Beware of Backlink Photo Credit Scammers

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 (now Music Strive) he said Id’ be off the hook if I did one simple thing: link to his website. Seemed reasonable, but something was a bit off— I would soon learn this was a backlink photo credit scam and I was the target.

Maybe you’re here because you got a fishy email too, as a pro in PR and SEO for emerging tech, here’s the overall idea and strategy Mr. Whitner is using (if that’s his name). By claiming he owned the rights 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. If sites like mine link to him, he increases his own search engine rank.

Here’s the email, it’s actually a clever scam.

The original email I received:

Screen shots of the alleged backlink photo credit scam from Gavin Whitner representing
Screenshot from email

I saw this page of your site ( using my photo, which is licensed under CC 2.0

Here’s the link to my photo on Flickr:

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.


Email from alleged Gavin Whitner of Music Oomph / (Now Music Strive)

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 a specific phrase to a specific page, increases rank. When asking yourself how to get backlinks, there is one common theme: great content.

The right way to aquire quality backlinks is by providing quality content people want to link to. The wrong way is to lie—if caught Google will penalize you.

Because using photos on a blog or website can be illegal without acquiring the proper rights, this backlink photo credit scam hinges on you reacting out of fear and seeing an easy solution, not thinking twice. Fear = lawsuit! Solution = link!

Alleged scammers like Gavin Whitner seek to artificially increase ranking for their websites—in this case, Music Oomph / (now Music Strive) by getting unsuspecting content producers to cough up backlinks. These links increase their ranking. But why go to all this trouble just to increase your rank? 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 buy that product. All the products listed on the site have affiliate links, meaning 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.

There is a better way to get backlinks and boost your search ranking. If this is an area you’d like to learn enter your name and email address and I’ll send you the tactics that work for my clients. (And the tactics that got you to click on this article!) Just enter your first name and email, and in 5 minutes I’ll send a free PDF for you to get media coverage in just 10 days.

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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?” In other words, how did Gavin Whitner of Music Oomph find me?

Here’s how scammers do it:

  1. Find a target by using SEO tools to see who has high domain authority and relevant keywords that can help you.
  2. Steal the photo they used and upload it to your own Flickr page as evidence of ownership.
  3. Let them “off the hook” easily by asking for a backlink (that you choose) and attribution. Remember to be nice!
  4. Relieved bloggers immediately link to the website requested to avoid legal trouble without knowing any better.
  5. Your site gets a better ranking, more traffic, and more people buying stuff via affiliate links on your site.

Alternatively, you could find great photos on royalty-free websites first, upload them to Flickr, then do a Google reverse image search to find all websites using the photos in question, creating your target list that way. It’s like taking candy from a baby! But, as I will explain below it has a high level of risk if Gavin Whitner or Music Oomph get caught. (It’s no wonder they rebranded to Music Strive.)

The Dangerous Game Gavin Whitner of Music Oomph (Now Music Strive) Is Playing

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.

my email reply to Gavin Whitner

Hi Gavin,

I found the photo on Pexels and it looks like it was uploaded before your Flickr account existed. Seems odd…

Obviously, I want to credit the original photographer, so can you send the original?
Thanks for your patience,
~ Justin

The image "Gavin" claimed he owned no longer exists!

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. If caught, they can be blacklisted on Google and can be moved back to page 10 or worse.

Update: A reader informed me this tactic was used against them recently, allegedly from Personal Trainer Academy ( from a man calling himself “Robert Bradley.” Thanks to Shabbir Safdar for bringing this to my attention. If someone has targeted you, let me know my clicking “contact” in the menu button below.

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