you do some clicking around, unfortunately.

The only links that work are on the top navigation bar, where, on the site's sub-pages you can learn about FI Media Group's services, see that its news-gathering staff is expanding into Israel, Turkey and Germany, and see an example of what these press passes look like.

The language used on the site is a little strange, though:
"1,297 restaurants opening this month in the U.S. Make sure to let us know how good or bad your meals were. Automated after hours verifications online will be setup by end of month, or earlier."
If this site is supposed to be run by media professionals, I can't say I've ever seen any who write like that.

Other cracks loom in FI Media Group's facade: in fact, more cracks than facade. Go to FI Media Group's "Contact" page, and you'll find a fair amount of gobbledygook about how they don't deal with the general public, along with a big, blue "Contact Us" button that yields an online form asking for just about every piece of personal information short of your Visa or Mastercard number. There's no privacy policy listed, or anything that tells you what they will do with your data, and that ought to ward you off like garlic does a vampire, at least, the ones not on "True Blood."

Unfortunately the problems multiply from there. So many, in fact, it's time to resort to the dreaded bulleted list:
  • A WHOIS search on the FI Media domain turns up a private proxy registration. The telephone number provided as a company contact, when dialed, actually goes to the domain registrar. No legitimate business does that.
  • The website says the company is based in Miami, Los Angeles, New York, Texas, and Milan, Italy. Two phone numbers for an FI Media Group in Miami, Fla., the only ones turned up on a search, are disconnected.
  • A Google search on James Reid of FI Media Group turns up nothing.
  • A Google search on FI Media Group's website turns up nothing. Which means either FI Media Group's search engine optimization is the worst in the northern hemisphere, or, more likely, its owners don't necessarily want it to be seen outside the circle of who receives the spam.
  • The site is created in Google Docs, and all the terms of service links on the contact page go to Google.
If you're still not convinced, consider this: Having covered a few major sporting events, concerts and movies, I can tell you admission fees are charged to get in. You can't just wave a press pass at somebody. The news organization sending you, in most cases, pays the cost of the tickets to attend, or at least they did before they started surrendering more than 20% of their annual profits to shareholders. And your news organization, or you with a piece of their letterhead, have to arrange in advance to get a credential, meaning, basically, your name gets put on a list at the door.

Now, I'm not saying flashing bogus press credentials won't get you into a small-town crime scene, or get past the front gate at a product launch party, restaurant or gallery opening, though I wouldn't try any of this in New York City.

We know the journalism industry is in meltdown (a refrain some of us have been hearing for 25 years or more), but it hasn't descended this far. What with the obvious clues, it's likely FI Media isn't a news and information gathering service at all, unless you want to count personal information from unsuspecting would-be citizen journalists. Yes, this is some sort of information-harvesting or lead-generation operation, and not a particularly convincing one.

So if you are the recipient of an e-mail like this, don't reply to it. Just give it a pass.
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