Update Link to heading

I’m still hard at work on the Licenseathon layouts and my other projects, so this post will again be somewhat on the lighter side of things. I swear, I’m almost back to being able to do research and write longer thought pieces again!

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!

In respect of the above subject, arrangement has been made with a seasoned investor/sponsor who has agreed to help you take care of every single expense needed on this process including your return flight tickets and hotel reservations respectively therefore you don’t need to spend any money from your pocket on this process.

I decided to ignore this and feign ignorance:

A trip? I don't recall planning a trip. I was under the impression the money would be mailed or delivered somehow. Please reconfirm if this is the case.

The scammer continued to demand my personal details.

This trip to the endorsement and payment center will not take more than 5days so if you are interested in receiving the fund please forward a copy of your passport to me so that I can direct you to the officer in charge at the International Payment Center so that you can contact him for your payment.

May I ask, who is the sponsor for this trip? It may cost drastically more or less depending on the distance travelled. What country is your organization from? I haven't been out of the country in a while.

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:

... However if you can fund the trip on your own then you don't need the sponsor.

Switzerland! Amazing, I've always wanted to visit. My aunt is Swiss (technically she's Italian but she was born in Switzerland) and she says it's beautiful there. I'm sure the weather is far better than the nastiness we've been having here lately. Hail, if you can believe it.

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:

I recieved your email, however I did not say it is switzerland that you will travel to as it is the International Payment Center that will tell you their endorsement and payment center that you will be visiting for your payment. Please if you are ready to go on with the process, please forward a copy of your passport to me so that I can give you contact details of the Director incharge are the International Payment Center so that you can contact him for your payment.

That sounds like an awfully complex process. Surely you have one office you intend for me to visit. Why don't you tell me where it is, I'll find a suitable economy-class flight, and let the director know so the costs can be reimbursed. Depending on where the destination is, I may be able to pay for it myself.

And then, he messed up:

Please scan and send to me immediately a copy of your password

My password? And I'm afraid I don't have a scammer, sorry.

*Scanner, apologies.
Again, I'm not sure why you want my passport when the airline will handle that for me. Flights to Bern are surprisingly cheap right now, though if that's not where I'm intended to travel I suppose it won't be much use.

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'm following up on this - did you receive my email? I would love to hear more about this.

(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.

I'm not sure you received my prior email after all; I had asked about your tower. It sounds very impressive. Also, your banner image is still broken for me. What do you mean by "monitory"? Fiduciary? Domiciliary? I'm not sure what some of these words mean. I think you need to explain a little more clearly.

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…

A poorly-photoshopped 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;

I am married to Mrs. Kim Chakaria, and we have two sons and one daughter.

No greed;

...the proceeds of this account valued at fourteen million six hundred thousand united state dollars can be paid to you. Then we can share the amount on a mutually agreed-upon percentage, you will be entitled to 50% of the entire funds (no greed) while I get 50%...

And a list of literally all the industries the scammer could think of;

my interest is to invest in the following sectors, Oil/Gas, construction, Real Estate, Stock Speculation and Mining, Transportation, Health Sector and Tobacco, Communication Services, Agriculture Forestry & Fishing

He was also very preemptively aggressive about the risk and legality. He spent nearly two of his five pages sending snippets like this:

I am aware of the consequences of this proposal ... I ask that you do not be vindictive and destructive ... Do not destroy my career because you do not approve of my proposal.

I am not a criminal and what I do, I do not find against good conscience, this may be hard for you to understand, but the dynamics of my industry dictates that I make this move. Such opportunities only come ones' way once in a lifetime. I cannot let this chance pass me by, for once I find myself in total control of my Destiny. These chances won’t pass me by. I ask that you do not destroy my chance if you will not work with me let me know and let me move on with my life but do not destroy me. I am a family man and this is an opportunity to provide them with new opportunities.

Deals like this takes place every day in the banking world and the reason you never hear about them is because they never fail. The world of private banking especially is fraught with huge reward...

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:

I am very impressed, if indeed the World of Private Banking is fraught with risk but deals never fail. It makes one wonder if the risk truly is that great...

The scammer was not having it, and he only replied to ask me for my personal info once more:

I need to harmonize them with my records. PLEASE SEND THEM IMMEDIATELY YOU GET THIS EMAIL.

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…

An edit of the World of Warcraft logo that reads "The world of private banking"

I’m so upset I didn’t get to use this joke

I tried to stall so I could bring him back around to the goof:

You need to harmonize your records? Do you already have records on me? I'm curious to know what you know, and if it is correct or not.

Please sir, I have not heard back from you on this. Is there any development?

… 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!