Scam Baiting: The Hobby

I still get spam at my work email, although my home email and WordPress itself have very successful spam blockers in place.

The spam I occasionally get at work is all of the fraud variety… there are no pharmaceutical or extension technology sales being offered, for which I am grateful.

nigerian email scamThe work spam tends to be either of the payment transfer type or more commonly the Nigerian 419 scam. (The 419 refers to a section of the Nigerian criminal code.)

Most people know of the latter especially, although there are many, many variations. You can read many of the typical examples at Scamorama, which encourages people to read the scamming emails out at parties for the amusement and education of all.

You get an email from an unknown individual in Nigeria or an African country usually who has picked you as that special someone who deserves to receive millions of dollars or pounds as you help this stranger (almost always with an impressive title) illegally divert funds from some moribund bank account or assist in moving their inheritance out of the country. Of course you will get a large cut.

If you were foolish enough to believe this in your larcenous little heart, you would just have to forward some small fees which unfortunately crop up so that the transaction may proceed… which of course it never does.

419ScamLifeCycle1

There are major subject matter variations, such as winning the big Princess Diana lottery based in London, or being invited, all expenses paid, to a major United Nations conference in Dubai, or… well you get the idea. Unexpected expenses and costs will arise at the last minute and everything will be fine if you can just spare a few dollars to solve the problems.

I’ve even gotten them in French and Spanish from time to time. I’m on a mailing list somewhere that is cherished and passed on from fraudster to con man or woman apparently without end.

There are two things that bother me about these scams. The first is that some nearly illiterate criminal, with mostly incoherent thought processes, actually imagines that people will believe and act on the preposterous misspelled and ungrammatical messages he or she sends at random.

The second, of course, is that there are people who seriously respond to these scams and are bilked and even, in cases of some poor souls who have actually travelled in pursuit of their riches, been robbed and murdered.

This disturbs me because I am forced to notice the monumental iceberg of human stupidity and venality bobbing below the surface all about us (and occasionally, it must be said, in me), of which these scams are one tip. I prefer to move about with the illusion that reason and honesty prevail in all quarters and really dislike bumping into reminders of other realities.

cc1So imagine my childish glee at discovering what is probably a famous article in scam-baiting circles, The Incredible Shrinking Artwork, by master scambaiter, Shiver Metimbers.

Before I go on to describe my delight at that article I should describe scam baiting itself. I’ve often thought what would happen if, for a lark, I pretended to take one of these ridiculous offerings seriously and responded. But on balance I have other things I’d rather spend my time and effort on, so I let that idea go.

But many others have had the same thought and, for better or worse, followed up on it and made a hobby out of baiting the scammers.

A frequent rationale is that if a scambaiter can tie-up one of these scammers for awhile and keep them occupied doing the kind of nonsense they seek to have others do, there will be fewer actual victims. That may be an honorable motive, turnabout is fair play after all, but I think it’s more about having fun putting someone on in a good cause. A major on-line source of this activity is at 419 Eater.

akinkwu2I laughed out loud several times reading The Incredible Shrinking Artwork and I encourage anyone in need of a few moments of amusement to read it and get the full benefit.

But the gist is this: scambaiter Shiver Metimbers responded to a well-known 419 scammer, John Boko, who sent the typical email under one of his other names. Mr. Metimbers shifted the ground and wrote back that he was an art dealer, one Derek Trotter, with a major gallery looking for wooden carvings from Africa.

Mr. Trotter was also keen to find young talent and was offering scholarships up to $150,000 for the right new artists.

Could Mr. Boko (under his other name) assist?

Nothing was heard for awhile until Mr. Boko, using the Boko name this time, wrote to inform Mr. Trotter that four artistic, talented young men of his acquaintance on the Ivory Coast wondered whether Mr. Trotter would be interested in helping them develop their artwork.

And so they were off…

First Mr. Trotter asked for a sample of the young men’s artwork so that he could confirm their talent and qualify them for the scholarship. He sent them a small plastic collectible from a British kids television series from which to produce a carving. Eventually he has Mr. Boko courier to him by Fed-Ex quite well-done carvings of those plastic figurines which arrived in a solid wood box.

Unfortunately, Mr. Trotter explains to Mr. Boko, there must have been shrinkage and the figurines did not meet spec. Mr. Trotter, for the purposes of the scholarship, is unable to find them acceptable.

They go on in this vein for awhile. The series of photos of the artwork in the article are amazing.

akinkwu20Eventually, Mr. Trotter relents sufficiently to have Mr. Boko try once more. This time, Mr. Boko’s artists must produce a carving of a Commodore 64 keyboard.

Eventually it turns out that the meticulously carved keyboard when received was chewed on by a hamster, of unknown origin, temporarily named Bert. At least that’s what Mr. Trotter’s brother emailed to Mr. Boko.

And shortly thereafter, Mr. Boko was informed, Derek Trotter Fine Arts was forced to go out of business and any outstanding issues could not be resolved.

There are other similar scambaiting tales at, for instance, Dumbentia . One scambaiter resented a religious variation on the 419 scam so much, which preyed on the pious gullible with many Biblical quotes, that he wrote back as a nun from a convent prone to animal sacrifice.

An article on Ars Technica notes that scambaiters have managed to get the scammers to even tattoo themselves to convince the baiter of their sincerity, or travel long distances in hopes of a non-existent payoff.

Some have understandable ethical concerns with scam baiting. The site 419 Eater provides the scambaiter position on some of these, such as: Isn’t scambaiting racist? or, Isn’t it only just greedy people who get victimized by these scammers?

It also could be a dangerous activity, since one is dealing with criminals after all. Another similar site to 419 Eater, 419 Baiter, outlines the resources and care one must take to have a risk-free experience…

Some of the scammers are starting to wise up and insist on communication by telephone, for instance, and the same site gives guidelines on how to deal with that.

Am I going to change my mind and try out scambaiting? No, I don’t really need that kind of involvement with people. I prefer my interactions to be more… straight forward. Time is short, in the end.

But I can see the allure.

[Home]

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Notes on images, from the top:

1) What to wear when the charities come to call… found on http://www.rizdin.com/

2) A 419 scam chart from NextWeb Security found on the BigCityLib blog.

3, 4, 5) Scamming the scammer, from The Incredible Shrinking Artwork, cited above.

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6 Comments on “Scam Baiting: The Hobby”

  1. rickmatz Says:

    Are you trying to tell me that my Nigerian benefactor is, is, … less than he appears to be?!

  2. fencer Says:

    Rick,

    I hate to break it to you, man…

    Regards

    P.S. Your follow-up came in blank…


  3. The “art dealer” if he could string it along enough could end up with a whole lot of Pop Art, enough to have an exhibition with. Given its rarity and with enough hype, perhaps he could generate enough cash to actually have earned something from the scammer not the reverse.
    This is hilarious. I love it.
    K

  4. fencer Says:

    Hi lookingforbeauty,

    I know… he could auction it off for charity or something, if so inclined.

    Regards

  5. forestrat Says:

    I don’t know what to say. People do some crazy weird stuff.

    MDW

  6. fencer Says:

    Hi forestrat,

    Yes — it can be a strange world…

    Regards


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