Will the real Lumberton Trading Company please stand up?

A weekend spam generates a blizzard of confused Googling. Watch the info-ecosystem evolve before your eyes

Published March 15, 2010 6:01PM (EDT)

Who, or what, is the Lumberton Trading Company? I am clearly not the only person who wondered this question over this past weekend, because on Monday morning Google's Hot Search ranked it as the second most popular query, right after "Ides of March" and before "2010 NCAA printable bracket."

There are two viable answers to the question. A: Lumberton Trading Company is an independent music label "dedicated, essentially, to bringing new, interesting and exclusive releases by musicians, artists and writers whose vision and commitment to their work exists beyond the usual clutches of their environment."

And B: Lumberton Trading Company is an unwitting subject of a "phishing" scam e-mail sent out to millions of people over this past weekend, purportedly by the lawfirm Crosby & Higgins:

March 12, 2010

Crosby & Higgins

350 Broadway, Suite 300

New York, NY 10013

To Whom It May Concern:

Enclosed is a copy of the lawsuit that I filed against you in court on March 11, 2010. Currently the Pretrail Conference is scheduled for April 10th, 2010 at 9:30 A.M. in courtroom #33. The case number is 3485934. The reason the lawsuit was filed was due to a completely inadequate response from your company for copyright infrigement that our client Lumberton Trading Company is a victim of. Lumberton Trading Company has proof of multiple Copyright Law violations that they wish to present in court on April 10th, 2010.


Mark R. Crosby

The e-mail has two glaring spelling errors, doesn't mention what court the lawsuit has been filed in, and April 10 happens to be a Saturday, so even without doing any additional research the warning signs were pretty clear. Click no further! The chances that the attached document contain a virus or other nasty beastie are extremely high! Nonetheless, any mention of legal action always makes me look twice -- maybe one of my kids had downloaded something they shouldn't have and the record companies were after my ass? -- so I Googled the name in question. I promptly discovered a link to the music label and swarms of posts by people who had received the same e-mail and were looking for some evidence of its bogus-ness. Confirmed in my initial suspicion, I deleted the e-mail and thought no more about it.

But 48 hours later, I noticed that "Lumberton Trading Company" had shot up the "Hot Search" rankings, and realized the phishing scam must have been massive. But interestingly, when I Googled the phrase on Monday morning, aside from one link to the Lumberton Trading Company Web site, the vast majority of remaining search results provided no useful information at all -- they appeared to be automatically generated Web pages that did little more than incorporate the name "Lumberton Trading Company" -- typical garbage keyed to whatever people are searching for, in near real-time. Only after I tried searching for "lumberton trading company lawsuit" did I find, at the bottom of the first page, a link devoted to the question of whether this was a spam, and pretty good evidence, in the form of a comment from the law firm in question, that it was.

Crosby Higgins LLP said...

Thank you everyone for passing on this information. The e-mail referenced above is a fraudulent spoofing e-mail created to give the impression that it was sent from our law firm -- it was not. The e-mail is completely bogus and contains a malicious virus in the attachment. Fortunately, most of the feedback I have received indicates that normal antivirus software apparently automatically deletes the infected file. Our IT provider has taken certain additional security precautions to minimize further distribution and we have also notified the appropriate authorities who are investigating origin. Thanks very much for your understanding. If you have any questions please feel free to contact me directly through our website.

Thanks very much.

Todd A. Higgins, Esq.
Managing Partner
Crosby & Higgins LLP

If you go to the Crosby & Higgins Web site you will be redirected to a page also disavowing the "fraudulent e-mail."

By tomorrow, I'm guessing that Google's search algorithms will have pushed the pages that identify the e-mail as a spam to the top of the rankings. But at this juncture we exist in an uncomfortable moment of search uncertainty as a host of automated Web page creation engines, triggered by whatever phrase people are currently searching on, attempt to capture Web traffic from suspicious people like me, who learned long ago to google before you click.

How long before we see the next step in this bizarre info-ecosystem evolution? A new startup or upcoming artist -- or anyone looking for publicity -- stage-manages a fake phishing scam just to impel people to go a-googling -- on purpose? Millions of people are now learning who the real Lumberton Trading Company is. Presumably the label is not responsible -- it would be suicidal to actually infect computers with a malicious virus. But if you were careful, and kept your hands clean...

UPDATE: Two hours later, "Lumberton Trading Company" is no longer a top ten Hot Search, but "Crosby Higgins" is. Go figure.

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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