Imagine my surprise when I received an email from someone claiming I had used a photo without proper attribution! Going by the name Gavin Whitner, representing Music Oomph / MusicOomph.com, he said Id’ be off the hook if I linked to his website. That’s when I discovered it was a backlink photo credit scam and I was the target.
Maybe you’re here because you got a fishy email too, so here’s what’s going on. By claiming he owned the right to a photo on my website, requesting a link, “Gavin” was trying to positively impact his own website ranking. Links, especially from websites like mine with high domain authority, help your website rise through the ranks.
The original email I received:
Hi,Email from alleged Gavin Whitner of Music Oomph / MusicOomph.com
I saw this page of your site (https://www.justinkbrady.com/how-to-start-a-podcast/) using my photo, which is licensed under CC 2.0
Here’s the link to my photo on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/156466858@N02/50337761737/
It’s certainly free to use. Thanks for using it. However, I do ask for a small attribution.
Could you kindly add an image credit anywhere on your page? Something simple like “Photo by Gavin Whitner” (the link leads to my website) would be perfect.
Wait… Links Have Value?
Many people don’t understand links, hyperlinks, also called backlinks, have value. A link is a type of internet currency.
Put simply, every inbound link increases the likelihood a page appears in a web search, relating to the text hyperlinked. Linking the phrase “what are backlinks?” to a webpage with a corresponding topic for example, increases its ranking for that phrase. The more websites linking “what are backlinks?” to a specific page, increases rank. (By linking to Moz.com, I just helped them!)
How A Backlink Photo Credit Scam / Photo Attribution Scam Works
Because using photos on a blog or website can be illegal without acquiring the proper rights, this backlink photo credit scam hinges on you acting out of fear. Alleged scammers like Gavin Whitner seek to artificially increase ranking for their websites—in this case, Music Oomph / MusicOomph.com by getting unsuspecting content producers to cough up backlinks. These links increase their ranking. But why go to all this trouble? Because it pays!
The goal here isn’t to simply get traffic. Traffic by itself has no value. Instead, the goal is to make money via affiliate links when you find a product on their website and click that product. All the products listed on Music Oomph have affiliate links. If you buy anything, he gets a cut. If you look at the URLs on the website, you will notice they all have “musicoomph” tracking IDs.
How Photo Credit Scammers Find Targets
You might be wondering, “ok, but how do scammers actually find my website to begin with and how does this work step by step?
Here’s how they do it:
- Find great photos on royalty-free websites and upload the photo to your own Flickr page so it looks like you own it.
- Do a Google reverse image search to find all websites using the photos in question and email the website owners telling them they used the photo without proper attribution, showing them proof on your Flickr page.
- Let them “off the hook” easily by asking for a backlink (that you choose) and attribution. Remember to be nice!
- Relieved bloggers immediately link to the website requested to avoid legal trouble without knowing any better.
- Your site gets a better ranking, more traffic, and more visitors. More visitors means more people buying stuff via affiliate links on your site.
It’s like taking candy from a baby! But, as I will explain below it has a high-level of risk if you get caught.
The Suspect: Gavin Whitner of Music Oomph?
The biggest problem with Gavin Whitner and his alleged Music Oomph scam is simple: His Flickr page was created after the photo I used was uploaded. (OOPS!)
If the photo really belonged to him, how did someone else get his photo before his Flickr account was created? Obviously, being the kind understanding person I am, I immediately informed him of this, but to date, he hasn’t returned my email.
Hi Gavin,my email reply
I found the photo on Pexels and it looks like it was uploaded before your Flickr account existed. Seems odd… https://www.pexels.com/photo/gold-condenser-microphone-near-laptop-computer-755416/
Obviously, I want to credit the original photographer, so can you send the original?
Thanks for your patience,
After not hearing back from the alleged scammer, I tried again. “Hi Gavin, If I don’t hear back from you, I’ll report this issue to Pexels and Flickr. After all, I’m sure we both want to do the right thing. Correct?” He still hasn’t responded, but he did take some proactive action on his Flickr page. He erased the photo!
As people look to make affiliate link cash, look for more of this style of backlink photo credit scam like this SEO backlink image scam. Also, look for scams like this to bury information people want hidden, I call this content obfuscation.
The lesson here is simple. Use photos legally, and always know how and where you acquired them. Free royalty-free websites include Gratisography, Pexels, Wikimedia Commons, and even some Flickr pages.
If you catch anyone pulling this scam, make sure to report it to Google, Flickr, and relevant entities.
Update: A reader informed me this tactic was used against them recently, allegedly from Personal Trainer Academy (traineracademy.org) from a man calling himself “Robert Bradley.”
Thanks to Shabbir Safdar for bringing this to my attention.