Scambaiting used to be described as attempting to get revenge on a scammer who has scammed you out of money, stolen your personal information, or ruined your reputation. That definition has changed a little. I’m not saying that there isn’t an element of revenge in some of the recent scambaiting episodes, but more and more people are entering the scambaiting scene just to have some fun at the expense of scammers.
Now, before you criticize these scambaiters for being mean to scammers, just take a minute to think about the twisted mindset these scammers operate under. Scammers believe they have the right to deceive you. The excuse often given is that they are poor and have no other way to make a living. In truth, many good scammers are quite wealthy. They are often proud of how much money they make by scamming people and often post photos online of themselves enjoying their money. Take Rubbin Sarpong, for example.
Before you start feeling sorry for poor Mr. Sarpong, you should hear more of his story. Sarpong had been pretending to be in the military and had convinced a woman he was in love with her and that he would meet her at the airport with all the money she had given to him and more. When he never showed up, she realized she had given a scammer over $90,000. The next day she killed herself. In fact, scammers have caused a number of suicides. They have persuaded numerous naïve people into selling their homes, and businesses by emotionally manipulating them. They have wiped out the life savings of well-intentioned elderly people. Again, the scammers did this not only without shedding a tear, but with a sense of a job well done. In Toronto, an elderly man was scammed out of his life savings of over $700,000. He believed he was helping a woman, named Sarah, that he had fallen in love with online. Shortly after he lost his savings, he died of cancer. But that didn’t stop the scammers. ‘Sarah’ continued to ask for money six months after his death. She needed $5000 because she was having some problems. My guess is that her problems weren’t quite as serious as his.
But all of this pales in the light of what might be one of the lowest scams of all time. A man in North Dakota. John Stautz, was contacted by someone, purportedly in the Marines, who told him that his son had been killed. They said that they needed John’s personal information to verify that the dead man was, indeed, his son. Among other information the confused John gave them was his Social Security Number. He then had to go through the painful process of telling the boy’s mother about the death. Luckily for John, at some point, he felt that something was not right. He had always heard that such news should be delivered in person. After making a few phone calls, he realized it was all just a scam. “Somebody with a really bad thought, twisted thought would have to do this and that’s a shame it happens to anybody,” said Stautz. To the scammers, though, it was just another day at the office.
It’s stories like this that make average people; people who were never scammed, wonder if there isn’t some way they could make scammers pay for the destruction they cause. Over time, some of these people joined up with scam victims to form the first scambaiting groups. The members of these groups help each other in scamming the scammers and share their successes with each other. As the scammers’ skills have increased, so, too, have those of the scambaiters.
Over time, scambaiters evolved from groups wanting revenge and justice to groups wanting to have fun at the scammers’ expense. The oldest scambaiting group around is 419 Eater. 419 (actually 4-1-9) refers to the section of the Nigerian penal code that deals with fraud. To no one’s surprise, a lot of scammers operate out of Nigeria. Other nations have their fair share of scammers, but Nigeria tops the list.
Although 419 Eater is in need of a face lift, (many of the links go nowhere) it still contains a lot of good information about taking up the scambaiting hobby. You can always read some of the forum posts to see what scambaiting is all about and the scambaiting tips are still valid.
Currently, I think the best scambaiting group is on Reddit. If you look at the column on the right of the page, you’ll see this link, “New to Scambaiting?” This will give you some good tips on how to proceed.
Let me summarize what you need to do. First of all, establish a fake identity. Be ready with fake phone numbers, addresses, bank details, and any other personal information you think they might ask for. Do not use your regular email to respond to a scammer. Get a free email account. Yes, you can use Gmail. The scammers often do. Use a VPN or Tor Browser to be perfectly safe, though it’s possible for scammers to tell if you’re using Tor. Even so, my guess is that they won’t figure this out, and, even if they do, they will still respond because they’re just happy to have a fish on the line.
If you find a scam email in your spam folder, you can copy it into your special scambait email and respond to the scammer. To make it look more legitimate, put “re:” before their original subject line in your subject box.
Recently, a scam email made it into my Inbox. It was one of those, “Your Amazon Prime Account will be blocked unless…” emails. With a little research, I was able to find the senders email address. I got a temporary email address (Guerilla Mail is good) and copied the original subject line into the temporary email subject box. I put, ‘re:’, before it to make it look more legitimate. I wrote that they should “contact me here”. The word, “here”, was in blue to show the link. The link itself went to a North Korean website that was known to deliver malware. Whether they actually followed the link, I don’t know, but it gave me some satisfaction to think they did.
One of the main problems potential scambaiters complain about is finding a scammer to scambait. This may indicate how fast this hobby is growing. There are even websites that will help you become a lure to scammers. Here you can give your scambaiting email address and leave a message like the following.
Some people are even making a living by scambaiting. Comedian James Veitch uses scambaiting in his comedy routine. It gives you a pretty good idea of what you can do.
Kitboga (for security reasons, he keeps his real name secret) makes a living by live streaming his scambaiting escapades, often posing as a computer illiterate grandmother. The main goal of scambaiting is to waste the scammer’s time. If they work for a call center, they don’t get any work done. If they are scamming from an internet café in Nigeria, they have to pay for more time. The idea here is the longer you can keep them busy with you, the less time they have to scam someone else.
Jim Browning (again, not his real name) takes scambaiting to a new level by actually tracking them down and sometimes using malware to take over their networks. Some writers on the topic say you should not try this angle. They say that most scammers use internet cafes and you would be hurting the café owners more than the scammers. I’m not sure I agree. I’m pretty sure these café owners know why most people visit them. If they are losing computers to malware attacks, they may police their establishment a little more closely.
But most scambaiters just want to have a little fun. On the Reddit site, you can watch a variety of scams develop live. Here’s a recent scam email one of the members found in his spam folder (this is the first place you should look for scammers) and one that seems perfect for the beginning scambaiter to hone their skills with. Remember, your object is to keep them busy, not expose them and make them stop contacting you.
If you can’t figure out that this is a scam, you have more serious problems. It’s interesting that Donald Trump has achieved the position of prime minister. It was very nice of him to hope the target had “coronavirus-19”. It seems he banks on the fact that the potential victim will be so overjoyed with getting Mr. Trump’s “love” that they will be happy to follow the link which will probably contain a form from which the scammer hopes to harvest personal information. Yes, you could just put in fake data but what’s the fun in that.
What actually happened is that the person who received Trump’s missive called the scammer a “fraud and a fake”, which was not the best way to scambait. Oddly, attempting to prove he was neither (and happy to get any response at all), the scammer sent the following email. (The message is enlarged below.)
Here is a closer view of the scammer’s message which proves, beyond a doubt, that this must be the actual Donald Trump writing this.
Yes, Trump must be truly a “kind man/woman”. Sadly, he must have divorced Melania. But, at the bottom, it does say it is an “Official white HOUSE email” so it must be, right? All you have to do is give your credit card number and you’ll be rich. Seems like a good deal to me.
Yeah, you can take this scam in any direction you want. Some scambaiters have made the scammers send personal photos or other details that can then be used against them. If you ask for an ID, they’re ready with a fake ID . Maybe you can get them to fill out a form to prove that they are serious. The possibilities are endless. Then, when you get bored, you can just stop responding.
Admittedly, scambaiting is not for everyone. It’s a good hobby if you have a lot of time and want to feel like you are on the side of justice. It should not be confused with trolling. You don’t have to be mean. You can just pretend to be stupid. Others try to confuse the scammer by using complex grammar or fake vocabulary. Just keep in mind that they’re the ones who started it. They came after you. Who knows? Maybe you can convince them to get another profession.