KOPPEL: This is Ted Koppel and welcome to Nightline. This program began in 1979 when Komeini militants and terrorists stormed the American Embassy and took more than 90 people hostage.
This evening, we will look at another form of terrorism, and it's happening right now - in cyberspace - and on the World Wide Web. Con artists and snake oil salesmen who use threats, intimidation, and trickery to peddle their wares are pervasive and apparently, unstoppable. The Internet is still the wild, wild west - and the sheriff is nowhere in sight.
The consumer advocate web site that calls itself the "WorldWide Scam Network" has been doing battle with these MLM outlaws for more than a decade now.
BURTIS:"It's always two steps forward and one step back," says webmaster Bob Burtis. "We go to a great deal of effort to research the companies, products, and people we report on. We take our role seriously. But as soon as we begin to make headway, they bring in the lawyers and find a way to knock us off the web for a few days."
KOPPEL: And so it is on this - "Day One - the WWSN Held Hostage" - that the non-profit champion of the Internet consumer has been taken of off the web again. The funny thing is - nobody knows who's responsible - or how it happened!
The Ransom Note
KOPPEL: We have also learned that the WorldWide Scam domain is not actually hosted on any computer anywhere. The domain name is registered with a company called Network Solutions, and they simply forward WWSN traffic to an independent web site host located elsewhere. And it appeared that someone was tampering with the forwarding address! Efforts to contact Network Solutions support returned nothing but irrelevant autoresponder e-mails. Then the WWSN received this note from a known Lifewave associate and promoter:
I know we have been on opposite sides in regards to LifeWave, but I think your site (most the time) is a good service for the industry.
I have a proposal. I have no authorization from LifeWave to offer this and I don't know if they will go for it.
I don't want to see any more negative energy go into this and I am sure you want your site back up.
I think even you will have to agree that we now have many double blind placebo studies from reputable labs, several have already been published.
If you will admit that we have satisfied your watchdogedness...I think I just coined that word...and will reverse your position, I think we can turn this into a win/win.
Now my marketing mind is working. We could even put a link on your site that leads people to a lead page for more info and if they sign up we can put a spot in for you.
I will fight for you with LifeWave to get your site back up if you agree to stop sending emails to our members and to stop slandering us. Again, I have no idea if LifeWave will go for it, but if you are interested, I can try.
KOPPEL: The WWSN now knew WHO was behind the disappearance of their site.
BURTIS: "And that didn't come as much of a surprise," Bob told us. "Lifewave wanted to enforce prior restraint and censor the WWSN - it doesn't want the truth to be known. HOW they accomplished this was still a mystery."
KOPPEL: ABC News just received this photo of the Internet terrorists holding their hostage at an undisclosed location. The WWSN appears to be unharmed at this time.
Next stop was Network Solutions. If they were tampering with the WWSN, they might be willing to explain why. Telephone support apparently consists of endless phone menu navigation and a disinterested staff with heavy Caribbean accents and limited familiarity with the English language.
Computer Generated Autoresponders
KOPPEL: The WWSN turned to online e-mail support in seeking answers for the sudden disappearance of their web site and the unauthorized tampering of their domain forwarding information.
Alas, every e-mail request for information generated an irrelevant autoresponder e-mail and answers were not forthcoming. Out of desperation, the WWSN then resorted to contacting numerous consumer groups and government regulatory agencies. This caught the attention of executives at Network Solutions and the WWSN quickly received a personal e-mail and phone call. Were their questions answered?
BURTIS: "The individual we spoke with was very courteous and professional - even sympathetic," Bob told Nightline. "But here's what we were told: someone had filed a complaint that the worldwidescam.com domain was the source of unspecific spamming."
"We had no right to know who our accuser was, nor would we be allowed to view the evidence presented to them. There was no notification required, no advisement, consultation, due process, negotiation or rights to appeal. A complaint was filed, Network Solutions liked what they saw, so they immediately disabled our domain name. We were being held hostage by Network Solutions at the behest of Lifewave."
KOPPEL: It was later learned that Network Solutions is the domain registrar for Lifewave.com AND that they also hosted their web site content. This was when the WWSN began suggesting collusion between the two vested interests.
The Nightline Investigation
KOPPEL: In preparing our report, we invited Mr. Burtis of the WWSN and Mr. Schmidt from Lifewave to appear as guests on our show.
Let's begin with the WWSN position. Mr. Burtis, what are some of your concerns here?
BURTIS:"Ted, the entire process is an affront to our Constitutional rights and judicial principles of due process. Network Solutions acted as prosecutor, judge, and jury without our knowledge or participation."
KOPPEL: I believe did agree to their standard
"Service Agreement", did you not?
BURTIS:"Of course - it's not as if you have a choice - and we will abide by those terms. But we object to their refusal to reveal the source of the complaint or to show us the evidence against us."
Mr. Schmidt, we are told that you are the inventor of a miraculous nontransdermal nanotechnology patch, which you have been marketing for more than four years now. Exactly what is your background in nanotechnology, physics and biochemistry?
SCHMIDT: "We'll be releasing my curriculum vitae in the next few months. It's proprietary information."
KOPPEL: Very well, then, what do these patches do?
SCHMIDT: "Well, uh, one increases your energy by 40%, one helps you sleep, and another relieves pain."
KOPPEL: Very interesting, but how is nanotechnology involved?
SCHMIDT: "Nanotechnology is described as manufactured products that are made from atoms. My patches are software for the human body."
KOPPEL: Alright, then would you describe your complaint against the WWSN that led to their disappearance from the Internet today-
SCHMIDT: "Sure, Tod... I mean Ted. That's easy. The WWSN has been spamming our affiliates. And that's a no-no. So our ISP, I mean Network Solutions, had no choice but to shut the WWSN down."
KOPPEL: Could we see the evidence you presented to Network Solutions?
SCHMIDT: "Umm...., well, actually, no. we can't do that - it's proprietary information. We may release it sometime in the next few months. Maybe."
BURTIS:"Ted, it's proprietary because it does not exist! There is no WWSN e-mail post office box anywhere on the Internet. The WWSN domain is simply a sign post, a transfer point, that forwards traffic to one of several hosts around the world. We neither send or receive e-mail under the WWSN domain name. Any so-called evidence they have is fabricated - but how can we prove that? They won't let us see it!"
Lifewave Affiliates React
KOPPEL: It looks like Lifewave and Network Solutions hold all the cards in this game. Whether it's fair or not, the deed has been done and the WWSN is off the web - for good?
BURTIS:"Not likely, Ted. We have several mirror sites on the net and are already transferring control of our domain name to a more reputable registrar. The WWSN will be back online shortly."
KOPPEL: This photo has just come in showing Lifewave affiliates attending a convention at the Howard Johnsons motel in Buford, Georgia. Mr. Schmidt, do you care to comment?
SCHMIDT: "Well, they're obviously celebrating. And why not? We censored the WWSN without even hiring an attorney. All it took was a spam complaint. That was easy!"
KOPPEL: And why DIDN'T Lifewave hire an attorney and perhaps sue for libel and defamation? That is the legal recourse available to you here.
SCHMIDT: "We'd rather not go that route; lawyers are so expensive and you know how judges and juries can be about proving stuff and evidence and all that."
KOPPEL: Certainly after four years you have clinical trials and research that proves efficacy and validates the claims you have made about Lifewave patches.
SCHMIDT: "You bet! We have completed 128 double-blind studies, but we have to wait until they are published before we can discuss the results. And we currently have 327 studies under way and another 739 scheduled to begin. All of this will be released in a few months or so."
KOPPEL: Terrorism - around the world and throughout cyberspace - is a problem that won't be going away soon. Whether it's Osama Bin Laden or David G. Schmidt, they both have the ability to attack at will and with impunity. While the United States battles terrorism around the world, perhaps we should say, "Thank you!", and offer a little prayer for those who do battle with the scams, con artists, fraudulent products, pyramid schemes, and illegal money games, who are targeted time and again by Internet terrorists and their associates.