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March 2004

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Topsites Scam: TopSites LLC & MyDirectory LLC / My Directory LLC

Topsites.us, Topsitez.us, Www--directory.net, Topsites-us.com, Www-topsites.com, Top-site.net and TopsitesUSA.com Bogus "Renewal Notices"

Part 1: Background
Part 2: Correspondence
Part 3: Topsites Uncovered
Part 4: More Topsites Scams and Lies
Part 5: Topsites Revisited
Part 6: For Sale: Topsites.us / Topsites LLC

--- Updated March 30th 2004 ---

What are the Topsites Renewal Notices For?  "Non-Payment" Threats 
Who is Behind the Spam?  Canceling Your Topsites.us Listing  Topsites Traffic - Fact or Fiction?  The Topsites Toolbar  It's Spam. But It Smells Fishy  Sample Topsites Email

(Topsites LLC have sent me several email about this article - read their side of the story here. You can read some other comments from people on the receiving end of the Topsites spam here.)

What are the Topsites Renewal Notices For?

For several months now, webmasters have been receiving spam from a directory calling itself variously Topsites.us, Topsitez.us, Topsites-us.com, TopsitesUSA.com, Www-topsites.com, Top-site.net,  www--directory.net, www--search.com and probably many other names. (Sample email below). The "Renewal Notices" attempt to solicit money for a listing in the "Topsites Directory". (Note that the domain topsites.com is not related to the scam)

These are the current domains being operated by the spammers:

  • rssb.us
  • 2topsites.com
  • Topsitesus.com
  • G-o.us
  • Topsites.us
  • Topsitez.us
  • Topsites-us.com
  • Helpdesk-llc.com
  • Connectsales.com
  • www-topsites.com
  • top-site.net
  • top--sites.net
  • www--directory.com
  • www--directory.net
  • top--sites.com
  • www--search.com
  • www--magazines.com

Topsites.us / Topsitez.us / Topsites-us.com / TopsitesUSA.com / Www-topsites.com is a clone of the Open Directory (dmoz.org) which most webmasters will know as being the web's largest directory of sites.. and also one that lists commercial and noncommercial sites for free. This data is available for others to use for free as defined in the Open Directory License. These are operated by a company known variously as Topsites LLC, MyDirectory LLC and Helpdesk LLC.

The spam emails were at first sent to webmasters listed in the Open Directory, but in late May 2003, Topsites.us started to spam webmasters more widely. We currently think that over 3,000 webmasters have fallen for these bogus renewal notices.

The Topsites.us / Topsitez.us / Topsites-us.com / TopsitesUSA.com / Www-topsites.com / Top-site.net / www--directory.net twist is to take the Open Directory data and then try to charge $5 per month for it (or even more). But this isn't exactly a bargain because the Open Directory lists you for free, rather than $60 a year or more, even when you take into consideration their "added value" toolbar, more of which below.

The phrase "Renew" used in the emails is completely misleading. Although your site may well be listed in the Topsites directory, the data was merely taken from the Open Directory. Don't worry.. you didn't forget that you had submitted to Topsites.us / Topsitez.us because you never had submitted your site to them.

Really, the Topsites approach is a new take on an old scam. The late 1980s and the 1990s saw a rash of "Fax Directory Renewal" scams, and these are predated by other scams involving telephone listings. In any case, the approach is the same, to try and convince an unsuspecting person that the listing is in some way valuable, and something that they have already agreed to.

Initially, when the emails started to circulate in the fall of 2002, these messages were relating to a domain called topsites-directory.com which Alexa showed to be a zero traffic site. The related Topsites.us was a site with a very low traffic ranking of 1,272,445 (i.e. probably no more than a couple of dozen visitors a day). Also, to begin with they were trying to charge up to $300 per month for a listing!

In the spam email that is circulated, one of the people singing the praises of the Topsites directory is the president of "Go Software" (g-o.us) which seems to share the same address as Topsites LLC. The other reference is from my-news.org, but a quick look at http://www.my-news.org/about.cfm (I'll not grace them with an inbound link) indicates that it's another variation of the Topsites theme.

To try to support their directory, a web page of press release was created at http://www.topsites.us/about.cfm (I'm not going to give them the benefit of an inbound link - you'll have to copy and paste it). These press releases fake ones, altered from legitimate news stories about the Open Directory with a search-and-replace job done to insert "Topsites". See:

http://www.pcworld.com/news/article/0,aid,14086,00.asp and http://www.thestandard.com/article/display/0,1151,8187,00.html?nl=dnt

In addition, there are a number of highly suspicious looking reviews at Alexa which attempt to vouch for the legitimacy of the service: http://www.alexa.com/data/details?url=topsites.us

Non-Payment Threats [topNEW

A new twist, apparently started in June 2003 is to send out threatening notices for "non-payment" of the listing, with a message similar to the following:

    We have added a note to your TopSites listing telling our millions of visitors that you haven't paid your TopSites invoice. The note says, "WARNING: MUNGED.com has not paid their invoice after 140 days. You can see it at:


    Unless you want people to think you are in financial trouble, I suggest you pay your invoice today by credit card. This will immediately remove the note. Simply go to:


    We have been very patient. You renewed your listing in the TopSites directory on MUNGED DATE. We sent you invoice no. MUNGED by email that day. Then we sent you seven reminders over 140 days. That means we have been advertising your site for 140 days without payment.

    If you would like to see your invoice, receive a copy by mail or fax, or edit your listing, simply log into your account at:


    I am sorry we had to do this. But, unfortunately, you left us no alternative. If you have any questions, please let me know. I will be happy to help in anyway I can.

    Kind Regards,

    John Kennedy

    P.S. We are sending this email to more than one address incase you typed your address incorrectly when you renewed your listing.

It's not clear why these individuals have been threatened. In all the reports I have received, the victims deny making any agreement. Realistically, Topsites LLC are in no position to ask for the money. Based on their history of barratry, it seems likely that Topsites LLC will then follow these demands up with baseless legal threats. However, I'd suspect that the last place Topsites LLC would like to be seen in is a courtroom.

Who is Behind The Spam? [top]

This items has moved here - it's more complex that it looks!

Canceling Your Topsites.us Listing [top]

According top Topsites.us, you can cancel your listing and get a refund. If you have already listed your site accidentally, we recommend that you do this. To quote Topsites.us:

    We are so confident that you will be delighted with the traffic from your listing in TopSites that we let you cancel at anytime. We will give you a full refund for the remaining months. Simply log into your account at www.topsites.us/login.cfm and click on the cancel link.

Incidentally, we'd be interested to know if your application for a refund is successful or not (see the contact page for details). Reports indicate that getting a refund is difficult, but that Topsites LLC do pay up if pressed.

Topsites Traffic - Fact or Fiction? [top]

As mentioned earlier, when the Topsites spam started in the Fall of 2002, Alexa reported close to zero traffic for these sites. The reported traffic has since increased hugely, but as many webmasters know, it's possible to fool Alexa into thinking that traffic is actually higher than it is, so Alexa's statistics are not always as accurate as they claim.

Indeed, Topsites.us / Topsitez.us and the other versions seem to have very little web presence. Google currently reports zero inbound links. According to Marketleap's Link Popularity Checker, topsitez.us boasts 21 inbound links as of 03/03/2003, compared to dynamoo.com's 1300+. Serious web portals boast huge numbers of inbound links - according to Marketleap, dmoz.org has 11.3 million, excite.com 6.5 million, lycos.com 24 million and yahoo.com 97 million.

Note that the Marketleap site gives inconsistent results for topsites.us because some of the search engines are reporting back internet links from the topsites.us site itself. It lists AltaVista's link count as being in excess of 96,000, but a an AltaVista query of link:topsites.us -host:topsites gives a link count of just 95 (March 2003), compared to 213 for a similar query for dynamoo.com.

And, although dynamoo.com is listed more than once in the Topsites.us / Topsitez.us directory, we cannot find a single referral from Topsites anywhere in our access logs.

The Topsites Toolbar [top]

Topsites LLC maintain that your $5 a month or even more doesn't just get you a listing in their ODP cloned directory but also allows your listings to appear in a thing called the "Topsites Toolbar", which is downloadable only from the Topsites.us / Topsitez.us websites. This is a browser plugin (some would say Parasite) which attempts to provide "additional" search results. Although the plugin is still being investigated by experts, it does have a nasty trick (as of 03/03/2003) of attempting to send an email from your mail client back to Topsites.us / Topsitez.us, thus revealing your email address and removing your privacy.

The Topsites toolbar also appears in a product called "Go MP3" published by "Go Software LLC" - who, for all intents and purposes, appear to be the same company as Topsites LLC. The software, available for download from http://g-o.us/share.htm actually claims to be "Spyware Free" despite the fact that it attempts to reveal your email address. There is no indication that "Go MP3" is in any way a popular product, although Topsites LLC claims 80,000 downloads.

A final twist is the fact that the installer doesn't actually work in any case, due to a bug in a file dated October 2002. That indicates to me that this so-called Toolbar hasn't been functioning for many months at least. You can test this for yourself by downloading the application and decompressing it using Winzip or a similar application. The file topsites.reg dated 3rd October 2002 is an invalid, zero length file which makes the installation fail.

A technical analysis of the Topsites Toolbar, its potential problems and removal instructions can be found at Andrew Clover's Doxdesk.com site where it is classified as eStart also known as BandObjects. The Topsites Toolbar has certain security and privacy implications that you should consider before installing the software.

The Toolbar is key to Topsites claim of hundreds of millions of impressions. Rather helpfully, Paul Thomas gives the game away by saying - "..the TopSites tool displays a different listing every 3 seconds on each user's taskbar, that's more than 100 million advertising impressions an hour for those 80,000 users." In other words, Topsites Toolbar users are pestered by unwanted links twenty times a minute.

It's Spam! But It Smells Fishy! [top]

The Topsites.us / Topsitez.us proposal is unsolicited junk mail (i.e. spam). Nobody submitted to the directory to begin with - although a few thousand poor souls do appear to have paid for their listings after receiving these so-called "renewal notices". There's certainly no attraction to visitors for what is yet another clone of the Open Directory. And it's highly unlikely that any website would ever receive significant traffic. At the time of writing (03/03/2003), the "search" function doesn't even work, thus rendering it pretty useless for anyone who should accidentally visit.

Google Groups is always an enlightening place when it comes to see other people's comments. Topsites LLC has been repeatedly reported for spamming and other net abuse - see here and here.

What's more, listings do not appear to be removed for non-payment. Despite having received dozens of these for different websites, at present all my sites are still listed.

Please understand that you originally submitted to the Open Directory who will NOT drop or enhance your listing regardless of whatever Topsites.us / Topsitez.us does.

My advice is to ignore this so-called "renewal notice" and ignore it, or, if you believe this to be a scam, report it to one of the following services:

If you find this article to be of use, please consider linking to us so we can spread the word around!

Part II: Paul Thomas and Topsites LLC threaten to sue - and other correspondence.

Sample Topsites.us / Topsitez.us / Topsites-us.com Email [top]

    Delivered-To: info@insertdomainhere
    Received: from topsites (localhost.concentric.net) by [] (LSMTP for Windows NT v1.1b) with SMTP id <0.001E40B4@[]>; Thu, 9 Jan 2003 11:26:58 -0800
    Date: Thu, 09 Jan 2003 11:26:42 -0700
    From: "Paul Thomas" <postmaster@topsitez.us>

    Subject: insert copy from Open Directory here

    bcc: <sales@
    Reply-To: <sales@topsitez.us>
    X-Priority: 1 (Highest)
    X-MSMail-Priority: High
    Importance: High

    Could you please be so kind as to renew your TopSites-us directory listings by Thursday, January 16 so we can continue to show them to our millions of users? For information on renewing please go to:


    If you cannot access the Internet, just let me know you want to renew by email. Your listings only cost $5 a month.

    If you have a question, please go to:


    If you cannot find your answer there, please let me know. I will be happy to help in any way I can. If you do not want to renew, there is no need to write; we will cancel your listing automatically.

    Kind Regards,
    Paul Thomas

    To remove your address from our mailing list and to cancel all of your listings simply go to:


    Here is what you get:

    1. We will continue to list your site in the TopSites directories.
    2. We will show your listing more than a million times a year (guaranteed).

    Let us introduce you (a million times!)

    People often ask, "How can you guarantee to show my listing a million times? What if I am in an unpopular category?" It does not matter! Why? AutoSearch--our patent pending tool--continually displays renewed TopSites-us listings on our users’ PCs 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We display TopSites-us listings more than 42 million times in an hour. That is why we can guarantee to show your listing more than a million times a year.

    Save $40,000 in adverting

    It would cost you up to $40,000 to display your listing a million times at sites like MSN and Altavista. Googles charges up to $200,000 depending on your category. At TopSites we charge $5 a month!

    Save $100 re-listing fee

    Please do not let your listing expire. Our editors listed you as one of the top websites in your category without charge. If your listing expires, however, you may need to pay a $100 editorial review fee to get listed again. It can take a month for our editors to authorize a listing. And they may not re-list you if there are too many listings in your category.

    Only TopSites-us gives you:

    * Massive Reach: We display our listings billions of times a year. We guarantee to show your listing more than a million times a year.

    * Cost-Effectiveness: This is the least expensive advertising you will ever buy. You want to bring lots of potential customers to your site in a cost-effective way. TopSites-us does exactly that!

    * Highly Targeted Leads: TopSites-us reaches customers when they are searching for what you are selling. That means high sales and low costs. More visitors become customers!

    * Highest Return on Investment: Independent research confirms that you get the highest ROI from online listings like TopSites-us. E-mail, banners and other forms of online advertising all have a lower ROI. And unlike direct mail, you pay nothing for mailing lists, printing or postage. No media buy returns better results than TopSites-us.

    * No-Risk: Cancel your listing any time for any reason--no questions asked!

    * Hassle-Free: Change your listing anytime or even move it to a different category--for free--and your changes will instantly appear in the directory

     "TopSites-us is the least expensive way I have found to bring buyers to my site. I have tried other online advertising companies and you beat everyone!"

    --P.A., President, Go Software (g-o.us)

    "TopSites-us makes my online marketing easy. I can change my message 24 hours a day so it is always up-to-date. And everyone who sees it is a pre-qualified prospect."

    --N.B., CEO, My News (my-news.org)


    Can I change my listing?

    You can change your listing now or later. You can rewrite the headline and description before renewing. You can change the URL too—even to another website.

    Once we receive payment, we will send you instructions on how to change your listing whenever you like. (There is no charge to do this.)

    Can I change my category?

    Can I list my site in additional categories?

    Can I list other sites too?

    You can list as many sites in as many categories as you like. Each listing costs only $5 per month per category. Just go to www.topsitez.us. Click on the category links until you find the one you want (or search on your keywords). Click on the Add My Site link. Then type your listing. If your old listing was in the wrong category, you can click unsubscribe to cancel it.

    How much does a listing cost?

    It costs $5 a month to list your site in TopSites. We will bill you $60 for 12 months. There are no additional costs. You can change your listing as often as you like for free. You can cancel your listing anytime and we will refund your remaining money.

    How do I pay?

    You can pay with a U.S. check, money order or bank draft. Or you can pay by Visa, MasterCard or American Express. Simply select the option you prefer on the renewal form. (Unfortunately, we cannot cash overseas checks at this time.)

    Who listed us?

    When did our listing start?

    We do not know. Sorry. We only began to track listing contacts and dates this year.

    How much did we pay to be listed?

    Originally you could not buy a listing--you had to wait for our editors to select you as one of the top sites in your category.

    Do we have a contract with you?

    We do not ask our customers to sign contracts for a $5 a month service.

    Can you call me and tell me more?

    We are happy to answer all your questions by email but we do not contact our customer by phone at this time. Sorry.

    Can I still renew after your deadline?

    We give our customers a month to renew so do not worry too much about the deadline.

    How do I see my listing? I could not find it when I searched.

    You can go to www.topsitez.us and click on the categories until you get to yours.

    You can also see it at www.topsitez.us by entering two or more keywords from your listing into our search form. Since we have more than three million listings, you probably will not find your listing by searching on only one word. And you definitely will not find it if you search on words that are not in your listing.

    What keywords display my listing?

    How do I change them?

    Every word in your listing is a keyword. Anytime someone searches on two or more words in your listing, we will display it. The only way to change your keywords is to change the headline or description of your listings .

    How much traffic did you send us last year?

    We do not know. Sorry. We are working on adding this feature.

    ..for more answers go to:


    3328 West Coleman Road, Kansas City, MO 64111 USA - Phone 415-294-5300

    Could you please be so kind as to click on each Renew button for information on renewing your listings in the TopSites-us directory listing by Thursday, January 16, if you do not mind? You can also renew your listings on our website by clicking renew. If you cannot access the Internet, let me know and I will renew your listings for you. Your listings only cost US $5 a month (other currencies).

Part 1: Background  Part 2: Correspondence  Part 3: Topsites uncovered  Next >>















 Subj: Shopping and Services


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