Will the real Cobus Bester please stand up?

I went down the internet rabbit hole this evening.  I was watching YouTube videos about plastic recycling.  Then went into commercial composting solutions.  And found this manufacturer in India that seems to make a neat series of products to turn organic waste into

compost in a day!  I wanted customer reviews.  Well, they had a few on their products.  Here is a screen capture of the sidebar listing their popular products.


I wondered why their more expensive machine got a lower review than the least expensive one.  It had this review.

Wow Magnus.  That’s not a very helpful mediocre review.  And it is from a while ago.  Maybe some of the others have more recent feedback.  Maybe they have refined their machines and that’s why this one has only 3 stars.  Let’s look…

Ok, now I can’t help but notice that all of the reviews are made on the same day.  June 7th, 2013.  Interesting.  Maybe these are all just company shills that filled in product reviews when their new website went live.  Let’s check one more…

Alright.  Now I’m certain these reviews are bogus.  But why?  Why give one of your most expensive products a mediocre review?  Let’s find out who these people are.  I suspected that someone was just stealing an image for spammy reviews.  I used the profile photo for Cobus Bester and did a reverse image lookup.

Oh wow.  This image is being used on a wide variety of pages!  Let’s see how.  Is Cobus a prolific author?  I can’t find the image on the first link.  On the second I can’t either.  But there is a space for reviews of the electric hair clipper that MillionHair Salon is selling…

Um, Cobus and Maria seem to have reviewed a musical album and not hair clippers.  Hey, wait, Maria and Cobus wrote reviews on June 7, 2013?  Same day as the composting machine reviews?  What’s the deal?  Certainly their websites were not launched on the same day.  I do a whois lookup for the hair salon, compost company, HRCS Global, and the “Consulting WP” and they seem to all have different registrars and owners so  I have to assume that Cobus popping up is the result of a common plugin.  Here he is again.  This time with Coen Jacobs — one of the fellows that “reviewed” one of the composters, and this time like the poster so much he ordered 5 of them!

Wait, why would you order 5 of the same poster?  And hold on a second… HRCS Global is an Indian firm that does consultancy work.  Why would they be selling posters?

I loaded the shopping cart with, you guessed it, 5 posters and tried to check out.  But alas…

When I tried on a few other of the sites it did send me to a spot to add my card info.  I figure by now that there is some exploit going on.  So I dig around and figure out that all of these sites are using WordPress and for their shopping cart (and reviews) the WooCommerce plugin.  But WooCommerce is produced by Automattic who are the creators of WordPress.  So I’m not worried that the plugin itself is compromised.  Maybe these websites are running old versions of WordPress leaving themselves open to hacking?  Another look at Cobus Bester’s results and I see this…

There is a lot of placeholder Loem Ipsum text there.  That says to me that there is placeholder there from an installation that didn’t get cleaned up.

Sure enough, a little more digging and I found the real Cobus Bester.  He works for the company that developed WooCommerce.  Also, Coen Jacobs is another real person who has some fake reviews attributed to him as a result, I assume, of people using the plugin example reviews and re-writing them.

Curiosity satisfied, and rabbit hole of the internet I would like my time back.

zieak (2207 Posts)

Ryan "Zieak" McFarland dabbles. Beards. Making things. Travel. Genealogy. Frugality and excessiveness. Fitness and fatness. He's a PE teacher in India, usually calls Alaska home and is a happy father to two boys and the husband to a suddenly crafty wife.

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