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 Article: A Web Cadre Turns the Tables on African Scam Artist

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HomerJFong
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PostPosted: Mon Jul 02, 2007 1:53 pm Reply with quoteBack to top

By THOMAS CRAMPTON
Published: July 2, 2007

Ever been tempted to respond to that e-mail message offering untold millions from the relatives of a deposed African dictator?

For some, replying to such Internet scams is a rewarding hobby. They call themselves scam-baiters, and they have started taking justice into their own hands.

Scam-baiters scam the scammer. They antagonize, humiliate and frustrate scammers who think they have an unwary victim. The baiters trade tips, tales and “trophies” on thriving discussion boards like those at 419eater.com, scamorama.com and aa419.org. (The 419 refers to the section of the Nigerian penal code that deals with fraud.)

“My reason for scam-baiting is to waste the time and resources of the scammer,” said a scam-baiter with the Web name of Scam Patroller, who declined to provide any identification beyond an e-mail address. “Each minute a scammer spends on my bait cannot be used to scam a real victim.”

Their motives may seem altruistic, but not all law enforcement officials approve of their tactics, which can include entrapment and public humiliation. Many of the scam-baiters succeed in getting embarrassing photographs of their targets posted on the Internet.

“At first you might smile and think the trophy photographs are funny, but I have seen some with fraudsters in highly degrading positions,” said Ralf Zimmermann, a crime intelligence officer in the financial and high-technology crimes division of Interpol, based in Lyon, France. “They are fraudsters and they are not good people, but they have their human rights.”

A scam-baiter known as Jason dinAlt, who was interviewed online, regards the scam practitioners as criminals who deserve any ridicule they receive. (His online pseudonym comes from the science fiction novel “Deathworld.”)

The humiliations delivered by scam-baiters can be as elaborate as the scams themselves, including making the scam artists take complex and expensive trips to pick up nonexistent payoffs.

“My most prized trophies are not physical ones — they are events,” Mr. dinAlt said. “My lad traveled 300 kilometers four times to pick up money that didn’t exist, and he was physically thrown out of the MoneyGram office and told to never come back.”

Prized scam-baiter trophies include photographs of the practitioners and their accomplices holding signs intended to humiliate them and saying things like “I am a bad person” or making statements that are unsuitable for print. The Web site 419eater.com uses photos of scam practitioners holding signs as navigation tools for the site.

Other images involve embarrassing additions to the photograph, like the fraud artist holding a fish on his head. One scam-bait video that turned into a YouTube hit shows scam artists in a Lagos grocery store acting out the dead parrot sketch from the television series “Monty Python’s Flying Circus.”

Over the course of a lengthy correspondence, the swindlers had been persuaded that the video would be entered into a contest offering a cash prize.

The creator of that scam-bait, who identifies himself as Shiver, published a book of his favorite scam-baits, titled “Greetings in Jesus Name! The Scambaiter Letters.”

Mr. Berry once persuaded a scam practitioner to carve a full-scale wooden replica of an old Commodore 64 computer keyboard.

Like all scam-baiters interviewed for this article, Mr. Berry, the founder of 419eater.com, declined to speak on the telephone or provide a verifiable identity.

Scam Patroller, in an e-mail exchange, said, “I won’t give out my home number to anyone for obvious reasons of anonymity and safety,” adding that his companion did not fully approve of his hobby. “She often worries about me baiting criminals.”

Cloaking themselves in digital anonymity through proxy servers and fake e-mail addresses, scam-baiters invent multiple personalities and sprinkle e-mail addresses into Web site comments as bait.

“I usually limit myself to 10 different personalities at a time,” Mr. dinAlt said. “Beyond that, it gets too confusing to keep up with each story line.”

Responding to the e-mail solicitations, the scam-baiters start an exchange with the aim of moving up the hierarchy of the operation.

The lower-level responders often follow a standard script until a likely victim is identified. At that point, the victim is passed to a higher-level practitioner to extract money.

“You tailor your bait to get the scammer off the script,” Mr. dinAlt said. “Once you get them off the script, it is all downhill for the scammer from there.”

Once the fraud artist is hooked, Mr. dinAlt usually exposes some part of the ruse as untrustworthy or dishonest, forcing him to show himself as trustworthy.

“We tell them that in Western countries, sending a photograph with a sign is a symbol of trustworthiness, because a camera does not lie,” Mr. dinAlt said. “Some are so greedy they will do anything to restore the confidence of their intended victim, including pose with a fish on their head or have milk poured over them while holding a sign with a silly message.”

Over the course of a lengthy correspondence, a bond can develop between a swindler and a scam-baiter.

“I know him pretty well,” Mr. dinAlt said of a practitioner with whom he had exchanged roughly 400 e-mail messages over 18 months. “I know he was married but separated because of his womanizing, and fell out with his lifelong friend over cheating in a scam.”

Despite respect for this person’s intelligence and sympathy for his financial plight, Mr. dinAlt said he held him in low regard.

“He is an educated man in a country where there is no hope, and he could have been successful in different circumstances,” Mr. dinAlt said. “But he is a thief — albeit from circumstances beyond his control — but he is still a thief, and that is something I won’t accept.”

For all the effort and time spent by scam-baiters, not everyone is convinced that they make a difference.

“Given the scale of the problem, it is like the scam-baiters are cleaning a stadium with a toothbrush,” said Suresh Ramasubramanian, who manages antispam operations at Outblaze, one of the world’s largest e-mail companies. “This may be an entertaining hobby, but it is not saving the world.”

Still, Interpol says the illicit e-mail messages — which hold out the prospect of large rewards in exchange for small advance payments — cajole, threaten and ultimately defraud an increasing number of greedy, nave or frightened Internet surfers of billions of dollars a year.

“These e-mail-based scams are growing as quickly as the Internet itself,” Mr. Zimmermann of Interpol said. “Every new user of the Internet is a potential victim.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/07/02/technology/02spam.html?ref=business

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PostPosted: Mon Jul 02, 2007 2:00 pm Reply with quoteBack to top

Quote:
They are fraudsters and they are not good people, but they have their human rights.

Bah, lad hugging. They'd have to qualify as human first. But it is good to see this being reported (albeit not very well) and hopefully people will take note. As for not making a difference, if we thought that we wouldn't do it. One person not scammed is making a difference IMHO.

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Suresh Ramasubramanian, who manages antispam operations at Outblaze
Yup, he does a great job alright Rolling Eyes

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Tsnerd
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PostPosted: Mon Jul 02, 2007 2:03 pm Reply with quoteBack to top

Parts of that article made me laugh out loud. Laughing

I am shocked and outraged at all you big, mean, trophy baiters and your lack of concerns about these criminals' human rights. Rolling Eyes

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PostPosted: Mon Jul 02, 2007 2:09 pm Reply with quoteBack to top

That was certainly so full of Political Correctness that I'm not sure if we are approved of, disapproved of, or what.

Whatever that reporter or the Interpol guy says, my sympathy is not with the scammer. As far as I'm concerned these guys have forfeited their human rights.

Maybe the gripe against us is that we are trying to do something, whereas the authorities hands are tied by lack of fund/resources, too much PC, corrupt governements etc.

And of course our WORST crime is that we enjoy baiting the scum.
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PostPosted: Mon Jul 02, 2007 2:17 pm Reply with quoteBack to top

People simply don't realise the scale and the professionality of 419 crime. If we somehow made burglars and mafioso pose with fish on their heads reactions would be different.

And what's with the raving about trophy pictures all the time? If a guy tries to defraud a charity out of a shitload of money, whats "disproportional" in asking for a trophy picture? Lads are humans, victims are humans, second grade victims are humans too.

I rarely go for the picture. Stranding a lad in the middle of nowhere is a far, far better trophy.

Well, all the more attention to the good cause... Rolling Eyes

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PostPosted: Mon Jul 02, 2007 2:36 pm Reply with quoteBack to top

LMAO @ Human rights comment. That was genius.
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PostPosted: Mon Jul 02, 2007 2:52 pm Reply with quoteBack to top

I think that Interpol guy was a scammer. I bet you his email address was: "theinterpol@yahoo.fr"

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PostPosted: Mon Jul 02, 2007 3:01 pm Reply with quoteBack to top

Quote:
or making statements that are unsuitable for print.


Go on, print them do! I double dare you. Twisted Evil

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PostPosted: Mon Jul 02, 2007 3:14 pm Reply with quoteBack to top

These human rights idiots have never had a family member the victim of a scam. They see it all from their own little pedastal, with no real human contact, except with people who agree with them.

In other words they need to get off their high horse and join the real world.

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PostPosted: Mon Jul 02, 2007 3:22 pm Reply with quoteBack to top

Woohoo....another thread that turns into an "Ethics in scambaiting" thread ...didnt have one for ehhmm...wait....how many days? Wink Laughing Laughing

On the serious note: Well, there will always be lad huggers out there. But at least this article raised awareness to 419 scams, which is the best thing about it Smile

And a good thing that our nurse is back for all the newbs we can expect because of the article Smile

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PostPosted: Mon Jul 02, 2007 3:24 pm Reply with quoteBack to top

"human rights"? WTF? I hate people like that. What an idiot.

Kudos to SP, Jason, and Shiver. Nice article.

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PostPosted: Mon Jul 02, 2007 3:57 pm Reply with quoteBack to top

For all the effort and time spent by scam-baiters, not everyone is convinced that they make a difference. Rolling Eyes

So apparently bank accounts that get closed down as a result, and thus prevents victims from transferring monies (or even sometimes results in the victims getting their money back), along with everything else (wasting their time, getting them arrested, etc) isnt making a difference?

It may be that sometimes we only make a dent, but at least we're making dents.

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PostPosted: Mon Jul 02, 2007 6:37 pm Reply with quoteBack to top

Quote:
Given the scale of the problem, it is like the scam-baiters are cleaning a stadium with a toothbrush,


With enough toothbrushes it can be done.
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PostPosted: Mon Jul 02, 2007 6:42 pm Reply with quoteBack to top

^^^^
Pledge thy toothbrush. Amen.

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PostPosted: Mon Jul 02, 2007 7:27 pm Reply with quoteBack to top

Congrats to those who put effort into this, and I hope you're not too disappointed with the result. The human rights thing is a complete red herring, since it is public authorities and govts that have a duty to protect human rights; we are not either so we owe no such duty to anyone, least of all the scammers. Even if we did, the human rights debate was originally, often is in the European Court, and always should be about balancing competing rights. Like those of a victim not to be ripped off. Guess which I think wins? Very Happy

As for the toothbrush comment, Suresh can stand there watching me scrub my little part of the stadium and mock me, or he can get stuck in and clean a patch for himself. I really don't care, I'm happy that I am doing my little bit as well as I can. Smile

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PostPosted: Mon Jul 02, 2007 7:41 pm Reply with quoteBack to top

Idiot lad hugger wrote:
I have seen some with fraudsters in highly degrading positions

clapping clapping to all the trophy baiters! Please attempt to put your lads in humiliating positions as often as possible Twisted Evil

The negative stuff about us is nothing new, and we've had much worse. That said, the article does help get the word out, and that can only be a Good Thingtm for any potential vics that read it.

As for making a difference... To the overall problem, we rarely can. To the individual victim who twigs or gets dropped because of what we do, the difference we make can be their life's savings. Let the naysayers sit around and moan about the scope of the problem whilst wringing their hands and doing nothing to help. We have better things to do.

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PostPosted: Mon Jul 02, 2007 8:07 pm Reply with quoteBack to top

The word is out: it's open season on all scamming suckheads, woohoo! Smile

As for ethical considerations, I follow the philosophical school of Shiverology: bait, tourture, rise, and repeat. Laughing

In the past two years, I have spoken to no less than 15 different U.S. federal, state, and local law enforcement officers of varying jurisdiction and they all responded the same way. And that is: initially with awe, followed by questions about what we do, and ending with "go out and kick their asses!" Very Happy

That French Interpol guy is being too politically correct. He, of all people, should be well aware of the outcomes of such scamming activities.

As for us being a drop in the bucket: I count on it!!! Why? Because so far there has been an abundant supply of wildly successful and hilarious baits that have been conducted and I sure as hell would like to see more done in the future. It would be a sad day for me if we all actually managed to burn out most of the scam artists because that would indicate that the fun of baiting is coming to a near-end with a trickle.

Eight wrote:
As for the toothbrush comment, Suresh can stand there watching me scrub my little part of the stadium and mock me, or he can get stuck in and clean a patch for himself. I really don't care, I'm happy that I am doing my little bit as well as I can. Smile


The best part about us cleaning the stadium is that (a) we're doing it on our own free will, (b) no detail will be missed, and (c) the job will be effective.

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PostPosted: Mon Jul 02, 2007 8:13 pm Reply with quoteBack to top

Ralf Zimmerman wrote:
At first you might smile and think the trophy photographs are funny, but I have seen some with fraudsters in highly degrading positions...They are fraudsters and they are not good people, but they have their human rights.


If you don't like it, Ralf, get out of the fucking office, put a few of them in less degrading positions (ie. handcuffs), and protect their human rights in the confines of a jail cell. Evil or Very Mad

And Suresh Ramasubramanian, who manages antispam operations at Outblaze needs to get off his/her arse and go shut down some more phone lad addys, with or without a toothbrush. Laughing


JD and SP Thumbs up

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PostPosted: Mon Jul 02, 2007 8:28 pm Reply with quoteBack to top

JMRazor wrote:
I think that Interpol guy was a scammer. I bet you his email address was: "theinterpol@yahoo.fr"

It is really "theinterpolguy@scammer.ni" .... Rolling Eyes

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PostPosted: Mon Jul 02, 2007 8:29 pm Reply with quoteBack to top

<br>Where do I hand in my badge? I quit, as obviously I'm wasting my time here.

This geezer hasn't got a clue. Is he a mugu lover, or just so politically correct he has disappeared up his own anus?

I despair.

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PostPosted: Mon Jul 02, 2007 8:33 pm Reply with quoteBack to top

Well, at least this time we are 'Web Cadre' and not 'vigilantes'...that's a plus.

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PostPosted: Mon Jul 02, 2007 8:43 pm Reply with quoteBack to top

^^^I kinda liked Vigilantes, it made me think I was Batman. I was just going out to buy my cape and utility belt until you said that TS.

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PostPosted: Mon Jul 02, 2007 9:35 pm Reply with quoteBack to top

Thomas Crampton wrote:
...the founder of 419eater.com, declined to speak on the telephone or provide a verifiable identity.


No I didn't Confused

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PostPosted: Mon Jul 02, 2007 9:40 pm Reply with quoteBack to top

TSnerd wrote:
Well, at least this time we are 'Web Cadre' and not 'vigilantes'...that's a plus.


This time? Has this happened before?

Shocked

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Scam Patroller
Baiting Guru


Joined: 08 Jul 2004
Posts: 11852
Location: UK


PostPosted: Mon Jul 02, 2007 9:49 pm Reply with quoteBack to top

Quote:
Scam Patroller, in an e-mail exchange, said


I never said anything via email.

I didn't really say much in this article apart from the obvious answer I gave, he wanted to phone me, that's was a no no, he offered for me to call him, I said no, I ain't phoning France, I suggested him sending his questions via PM, so we settled on that.

He sent 3 questions, the obvious ones like, why do you bait, how did you get involved, blah blah blah, he then sent questions 4 5 and 6, I couldn't be arsed answering them so I didn't bother.

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Last edited by Scam Patroller on Mon Jul 02, 2007 10:03 pm; edited 1 time in total
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