Igor Kromin |   Consultant. Coder. Blogger. Tinkerer. Gamer.

Between this blog and my other web sites I create quite a lot of content. As a result I have quite a large audience and get a fair number of requests to republish, quote or link to my posts. So whenever I get an email with a request of that nature I don't really give it much thought and almost automatically give permission to use my content - after all I write because I want to share.

This post is about my experience with the ODROID Magazine and Hardkernel. You may have had a better experience or are more liberal in your beliefs in who should have access to your personal contact details. I do like their products but as a result of my experience do not support their business practices when it comes to contributor and customer privacy.

So back in April when I received an email from [email protected], claiming to be from their "Editor-in-chief" asking me whether my blog post could be republished in an upcoming issue of ODROID Magazine I agreed. I've never heard of this publication but given that the request came from a Gmail email address I figured it was not significant and probably somebody's small time hobby project.

Then I received this email in June (which I almost automatically deleted as its preview seemed quite spammy)...
Dear ODROID Magazine contributors,

Thank you for all your efforts.

Choose any ODROID products value of $65.00 or save up for next month http://www.hardkernel.com/main/shop/good_list.php?lang=en

We will send you the gift upon your response. Please confirm your ship-to address and phone number. And if you want to purchase some more items, please let me know. I will send you the invoice via paypal. You don’t need to pay for the shipping cost once it is shipped out together with the gift.

P.S. If you do not receive my reply within 2 working days, please send an email to [email protected]


That email, unlike the first, did come from a @hardkernel.com email address, it took me a bit of time to remember the initial request to republish my post and realised that may have been connected somehow. However this email set off all sorts of alarms in my head - it was promising a gift, was asking for my address and phone number, asking to pay by PayPal for any extras and asking me to follow up in two days time if no response was given - a follow up to a Gmail email address! It smelled like a phishing scam to me. Just because the email address seemed legitimate, it didn't mean it wasn't somehow compromised, especially given the content of the email and lack of any other communication from the magazine.

I was curious to find out if this was a phishing scam so decided to go along with it.



I replied asking for confirmation on whether their offer was real and received a confirmation that it was. So I sent back a list of items I wanted as "my gift" along with some questions about how they function and gave them my Parcel Locker mailing address. I use this address for all of my deliveries (including signed-for ones) and all of the contact details for my domains; I've never had any delivery refused or not arrive. Because this address isn't connected to my residential address it provides a level of privacy protection and since I travel a fair amount it's a nice convenience when I'm on the road.

The next reply that came set off all remaining alarms and put all the initial ones into overdrive for me. They claimed that they needed my actual address and cannot send to a Parcel Locker. In addition they also mentioned that I may also have to pay some additional amount for tax and duty (for a gift?! really?) There was no answer to my other questions I asked. I was convinced this was all a ruse.

My reply back was appropriate for what I saw as a genuine phishing scam - I called them out on it and asked for my article to be deleted to test if they really were from the magazine. I thought that I'd not hear back.

However they persevered saying something about breaking US Federal Laws if I give the Parcel Locker address (I don't live in US and they are from Korea). The discussion went back and forth a few times with them claiming that they need my actual address and me saying that I will not be giving it to them. There was mention that it was FedEx and DHL that couldn't send to a Parcel Locker (an incorrect statement, which I've checked with DHL at least).

I've asked about whether if I were to place a standard order with Hardkernel and gave them my Parcel Locker address if they would deliver. That question was ignored. I did check later regarding this and turns out that even standard orders required a non-PO Box/Parcel Locker address...
odroigmag.png


That was settled then.

In the end we were at an impasse but I was no longer thinking these were scammers - they really were trying to send me something. It was too late though. The lack of communication about this 'gift', then a sudden (suspicious) looking email asking for my private contact details and the refusal to find an alternative left a sour taste in my mouth.

If anything comes out of this experience, I hope it's that Hardkernel and ODROID Magazine take a better stance on contributor and customer privacy, improve communications with their contributors and stop using Gmail for business purposes. Until that happens, I will not be considering their products for any of my future projects.

-i

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