A look into how scammers are using Wikipedia’s reputation to scam thousands of dollars from unsuspecting people
Wikipedia, the world’s largest online encyclopedia, is known for being a well-respected source of information. The nonprofit functions through independent contributions and moderators, humbly boasting nearly 7 million articles in the English language alone. Due to its authority, recognition, and strong SEO power, Wikipedia has become a coveted place to get a biographical page, especially for business owners and people interested in building their personal brands. In this article, I will highlight how one organization, Wiki Counsellors has taken advantage of Wikipedia’s good faith and trust to scam thousands of dollars from unsuspecting professionals. Please note that the client’s name who paid Wiki Counsellor has been redacted for privacy. Read until the end for best practices and to learn what to avoid to protect yourself from similar scams.
In the Summer of 2022, the client who we will be referring to as John was in search of a company to help him create a biographical page on Wikipedia when he came across Wiki Counsellors. At first glance, the organization appears to be legitimate. There are several dozen positive reviews on their Google My Business listing and Trustpilot. There are company social media pages and on the home page of their website they even claimed that “By following the exact guidelines and rules of Wikipedia, our writers help you make your content publishable on the very first run. They write such quality content that it gets approved instantly by Wikipedia.” Doesn’t sound too bad right?!
Upon first impression, the organization has everything that you would expect from an Internet business. So, after corresponding through email, the client, John paid Wiki Counsellor $2,000 to create a Wikipedia page for him and was given a 60 to 90-day turnaround as well as a guarantee of publication. If you are familiar with Wikipedia’s policies, you’ll know that number one, not everyone qualifies for a Wikipedia page. According to their policy, the person should be “worthy of notice” or “notable”. Number two, Wikipedia discourages people from creating articles for themselves or having someone they know who may be biased do it for them. This is referred to as a ”Conflict of Interest” and is in place to prevent Wikipedia’s content from leaning into biases and personal opinions.
John is a well-known public figure, seen across television and the internet, and by all intensive definitions would qualify for a Wikipedia page. The problem was, nobody had written one for him yet. He was also unaware that Wikipedia discourages paying external parties to publish pages. This is a problem in of itself as most people are not familiar with these policies and unlike John, would not be qualified for a page to begin with, which leaves the door open for scammers such as Wiki Counsellor to come in and charge thousands of dollars for something that they can’t even guarantee.
In order for their work to begin, Wiki Counsellor asked for references verifying John’s notability which John and his team collected and sent off. These were high-quality references from well-known outlets. Wiki Counsellor then worked to draft the article. Months went by and the page still wasn’t completed or live. They were behind schedule. The first of several promises broken. John’s contact was “Mike Smith” and Mike seemingly only responded to emails, rather than proactively sending them.
So, on September 28th, John dissatisfied with the lack of results requested a refund and had his personal project manager reach out to Mr. Smith.
Mike replied with:
Following this reply, there were several emails exchanged in a similar tone and John although irritated with the lack of transparency, was willing to continue allowing Wiki Counsellor to “work” if they could finish the article within the 90-day time frame. His team submitted more sources as requested and now all they had to do was wait. This is one such email Mike sent.
This went on for several more weeks. Wiki Counsellor would ask for more news sources which they would receive, then they’d check in with the team, and the game of cat and mouse continued.
The draft article was finally submitted in February, however, Wikipedia’s moderators did not approve it for publication. At this point, months had already passed and John’s article was moved back to Wikipedia’s draft section without any public notes addressing why. Edits to articles on Wikipedia are visible so you are able to see who changed what what reasons they had for the change, etc.
In the email referenced above, Mike claims that the articles weren’t credible and then offers to upsell the client by booking article slots that their editors would write in hopes of avoiding getting the profile suspended. The articles in Bloomberg and news stations were not enough, but articles written by a party with a conflict of interest would be? John had only given his permission to submit the Wikipedia page on his behalf as long as it would be guaranteed to go live, not on a crutch.
Eventually, the client, annoyed and exhausted with the situation, reached out to a mutual friend to help get his investment back which is where I got involved and was also met with similar excuses and behaviours.
For the sake of time, I won’t include every email in the chain that led to this, but on March 9th after extensive research into the pages that edited John’s page and reading up more on Wikipedia’s policies, I reached out to Wiki Counsellor for clarification on several things regarding their work and practices such as disclosure polices, the referenced editors, and seeking proof of comments.
A week went by and after sending a quick follow-up email this is what they had to say.
Mike from Wiki Counsellor blatantly ignored the most crucial questions I asked.
Between myself, John, and our mutual friend, we asked for a refund well over half a dozen times and even after following up three times, I was left with this email from Mike Smith of Wiki Counsellor.
That email was sent on March 31st. It is now July and we have yet to hear from Wiki Counsellor and John’s Wikipedia page is still sitting in the drafts section. The email chain has numerous promises that were not met, countless “I will follow-ups”, and a lot of wasted time.
What makes this scam particularly sophisticated is they actually did craft a Wikipedia draft for the victim. This kind of scam by Wiki Counsellor leverages the authority of a trusted site like Wikipedia while preying on a lack of information. All-in-all there were over 4-dozen emails exchanged and a purposeful procrastination that pushed the time frame forward. This is a practice many scammers employ to give a false sense of accomplishment. They will say “let me check” just to avoid you for another length of time.
A deeper examination into Wiki Counsellor shows that all of the Google Reviews are fake as are those on Trustpilot. The reviewers use overtly sophisticated language, come from accounts that leave similar reviews, and have stock profile pictures or no pictures at all. Their website contains much of the same copy rephrased in a different way, and their social media profiles have consistent posts but average less than 10 followers. I and the team involved also have our doubts about Mike Smith’s name actually being “Mike Smith” as there’s no verifiable connection on the website to a person with that name, the employee LinkedIn profiles are set to private, and there is no legal entity when a search is ran on opencorporates.com
It appears that others share a similar story with this “company.” For example, this Google Review highlights everything we just reviewed.
Another person said “After I talked to the company’s representative I realized they lied to me promising to create a Wikipedia page without any sources save my own website and social media platforms. This is a dishonest business and I’m going to report them to authorities.”
In retrospect, it is reasonable to assume that they don’t even write anything in-house but rather outsource to a third party, pocketing most of the revenue. There were mentions of editors, moderators, and other people involved that received a payment as an excuse for a lower refund percentage, but if they don’t provide any service directly it would make Wiki Counsellor a front and a scammer’s business.
Wikipedia has a disclosure policy that states “Editors must disclose their employer, client, and affiliation with respect to any paid contribution to Wikipedia.” Nowhere on Wiki Counsellor’s website or their moderator’s page was a disclosure made. Wikipedia also discourages Conflicts of Interest as I mentioned before. It is important to be aware of the policies of any organization or media outlet that you are looking to be featured on, especially when it comes to money exchanging hands and paying someone to perform a task. Seek success stories and video testimonials. These kinds of scams are intricate and if your instincts are telling you that something is off, it likely is.
If you are someone who desires to get a coveted page on Wikipedia, I would suggest that you divert your focus elsewhere and let one get created for you with time. Become noteworthy, rather than trying to appear noteworthy. In the case of this client, he unknowingly fell into the dark side of social media where things may look great, but are actually grim.
About the Author