Scamming the Scammers: Scambaiters Turn the Tables on Nigerian Scammers

Lest you think that Nigerian scammers (aka 419 scammers) are just some wacky, fun-loving, down-on- their-luck guys from poor African countries just trying to support their families, keep in mind that dozens of people, such as Norwegian millionaire Kjetil Moe, have been lured to Africa and killed by the person who was scamming them. Numerous other victims have committed suicide when they learned that they had lost their entire savings to a scammer that claimed either to love them or to be able to make them rich.

Now, maybe you think these people aren’t really victims. Maybe you think that they deserved what they got. How could they be so stupid as to believe what these scammers told them?  As one investigator, Colin Woodcock, noted, “We’ve had women who, even after we’ve demonstrated categorically that a ‘relationship’ is a fraud, will not accept it. ‘One guy even admitted to his victim, ‘I know I’m a fraudster, but I still love you’. It was all she wanted to hear. She continued with him, kept sending him money. Victims have to accept the truth before they can be helped.”

One such woman was 67-year-old Australian, Jette Jacobs. After the death of her husband in 2002 and her next partner in 2009, she was in a bad place. She joined an online dating site and was surprised to be contacted by a handsome, 28-year-old African man who professed interest in her. Of course, he ran into some bad luck from time to time and needed some money from her. He even met her in South Africa in 2010. Of course, she had to give him thousands of dollars to make the trip, but that didn’t matter to her. In the end, she gave him around $100,000. In 2013, she went to South Africa to meet him again to follow up on his marriage proposal. This she did despite the warnings from her family and even after receiving a letter from investigators telling her that she had been trapped in a scam.

Ms. Jacobs never returned from this trip and never married her African boyfriend. She was found murdered in her hotel room. Her scammer, Orowo Jesse Omokoh, was later arrested for fraud and possible connections to her murder.

orowo

Orowo Jesse Omokoh

 Most scam victims never get the satisfaction of learning who their scammers really were. Once the money is gone, there is no need for the scammers to maintain the relationship and they simply disappear.

The Nigerian prince scam has evolved in more complex ways since it first appeared. Romance scams seem to be the scam of the moment. The scammers join dating sites with fake pictures (often of American military men) and begin finding vulnerable women. They often work 6 to 10 women at a time, which is why they usually never refer to the women by their first names in their letters, opting for “honey”, “my dear”, “baby”, etc. It’s simply too confusing to remember all those names and who you said what to. They will try to match the profile of the women they scam. If the woman is religious, they are religious, too. If the woman has a son, they have a son, and so on. This is why many scammers like to join religious-based dating sites. The victims are easier to con. If the victim has doubts and asks for documentation, they can get very official looking documents. In other words, the further the victim is lured into the scam, the more they are entrapped. If the victim figures out they are being scammed and stops answering the emails, the scammer may return in the form of a law enforcement officer claiming to be tracking down the scammer.

Although romance scams are leading the way at the moment, there are a number of other unique scams out there on the rise. There’s the hitman scam, where the victim is told that they have been targeted to be murdered and that only by paying off the hitman can they escape certain death.

There are small and medium-sized business scams, where overseas entities arrange fake business deals with all the necessary (fake) documentation. Recently, Interpol arrested a Nigerian who scammed small and medium-sized businesses out of $60 million.

One of the most common scams to appear recently is the cute puppy scam. The scammer says he has some puppies to give away for free. When the scammer gets an interested person, they say they will need some money for shipping, then some money for a shipping crate, then money for special licenses… well, you get the picture but you never get the dogs.

Finally, among the most bizarre is the Nigerian astronaut scam. The poor astronaut was abandoned by the Russians on a space mission and they need money to bring him back to earth. Hey, you have to give them credit for creativity if nothing else.

However, there is a growing group of people who do not find these scammers amusing in the least. In fact, they are so irked by their behavior that they have banded together to scam the scammers. Some of these so-called scambaiters have been victims of such scams but others just find it amusing to toy with them. These baiters are commonly organized by websites such as 419 Eater. The goal of these sites, and the people who are part of them, is to interfere with the scammers’ scamming activity by causing them to spend time, and hopefully, money, on one fake victim.

For example, when one scambaiter was approached via a common spam email asking for help with regaining millions of dollars, the scambaiter wrote back that he, in fact, was an art importer and dealt with wood carving. His company offered grants for such artwork. Oddly enough, a few days later, he was contacted by another person who just happened to be in the wood carving trade. The scambaiter gave him a photo of something he needed carved. Apparently, the scammer was able to arrange the carving and shipped the item to the baiter for assessment. The baiter said they would refund shipping charges later. Unfortunately, the carving ‘shrunk’ during shipping so was not in contention for a grant. However, the baiter gave the scammer another chance. The scammer submitted another carving which was, sadly, eaten by a hamster that must have been trapped in the shipping crate. This went on for about two months. Finally, the scambaiter sent the scammer a letter purportedly from a law enforcement agent telling the scammer that they had been scammed. Instead of being upset, the scammer tried to convince the law enforcement officer to go into the wood carving business with him.

Some people are upset by such scambaiting. They feel it is immoral to make the poor scammers suffer. There are stories of scambaiters making scammers get tattoos to prove they are sincere. Other baiters have sent scammers on expensive long trips to meet them at an airport where they never show up. Many times the ‘victim’ wants the scammer to prove they are real and asks them to send a picture of themselves holding signs with a particular phrase. Of course, the scammers will not send their real picture but will photo shop something to appease the scambaiter. The actual photo shown below shows the quality of the scammer’s work. I can’t help feeling this guy looks familiar.

scambait1

Other scammers are asked to pose in particular ways to prove they are legitimate. This was apparently what happened to the guy shown in this photo.

scambait2

Is this going too far? You be the judge. In the wood carving episode above, the baiter later contacted the same scammer pretending to be a fellow scammer who needed advice. During the course of their conversations, the scambaiter was offered a job in Europe as a money mule for $2,000 to $3,000 a month. The scammer claimed he had 20 people working for him and pulled in an average of $45,000 a month. One scambaiter related the following anecdote. “One baiter’s character recently told the scammer that he had a choice between sending the scammer $5,000 or using the same money to pay for his baby daughter’s cancer treatment—I think you can guess which option the scammer chose.”

When a scammer tried the puppy scam on one scambaiter, the baiter wrote back asking the scammer to ship him meat from puppies, as he had an exotic meat business, Klingon Meats Ltd. Eventually, the scammer agreed and claimed that this meat would cost $2,200 per kilo. The baiter also had him send various certificates. He also told the scammer he needed the following types of meat.

Antelope

Lesser Spotted Gibbon

African Squawk Deer

Camel Humps

Kangaroo

Chucklefish

Three footed horseferret

Mancunian Haggis

Mogwai

Elephant Wings

Herbian Dog Liver

Albanian Cheese Hedgehog

Of course, the scammer claimed he could get this meat, it was just a matter of money. This scambaiting scenario went on for four months. Was it a success? Scambaiters will tell you that as long as you keep scammers busy with fake victims, you are keeping them away from real victims.

So, if you’re tired of these scams or just have some free time on your hands, you may want to take up the hobby of scambaiting. The 419 Eater site warns against entering into this activity without some preparation. They offer a list of tips and cautions for the novice which should be taken seriously. Although no good baiter has ever been physically assaulted by his scammer, it is a possibility, which is why baiters choose to be anonymous.

The baiters claim they are performing a service by not only hampering scammers in their work but by alerting others to how these scammers work. That may be, but this type of scambaiting is low tech. Scambaiters could easily upgrade to the use of bots or malware to really mess up a scammer’s life. However, recently, scammers have been messing up each other’s lives. There are now so many scammers on dating sites that they have been inadvertently scamming each other. This is why they are now asking potential victims to show themselves on video chats. Scambaiters take note.

 

About Steve Mierzejewski

Marketing consultant for InZero Systems, developer of the next generation in hardware-separated security, WorkPlay Technology. I've worked in Poland, Japan, Korea, China, and Afghanistan. I'm a writer, technical editor, and an educator. I also do some work as a test developer for Michigan State University.
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