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« Nigerian Money Scam | Main | Dear Sy, »

July 27, 2007

Re: Nigerian Money Scam

Diane, your post brought to mind one of the funniest articles I've read in a long time, "How To Trick an Online Scammer Into Carving a Computer Out of Wood," in the June 2007 issue of the Atlantic Monthly. It tells the story of a online subculture of people, known as "scam-baiters" . . .

the avengers of the Scamosphere, who’ve arisen to take on “419” con artists, the scammers who pose in spam e-mails as agents for the widows of deposed finance ministers of Dubai or vice chairmen of the Ivory Coast Cocoa Trading Board . . .

The legions of scam-baiters seek to con the con artists, often with remarkable artistry of their own. They tease the scammers with promises of payments that don’t arrive, with wired funds from banks that don’t exist, with Western Union money transfers that go awry. They lead the scammers on wild-goose chases to pick up checks from couriers who don’t materialize, insist the scammers perform ridiculous stunts, and ask them to pose with demeaning signs to prove their commitment to the transaction. Blinded by the same greed that blinds their marks, the scammers take the scam- baiters’ bait and, often as not, end up as heads on the virtual wall in the scam-baiting Web sites’ “trophy rooms.”

As the title suggests, the masterpiece of this genre was getting a would-be scammer to carve a Commodore 64 out of wood. The counter-scam, "performed" by Mike Berry, who had previously "induced scammers to write out entire novels by hand, including the Lord of the Rings trilogy and most of the Harry Potter series," was said to have "a postmodern, meta feel to it, the counter-con being a piece of performance art about the creation of a work of art."

I laughed so hard, I almost cried. Then I felt kind of guilty because, as the article suggests, there's something sadistic about all of this. Funny but sadistic.

It's like a conversation I once had with someone about how we handle telemarketers: like the scam-baiters, he would string the callers along; getting their hopes up; engaging them in complicated narratives, and just when the telemarketers thought that they might close the deal, he would say, "I'd love to but I've double transplant surgery scheduled for tomorrow" or "I need the money for my AZT." His wife was so disgusted by the delight he would take in tormenting his tormentors that she took to leaving the room whenever the phone rang.

(I tried this technique but I wasn't any good at it: not because I'm so nice or decent but because I'm a lousy actor.)

Funny but sadistic.

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