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So I've recently found out about scam-baiting, and I've discovered a whole community around just wasting the times of scammers, such as 419Baiter and TheScamBaiter.

A lot of the people there are quite passionate about it. Some have set up fake websites, banks and stuff in order to fool the scammers.

Most also think that what they do makes a difference by wasting the scammer's time and effort and acting as a deterrent. My question is, does it?

Mostly it seems to take more time and effort for the scam-baiter. So given the number of scammers out there, it doesn't seem like it could ever scale to be an effective solution.

Furthermore, if it was successful as a deterrent, wouldn't it be in, say, the FBI or Google's best interest to start producing software that automatically baited scammers in order to waste their time?

Lastly, these schemes seem to have increased not decreased.

Can anyone actually offer any research which suggests that scam-baiting is an effective deterrent and that the scam-baiting has a measurable effect in lowering the incidence of internet fraud?


Source of notability: http://forums.whirlpool.net.au/archive/540138

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scammers will barely do anything in the chain manually once everything is setup and that is a onetime deal. –  ratchet freak Apr 22 '12 at 2:21
    
how much do they have to set up? I imagine the initial spam email was be automated but responding to victims will have to be done manually as they seem to be able to answer questions –  Samuelson Apr 22 '12 at 2:54
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Please add an example of someone making any of these claims. Where do they say that this is a successful and scalable technique, rather than (a) fun for them and (b) an annoying time waste to a single victim? –  Oddthinking Apr 22 '12 at 3:01
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Hmm, a better solution might be to bait in potential victims and give them a good scare + teach them a lesson, IMHO. Then they'd be less likely to fall for a real scam. –  Bizorke Apr 23 '12 at 23:27
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Heh - it doesn't appear to make a difference, but it can be good fun! –  Rory Alsop May 7 '12 at 7:55

3 Answers 3

Greetings in the great lord's name. My name is Idi Akbar. I come to you as a request for help with have been trying to find records of efficiency of scambaiting. But all websites require money, and I can't access my money that I have received from a rich relatives inheritance. If you would be so wonderful and kind as to give me you bank account number, I can transfer only a few money to this bank, so I can access my funds. In return, I will find the research, and repay you with 5 times the amounts. This will be a quicks and safe transaction, so there will nothing worry about.

419 Google


All kidding aside, I have been searching for about 3 hours, and I couldn't find any concrete data saying that scambaiting reduces spam as a whole.

It seams as though scambating works on an individual level. Usually a scambaiter will spend quite a long time wasting an individual scammers time instead of spending a short amount of time on multiple scammers.

From what I could find, it seems as though this is done much more for either entertainment of the scambaiter, or a feeling of "justice" when making a fool out of a scammer.

Amusements that the baiter may gain from the interaction include fooling the scammer into falling for claims just as ludicrous as the ones that the scammer is using to defraud his victims. Baiters will often use joke names which, while obviously ludicrous to a native or fluent English speaker, will go unnoticed by the scammer. Similarly baiters may introduce characters, and even plot-lines, from movies or television shows for comedic effect. It has also been known for the scammers themselves to adopt fake names that in their native culture would seem equally ludicrous. This reflects Western scambaiters using names from popular culture; in contrast Westerners would likely be unaware to identify with names that would be familiar with Nigerian or other West African popular culture. (1)

I have done this a few times myself using the name Jayed Garhoover (say it out loud a few times Jay Edgar Hoover....) with the FBI hotline as my phone number. It's actually a lot of fun, and can get quite amusing sometimes. (I've had them call "my office" and ask for me, I get the funniest emails afterwords....)

An example of the "longer, individual scambaiting" I was referring to is as follows:

A scambaiter named Mike Berry received a scam e-mail from a man in Nigeria who claimed to be rich and dying of cancer. The scammer wanted Mike's help, and of course, Mike's cash, distributing tens of millions of dollars to charity before he died.

But the man from Lagos wasn't dying of cancer, and his story wasn't true. Through a complicated chain of e-mails that lasted more than six months, Mike persuaded him to re-create the Monty Python parrot sketch, promising to enter it in a phony film contest with a cash prize. The resulting video shot to the top of YouTube's hit rankings, and has become an instant Internet classic(2).

The full list of his emails can be found here. It's quite long...

That case was extreme enough, but sometimes, scambaiters will go even farther.....

In February 2011, the Belgian television show Basta portrayed, with hidden cameras, how a scammer was fooled during a meeting with baiters, raising the stakes by involving a one-armed man, two dwarves and a pony. Eventually, a police raid was faked, during which the baiters were arrested and the scammer went free, abandoning the money, and without any suspicion.

However, while all of these cases may have humiliated the scammer enough not to do anything like that again (although I'm not entirely sure it did), this is on a much smaller scale than what would be needed in order to stop internet fraud all together, or even significantly cripple it.

As far as the "software that automatically baited scammers", it does exist. They are known as fake address generators.

Upon receiving connection from blacklisted spammer, rather than rejecting connection right away many servers would use tar-pit technique. Which means basically keeping connection open until it times out. The idea is, that SMTP is typically transported over TCP, meaning that single computer has limited number of simultaneous connections (open sockets) it can make. Thus, should spammers use standard SMTP server with standard settings, tar-pitting would seriously hamper their throughput. However, all of above techniques are completely useless when spammers use botnets.


(1): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scam_baiting
(2): http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=7688138

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This post does not cite any references or sources. Please help improve this post by adding citations to reliable sources. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed.

While scambaiting itself may only affect scammers on an individual level, the other activities at scambaiting communities do curb the overall success of scammers. Scammers set up fake sites, which scambaiters systematically work to catalog and report. Many scambaiters work with http://aa419.org, which keeps a public database of all scammer-created websites used for advance fee fraud. This information will show up in internet searches and likely alerts many victims to the fraud. Scambaiters also take steps to try to attract more than their fair share of scam spams, and list the information on their anti scam sites. Having engaged in the scam as a fictitious victim, many scambaiters are quite expert at how the scams work, and often uncover the latest versions of scams and scammer techniques. These scambaiters run associated victim support and education sites, spending countless hours providing free, real-time advice to thousands of people.

Some of the best proof, however, that scambaiting is making a difference is that these sites are targeted, repeatedly, by DDOS attacks. Anti fraud sites have high hosting costs because they need DDOS mitigation. Scammers wouldn't spend time and money on attacks like this if the scambaiters weren't making a difference. See: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2011/12/12/anti_scam_sites_ddos_blitz/ And Online Thugs Assault Sites That Specialize in Security Help http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/PCWorld/story?id=3589073

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I was active in the scambaiting community for several years. There is a lot more that goes on behind the scenes that has a huge impact on the scammers.

One of the goals of the serious bauters includes gathering information about these a**holes. This information has led to arrests and convictions of scammers operating in the US and Canada.

One of things that I was fond of doing was to tell the scammers I wanted to work together with them to scam others. I was able to obtain the email addresses of many of their victims and subsequently warn them off by letting them know it was a scam.

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This post does not cite any references or sources. Please help improve this post by adding citations to reliable sources. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed.

    
Welcome to Skeptics! We require references for all significant claims here. Please edit your answer to include appropriate references. –  Fabian Feb 8 '13 at 18:56
    
@Fabian♦: that's the strange thing here and over at Wikipedia. Assuming that person was active in the scambaiter community, it should count as original research. –  0xC0000022L Feb 18 '13 at 11:54

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