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The Ethics of Scambaiting

 

Most decent people who stumble across this site are initially amused by the antics but then start to feel some pangs of conscience - sure it’s funny but maybe it’s not very *nice* to string them along like that. After all, surely they wouldn’t be doing it unless they had to…etc

Over time there have been some excellent answers to this question so it was decided to collate these together.

1. Surely no one believes it when they get one of these letters?
It often comes as a surprise when you hear of someone who actually believed that some ex-presidents son wanted their help to rescue the family fortune. In February 2004, Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said:

 

“In Nigeria, we are always amazed that anyone could be so stupid as to respond to such an offer.”

 

The fact is that many people do believe these letters – enough to make 419 crime quite a lucrative money earner. It has been estimated that there are well over 250,000 scammers involved in 419 scams worldwide and that they reap in over US$1.5 billion annually. The average victim pays out US$20,000.

People who already know that it’s a scam tend not to get taken in. But there are so many variations from ‘help me get this dead man’s money out of the country before the nasty government confiscates it’ to ‘I’m dieing. Please look after my children when I’m gone’ that it is quite easy for someone who does not know to get sucked in. And of course once the scammers have their claws into their victim they use every trick they know to make them pay more and more until there is nothing left.

ScamPatrol comes across between 15-20 victims per week, many of who have already sent money at the time they were warned. Sadly, many of those are already so convinced by the story that they refuse to believe the warnings and continue to contact the scammers.


2. But only people who are greedy and a bit dishonest themselves would get sucked in. After all most of the letters require you to pass yourself off as a relative on legal documents so they deserve what they get.

Many of the early letters did state either that person x (usually a foreign national) had died without relatives and the corrupt government would confiscate this money if person Y (the victim) doesn’t impersonate a relative to claim the money. Another variation was that the money had been obtained by over-invoicing oil contracts and they needed help to sneak it out of the country. But usually these letters had a disclaimer to the effect of, "This is a completely legitimate transaction. It will be carried out legally, and you will be protected from any breach of the law." This was to reassure more honest victims that everything was above board and legal.

Now letters come in hundreds of different formats – just check out the Surplus Letters Forum! There are the well-known next-of-kin letters, the orphan scams, repentant dying sinner needs help giving fortune away to charity, tsunami victim donation appeals, fake cheque scams, wash-wash, anti-scam scams (been a victim of 419 crime? We’ll get your money back for you – at a price!) and more.

Good, well-meaning people get tricked. Consider this woman:

 

From: XXX XXX Jennings <xxx@bellsouth.net>
To: Amanda Fairheart-Smythe
Date: Tue, 7 Dec 2004 12:09:16 -0600 (Central Standard Time)

Dear Amanda Fairheart-Smythe,

I wish I had received this email over 3 years ago. This man has stolen all that I had saved and money that I borrowed. I heard from his Mother (?) telling me a sad story that she was dying from Aids and wanted me to take her children as my own when she died. She had set up an Inheritance account and put it in my name. How stupid could I have been? What I sent was to cover legal fees, legal documents, etc... The money was never sent here. I have heard in the last couple of days from the bank and have found out that Kwesi Bandermann and others are thieves. Why did it take over 3 years to find this out? I would never put your informants life in danger. My life is in danger now as well as my family. I have received threats this week. I am so afraid now and don't know what to do. How did you know that Kwesi Bandermann was expected to arrive here by plane? He did not arrive and I pray to God he doesn't. How did you get this email address? Only 2 people had it. It was Mr. Richard Meddings and Kwesi Bandermann. I can tell you the whole story if you need it.

Sincerely,
XXX XXX Jennings

 

All she wanted to do was adopt some children whose mother had died of AIDS. She was scammed over 3 years and lost vast amounts of money. Greedy? I don’t think so.

Also consider the vast number charity scams. Less than 2 days after the tsunami killed over 200,000 people in Asia on Boxing Day 2004, scam letters were being circulated. People responded to these not because they were greedy but because they were generous and wanted to help those in trouble.


3. People wouldn't send them money if they didn't have it to spare.
Again, this is false. Those who fall for these scams believe they are about to get millions of dollars. Compared to such huge sums what is $20-60,000? They see it as a 100% risk free investment that will pay off within days or weeks.

Many of the victims take out personal loans, re-mortgage their homes, sell possessions, borrow from family and friends, and more to send money to these scammers. When the money is gone and the scam finishes they are left with crippling debt.

 

I am a pastor in United Arab Emirates and am also a victim of them. I am poor and hardly feed my family with my meager earnings.

I received an email on 28 Feb 2001 from a person called "Shan Lee Shun" saying that he is the adopted son of a Japanese widow who left huge wealth. He informed that this lady made a will to divide a part of her wealth to many humanitarian organizations and churches world wide and my name is also included in that.

My portion he said was $1.6 million. He sent some documents to 'prove' that and said that the money is invested with a GLOBAL SECURITIES AND COURIER COMPANY in Amsterdam and I was invited to visit Amsterdam to get this transaction done.

Foolishly believing this I went to Amsterdam but before going they said that a handling charge of $18,000 should be given but I had not even $500 with me. When I told about this to a friend, trusting me, he gave this money by acquiring a loan from his bank on the promise that I would return this amount soon.

I sent this to them to transfer the money to account in UAE. Then they informed me that in order to release the amount I should produce a Drug Clearance Certificate. For that they said that $50000 was required.

Still believing this, I told another friend of mine and he offered to help me by acquiring a loan from the bank. With this amount I went to Amsterdam where they took the money from me, gave me a 'certificate' and sent me back along with some bank transfer 'receipts' of money to my account.

Later on I came to know that this was fraud and I got cheated. Since then I am in a very difficult situation that I cannot even feed my children well or send them properly to school. I am paying back the amount every month with almost all of my earnings and still I need to pay a big amount which is left.

I just pray to God to settle my debt. I have complained once to the Amsterdam Police and no action has been taken by them. God bless you for all what you are doing to help these kind of victims.

Yours sincerely

Pastor John C 04/12/03

 

4. They wouldn’t send much. After a couple of times they would realise that they’re being duped before they lose too much money.

It would be nice if that was the case. However, the most successful of these criminals are very good at what they do. Plus, it gets to a point where the victim thinks “I’ve come so far and paid so much, surely it this is the last payment”. The victim becomes trapped into a never-ending spiral of fees and setbacks each costing more and more money.

There are documented cases of victims from a number of different countries who have paid out millions to these scammers. Some of them are still convinced that the money they were promised a share of exists.

Investors hit twice in scams, court told – over $2 million

Nigerian Money Scammers Claim a Major Victim - $320,000

 

5. But the scammers are only trying to get ahead & feed their families. If the West hadn't raped their country of its wealth they wouldn't have to do this.

Funnily enough, this is the argument most often used by the Nigerian lads and their supporters. Recent lad visits to the forum show that this is a prevailing justification for their scamming.

Basically the argument goes something like this:

1. Nigeria was a happy and peaceful country until the west came along.
2. Western companies, such as Halliburton and Shell, bribed their way into the country and proceeded to strip Nigeria of its assets leaving the inhabitants poverty stricken and struggling to survive.
3. Therefore the West is responsible and now it is payback time.

Lad to Janne Pekkala (Baiter):

Ok, I don't realy call it cheating, most times the smart person become victorious. Some body has to pay what we call retribution

From what Africa went through during the Slave trade era

The west took all our resourses, Manpower, and our cultural and traditional wares

Great acheivements

Some body will pay some how what your lineage owed

 

This fails to take into account several very basic facts and concepts:

• There is a culture in Nigeria that esteems those who can make money without working.

 

One moderator of our forum, Old Coaster, grew up in Nigeria and notes:

In the 18th century, European traders sat in hulks and trading posts at the mouths of the Oil Rivers, Badagry and other sites and were well used to the ridiculous amounts demanded by Nigerian traders for Palm Oil, Ivory and Slaves. Serious negotiation was involved and people like John Holt are on record complaining about the difficulty of dealing with the locals

I grew up in Nigeria long before oil was discovered in the Niger Delta. The culture of Southern Nigeria has always admired those who can make money without working and I have scam letters going back to the 1950's.

Us Old Coasters became increasingly irritated with the outrageous prices demanded by traders for Nigerian Craft work as the tourist business increased and naive tourists (usually Americans) paid the initial prices asked which could be up to 20 times the going price elsewhere.

The somewhat "jack the lad" culture of southern Nigeria combined with the stupidity of foreigners showed how easy it was to make money from the white mugus and intelligent scammers soon developed the 419 scams, initially via fax and then via the internet.

 

Children raised in this culture soon learn that scamming is acceptable – especially if you are successful. A Nigerian member of this forum wrote:

The attitude of the family is largely dependent on the degree of success their chum has with scamming, if the lads been on it for 3 yrs and only has a fairly used car to show, he's a failure and no-good... but if he's built a couple of houses and cruises around in an X5, all hail the king! They even give him a chieftaincy title in his hometown!!!

 

• Using internet cafes costs money. Those poor starving Nigerians who can’t afford to feed their family also can’t afford to use internet cafes.

• It is the better educated Nigerians who are able to speak some English. While we may laugh at the way they mangle it (how well can you write in another language?) they wouldn’t be able to speak it at all if they weren’t somewhat better off than many of the rest of their countrymen.

• Scams do not target Westerners. They target anyone with money. In this thread one of the 419eater moderators, Lew_Skannen replies to this claim with a list of some of the victims that he has personally spoken to:


1. Thai women, catering assistant in Bangkok - lost about £20,000 of money borrowed from family and employer. When she told the scammer she had no money he told her to go borrow some.
2. Saudi Arab - $130K
3. Egyptian - sick wife - lost $10K
4. Egyptian - $7K
5. Black American woman - student - lost $2K
6. Black American woman - single mother - lost about $10K but was saved from losing another $20K by a timely phone call.
7. Korean guy - Lost $1000+
8. Mexican woman- reasonably wealthy family I think - lost $120K
9. Polynesian woman - $5K
10 - Colombian man - $500 only.

 

• Successful scammers make a lot of money out of it. If they were really doing this to right past wrongs then the money would be used to assist the poor. But this money doesn’t get distributed to the poor. It goes straight into their own pockets. The money that their victims have borrowed to fund this business deal and will spend years paying back goes on supporting a lifestyle that very few others in Nigeria can enjoy.

In the course of this business I have purchased several luxury cars and built many large houses which I rent out. Believe you me my friend, an American sucker is born every hour. Take you for instance if you had any money you would have lost it. The only thing keeping you safe is your poverty. You should thank God for that!

 

• Many countries are poor and many countries have come off second best from colonialism but Nigeria has a huge amount of valuable natural resources. There is more than enough to drag it out of poverty. However corruption is a colossal problem - Nigeria is rated as the second most corrupt country in the world (after Bangladesh) and that corruption is right through the whole of the society – from the top down. Nigeria will not be able to escape what some see as the legacy of colonialism until this problem is dealt with. As long as it is tolerated, or worse encouraged, by the majority of people then they will continue to struggle as a poor nation, stigmatized by a reputation for corruption and scamming.

 

6. Those pictures with the signs & poses are degrading. How can you make them do that?

They have a choice and they could (and sometimes do) choose not to send a picture. There are no trunk boxes with $20 million that they must get out of the country. They are simply doing it to extort money out of the victim. If they believe that holding a silly sign or posing with a fish on their head is going to get them some easy money from a gullible victim then they will do what it takes. They are criminals.

Actually there are a couple of benefits from asking for photos with signs. One, of course, is the humor aspect. Another excellent benefit is that now some scammers are becoming wary of any requests for signs and are dropping legitimate victims as soon as they ask for some kind of photograph. This is always a good thing!


7. Okay, so they are trying to get money out of people. That’s a crime but it not like its fatal!

Sorry guys, actually it can be. Numerous victims of scammers have committed suicide or been murdered due to these scams. One particularly nasty type of scam involves getting a victim to travel to the scammers country, usually Nigeria, South Africa or to Amsterdam, with large amounts of cash to ‘finalize the transaction’. The victim is then kidnapped, often beaten and tortured and sometimes killed.

This is not a rare event. It has happened numerous times. At the time of writing this FAQ the latest known victim was a 29 year old Greek man, George Makronalli, who traveled to South Africa as part of a 419 scam. He was then kidnapped and killed when his family refused to pay the ransom. A day later, police found George's body in Durban. Both his legs and arms were broken and he had been set alight - probably while he was still alive.

 

More links to victims stories:

http://www.crimes-of-persuasion.com/Nigerian/nigerian_victims.htm
http://www.crimes-of-persuasion.com/Victims/victims.htm - scroll halfway down the page to read the stories

 

Even if the scam does not cost the victim their life often it can strip them of everything they have worked for and hold dear. Many victims end up losing their homes, retirement or education savings, businesses and jobs, and their professional or personal credibility. All they are left with is large debts that they have no way of repaying.

The tangible cost of fraud crime is easily translated into dollar amounts. Less easily measured, and perhaps the most exacting cost of all, is the severe emotional impact of fraud crime on many of its victims. Fraud crime is a personal violation. Although there is no serious physical injury many victims of con-men speak of the betrayal as the psychological equivalent of rape. Their trust in their own judgment, and their trust in others, is often shattered. They may have hesitated to tell family members, friends, or colleagues about their victimization for fear of criticism. Family members and business associates may even have been financially exploited at their urging, resulting in increased feelings of guilt and blame.

The dread becomes immeasurable, unrelated to specifics, just an all encompassing blanket of depression.

Fraud often evokes the following feelings or emotional reactions among its victims:

  • self-doubt, shock, disbelief
  • societal condemnation and indifference (the attitude that victims of fraud deserve what they get as a result of their own greed and stupidity)
  • isolation (when victims suffer their losses in silence rather than risking alienation and blame from family members, friends, and colleagues)
  • anger, resentment, and a sense of betrayal toward the offender for taking advantage of them especially if they were someone they knew
  • frustration with criminal justice professionals
  • shame, embarrassment, and guilt if they feel they contributed to their own or others' victimization
  • fear for their financial security
  • increased concern about their personal safety and well-being or that of their family.

 

Some of the same physiological and long-term emotional effects experienced by victims of violent crimes are also experienced by fraud victims such as:

• feeling of terror or helplessness
• rapid heart rate
• hyperventilation
• panic
• inability to eat or sleep
• loss of enjoyment of daily activities
• depression

Short-term effects on victims include:

  • preoccupation with the crime (thinking about it a great deal, talking about it constantly, replaying the crime, wondering what they could have done differently, etc.)
  • inability to concentrate or perform simple mental tasks
  • concern that other people will blame them for what has happened
  • increased strain on personal relationships (even to the extent of divorce or withdrawal of support)

 

In the extreme, fraud crimes have led some victims to attempt or succeed in committing suicide. One of these was Leslie Fountain who committed suicide by setting himself alight after he was cheated by an internet scam. Artists Against 419 dedicated the World’s 2nd 419 Flashmob in his memory.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/cambridgeshire/3444307.stm
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2004/01/31/ncon31.xml&sSheet=/news/2004/01/31/ixhome.html
http://www.aa419.org/2nd-419-flash-mob.shtml

 

As you can see, 419 scams are about more than just pick-pocketing a handful of small change from victims. The scammers ruin lives. They use every trick in the book to get as much money as possible out of their victims. They do not care about the people they scam or the effect it has on them. They dupe the generous and the greedy alike.

No matter what a person’s motivation for answering a 419 letter nobody deserves to be put through the kind of hell that these scum have waiting for their victims. And no scammer deserves to profit from lying and stealing.

That is why we have no problem with baiting. Every scammer baited, every lad who poses with a sign for a baiter, every false form filled in, every fake bank taken down means that less victims are scammed. We keep the scammers busy with ‘safe’ targets. We occupy them and waste their time. Hopefully some will decide it’s not worth it and get an honest job. Others may get caught in a sting.

Many of the members on the 419eater.com forum are also active on other forums that assist the victims, such as

ScamPatrol.org
FraudAid.com
ScamVictimsUnited.com

These members have seen first hand the profound effects that are experienced by people who have been scammed. Some of them deal with hundreds of victims a year. They know all too well the suffering of the victims. Any sympathy they might have once had for the criminals has evaporated when faced with the day to day grim reality of the suffering inflicted on innocent men and women who have had the misfortune to get caught up in a 419 scam.

Please don’t offend them by siding with the scammers. Posts that question the ethics of scam baiting, call baiters racists, try to justify the scams or call victims greedy will usually result in a polite request to use the search button before posting. Continue to post and you may find their patience stretched.

 

8. What can I do to help?

There are a couple of key things you can do to help.

• Make sure that your family and friends are 419 safe. Nothing would be more gut-wrenching than to spend hours baiting and shutting down fake banks just to find out old Aunty Enid has fallen for a scam and sent her retirement savings off to Nigeria!

• Bait! The more baiters the better as it keeps the scammers busy.

• Have fun when you bait. The more you mess around with a lad the more likely he’ll be suspicious of the next new victim reply that lands in his in box.

• Keep alert for scammers details. Things such as account numbers, physical addresses, fake bank web addresses, cc’d lists of other e-mail addresses and so on can be very helpful. We have a team of dedicated fake bank killers who like to meet new fake banks.

 

9. Isn't scambaiting and/or this site racist?

Our guidelines clearly set out that racism is not permitted here. For those who doubt our sincerity, here’s some evidence to back it up:


* We bait the scammers that come to us. Often that is via seeding a guestbook that has obviously been harvested by scammers before. Some baiters pick up scammers from the surplus letters forum here at Eater, and some find them through publicly available lists of known scammers, such as urgentmessage.org or similar sites. Some baiters choose to bait scammers that approach them on message boards, dating sites, or selling sites such as Ebay or Craigslist. None of these sources differentiate between colour, race or ethnic origin, so we have no way of knowing what their characteristics are – the only thing we know for sure, or care about at all, is that they are scammers.

* The scammers can choose to be whatever race, colour or ethnic origin they like, and baiters usually have no way of knowing whether they are telling the truth. Scammers lie – it’s in their job description, and they have to be good at it or they don’t make any money. The scammers will rarely tell the truth about anything and will try to avoid sending a picture of themselves – they use magazines and image sites on the internet to harvest pictures of people to conceal their true identity. We have no way of knowing whether the scammer is sending a picture of someone who shares their ethnic background or race, or whether they are telling the truth about any personal details.

* Yes, a lot of the trophies and pictures you will see here are of people who are from, or claiming to be from, Nigeria. There are a lot of Nigerian scammers, as 5 minutes’ research on the internet will tell you. As we often reitierate here, that does not mean that all scammers are Nigerian, nor that all Nigerians are scammers. The vast majority of Nigerians are law-abiding citizens, and we know that a good many of them are appalled at the reputation that widespread scamming has inflicted on their country. We share their disgust.

* White scammers exist and we bait them. Scammers claim to be from all over the world, and there are indeed scammers all over the world. Many of the love/dating scammers purport to be white Russian women. We have no idea whether they are, in the same way that we have no idea if someone claiming to be a black Nigerian actually is what he/she claims to be, but the chances are that we are baiting a significant number of white European, East European or Russian love scammers. We also bait a number of cheque scammers who say they are from China, and charity scammers who purport to be from all over the world, including Asia, Indonesia (especially after the tsunami), or the US (after the Katriona hurricane notably). We have no way of knowing their race, colour or ethnic origin, and it is immaterial to us.

* We have long-standing members who are Nigerian, and also receive comments from Nigerian visitors to the site. Not one of our long-standing Nigerian members has complained that the ethos of the site is racist. One of our Nigerian members was a mod until recently – it defies belief to say that he would have agreed to moderate the site if he thought 419Eater or scambaiting was racist.

* We have an active moderation team who keep a close eye on posts, and will delete or edit any that infringe Eater policy. Individual posts are reported for racism from time to time, and they are always acted on speedily. The person posting it will be censured immediately. We have banned people for using racist usernames, linking to racist sites, and in one instance we banned a member solely because we discovered that they also belonged to a white supremacist site. They had not posted anything racist or linked their site, so it was not for show. They were banned because they were a member of a racist site and therefore not someone we wanted on Eater.

Eater’s anti-racism policy is sincere. We are genuinely offended by the accusation that we are racist, hence this effort to persuade you that we are not. If you have read this far, thank you, and we hope that you will take some time to read the site, and make up your own mind based on what you see. This site has a lot of stuff that is fun and frivolous, but some things are serious – the efforts we make to hurt scammers and protect the innocent are testament to that, and just as serious is our intolerance of bigotry.

 

Article by The Cheshire Cat with additional information by Eight.