A Past Submission to Kleroteria

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For the longest time I was involved in a loose collective of people whose only binding element was the shared desire to disrupt online scammers.

For some, this may have been because they themselves or a loved one were scammed. Others joined just because it sounded like fun or found an outlet for talents in need of a good cause.

We called ourselves scambaiters. We baited scammers. It started relatively simple. Scammers (lads) would send thousands of emails promising a large sum of money in exchange for a small fee. We'd respond, pretend to be suckered in by their scam and waste as much of their time as possible.

Along the way a complex community developed.

Trophies were a great accomplishment. If you got a scammer to fill in a form that you made yourself or take a picture of himself dressed in a tutu, you'd be over the moon and eagerly share them with the community. We'd be scamming the scammer, crafting an intricate web of lies that would convince them hook, line and sinker to do nearly anything we asked. It wasn't unheard of to have a single scammer pay $3000 in shipping fees only to receive a broken washing machine instead of the 20 laptops he thought he scammed some poor shop owner out of. Even having a scammer travel from his home country to an unknown country 2500 miles away wasn't a singular occurrence.

Safety became an important issue after one of the community members had had two enraged lads show up at his workplace. People would teach others how to use email providers that hid IP addresses. VPNs, anonymous phone lines, etc. were shared between trusted community members, funded by members who could spare the money.

Responsibility was next. Was it ethical to scam lads for money? After a lengthy debate, most agreed it wasn't. More subtle issues appeared. Racism reared its head (most scammers were African). Documents we'd gleefully fake would later be used by enterprising lads to convince new victims. Yet we grew.

I can't tell you much about what followed. I can only tell you we managed to infiltrate scammer groups, warn their victims and get lads arrested. Yet through all this community co-operation, everyone was still their own agent, with their own goals, motivations and methods. We were a loose collective, nothing more. We only knew each others handles and no one wanted to know more.

The experience of working with such an incredibly diverse group of people is something I'll always be thankful for. Knowing that I've personally contributed to lengthy jail sentences for the scammers involved, tens of thousands of dollars wasted by scammers and millions of dollars of potential victims life savings saved will forever warm my heart.

It's over now. I couldn't do it anymore. It was draining. Gradually nearly everyone fizzled out. The type of scams and scammers we were familiar with faded, to be replaced by new scams by new criminals from new countries. From nothing, an amazing community formed. And 10 years later, it's gone again.

- anonymous
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