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For a few years, I’ve had a weird side-interest: Replying to email scammers. I was inspired by Atomic Shrimp, a Youtuber who also makes videos about foraging and cooking with unusual ingredients. I’ve been aware of “scambaiting” as it’s called for a while from the likes of Jim Browning or Kitboga, but their videos tend to involve speaking with call center scammers on the phone and tricking them into interacting with a virtual machine instead of a real computer. This is somewhat different - talking with email scammers is (often) slower, more methodical, and relies on written English skills which offer one ample opportunity to create chaos.
About a year ago, I set up a scambaiting inbox with a ridiculous name and started collecting scam emails. I signed it up for every shifty-looking service I could find: foreign dating sites, weird porn streaming services, and filesharing communities that I was sure would sell my details to internet fraudsters. I also transplanted some scams from my active email accounts and scrubbed them of identifying information in order to seed the pool and hopefully get my address out there for scamming.
It didn’t take long for the emails to start arriving, and today I’ll tell you about a few of the best conversations I had with scammers. Note that any text presented in a text message format may not be a full email, just the most relevant or interesting bit:
A scan of my password Link to heading
One of the first successful ones I received was from “mrtmartins” performing a fake follow-up to try and hook existing scam victims, likely in an attempt to steal them away from other ongoing scams. He presented himself as the manager of a fund from the “International Payment Center”, whatever that is, belonging to the Ministry of Finance from… I’m not sure. The country wasn’t listed!
He assured me that I had a fund ready for receipt, but that I would need to travel to the payment center physically in order to receive my fund. The part I found most interesting was that they were claiming I wouldn’t have to pay a dime!
I decided to ignore this and feign ignorance:
The scammer continued to demand my personal details.
The scammer explained that the payment center was in Switzerland, but that he was from London. Then, he dropped this tidbit at the end of his response:
He wasn’t having it and weirdly insisted that I give him my details despite saying I’d be able to travel on my own if I could afford to:
And then, he messed up:
And although he tried to get me back, I was quite satisfied with that (and feeling burnt-out) so I left him on read, happy to have called him out to his face.
The Bank of America Tower at One Bryant Park… Link to heading
Possibly my favourite email template thus far came from someone claiming to be the Bank of America, or at least David G Leitch representing the Bank of America, whoever that is. It began with a bold, 16pt description of the BofA headquarters before each email. Apparently, it’s located at One Bryant Park and stands 1200ft tall!
The rest of the email was very boring and didn’t offer much to work with, so I instead focused on the broken image in the header. Was it perhaps a photo of this magnificent building? I had to know. I bit, asking for more details.
(I had of course sent no such email; This was a transplant from another mailbox.)
How disappointing, it’s just a broken logo. I was certain it would be the tower! That avenue shut off for now, I decided to sow confusion: There are lots of big words in this email, monitory and fiducary and… domiciliary? I’ll be honest, I don’t know what a fiduciary is and I don’t think domiciliary is a word, so I replied asking for clarification… and pictures, if possible.
But sadly, despite more prying, I was unable to get any more images, and they quickly passed me off to another scammer who was not very receptive to the thought of sending me images of his workplace. I wonder why that could be!
The World of Private Banking Link to heading
This regrettably short conversation came about via one “David Cheung”, supposedly, who sent me a business proposal entirely inside of a PDF document. Now I’m very aware of the risks of downloading and opening random PDFs, so I initially just ignored these and asked for clarification for the documents I didn’t read.
He didn’t bite, so I caved in and opened the PDFs, after verifying that they were virus-free. (I’m kind of shocked that they were safe, to be honest. I have no clue why this scammer uses PDFs, it seems wildly less convenient than rich text.) In the attachments were a delightfully fake ID…
… as well as an exceptionally wordy proposal which promised me half of a large sum of money if I could only help him embezzle it from the account of a client who died upon flight MH370. Delightful! Scammers always are such wonderful individuals.
The proposal was the typical sort: Presenting a ““““legal”””” basis for the embezzlement, an assertion that there was no risk involved but also a request for absolute secrecy, and a request for personal details. Curiously, he felt the need to spend five entire pages on this proposal, almost all of which was fluff. Some highlights of this email include: Information I didn’t ask for;
And a list of literally all the industries the scammer could think of;
He was also very preemptively aggressive about the risk and legality. He spent nearly two of his five pages sending snippets like this:
This of course, bookended by assurances that the whole deal was risk-free and legal. For sure, that adds up. Filled with confidence that this individual certainly was trustworthy I replied back, excited to hear more:
The scammer was not having it, and he only replied to ask me for my personal info once more:
And at this moment I had a perfect crown jewel of an image in my mind. This man lives in a World of Private Banking, he insists upon “no greed” and is searching for third parties to engage in trials with him. And when I try to get more details, he curiously pushes me away. It’s almost like this is a game to him! A game such as…
I tried to stall so I could bring him back around to the goof:
… But the scammer was too impatient and dropped me. What a shame. This was about 6 months ago and I haven’t tried to reengage with the scammer, but I may just to see if he’ll bite again. The joke is too good to pass up.
So long for now Link to heading
So those are some of the stories I’ve collected scambaiting. Unfortunately, most conversations do not finish, and even more are boring - these are simply the most memorable ones I’ve collected. It’s surprisingly tiring to devote mental and emotional energy to something like this, so I tend to get burnt out, but I’m inspired to try again. I got some scam emails in my inbox recently, so who knows, we may have more of this in the future.
Also, once I’ve got more energy I plan on writing more thought pieces. I haven’t forgotten what I said about the liminal spaces post. As always, stay tuned!