Spam revenge

Are you tired of hearing from deposed, desperate Nigerians seeking a bank account in which to deposit their funds? Some people are striking back:

…an ad hoc militia of self-styled counterscammers on several continents is taking the fight directly to the thieves. Aiming to outwit the swindlers, they invent elaborate and often outrageous identities (Venus de Milo, Lord Vader) under which they engage the con men, trying to humiliate them and, more important, waste the grifters’ time and resources.

The possibilities are endless:

…a fraud baiter posing as one Pierpont Emanuel Weaver, a wealthy businessman, appeared to persuade a con man in Ghana in 2002 to send almost $100 worth of gold to Indiana – for “testing purposes as my chemist requires” – after being asked to put up $1.8 million for a share in a gold fortune. In other cases, swindlers are tricked into posing for pictures holding self-mocking signs, pictures then posted online. Or they are led to travel hundreds of miles to pick up a payment, only to come up empty-handed.

A 47-year-old manufacturing executive in Lincoln, Neb., said he had been engaged in such pranks for almost three years. “I’ve had many, many good laughs at their expense, and have spent nothing but time,” he said. “They have spent countless hours creating fake documents, obtaining photos of themselves holding funny signs, running to the Western Union miles away from where they live to obtain money which I never actually sent, and printing out counterfeit checks to send me.” As for his motivation, he said, “Hopefully, along the way, I’ve diverted enough of their time and resources to keep them from successfully scamming at least one hapless (albeit, most likely, greedy) victim.”

Here is the full story (NYTimes). Here is a website detailing Internet scams, and how they have been stopped. Here is one con man-vigilante exchange, which becomes increasingly humorous. By the end you will see why the scammer is labeled the “world’s rudest investment advisor.”

One question I have: Far be it for me to challenge the voluntary and welfare-enhancing provision of a public good. Nonetheless I cannot help but ask what are the motives of these vigilantes? Is this their idea of fun? Would they be equally keen to aid the vaccination of African children? Part of me is happy that both sides are kept busy with these shenanigans.


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