Ahead of Valentine’s Day, we spoke with a ‘scambaiter’ – someone who tricks romance scammers with fake profiles. Is this technique a good idea?
Swansea-based Wayne May (not his real name) is a vigilante who spends his spare time setting up fake profiles on dating websites to trick potential romance scammers into contacting him.
Romance scams are when someone meets and gets to know someone on a dating site, social media or a dating app, but the profile is actually fake. Fraudsters will then often use the trust and affection built up to scam you out of your money or information.
Wayne employs three primary tactics to trick potential fraudsters:
‘The honey trap’
This consists of an attractive profile with a description implying you’re friendly and have money. But this can often lead to genuine people getting in touch.
‘The neutral profile’
A profile which consists of an ‘average’ photo and as possible in the description. Some scambaiters feel that you’re less likely to get a scammer to click on it, and sometimes genuine people will assume it’s a scammer because of the lack of detail.
‘The vinegar trap’
This is Wayne’s personal favourite profile. Here, he creates an unattractive profile with unattrative details, such as they’re a mean person.
A profile like this isn’t likely to attract genuine interest, and only a scammer would dare get in touch.
Once one does, Wayne lures them into revealing details about them – such as their bank account, website or email address, so he can report it to the site and other agencies and get it shut down.
What happens when a scammer gets in touch?
Wayne showed me a real scammer, who got in touch via his organisation, Scam Survivors. ‘Sergeant Susan Kent’ is apparently 32, from Los Angeles, and single. She’s serving as an ICU nurse in Yemen, helping to fight the war on terror.
‘Susan’ says she’s using a dating site to try to find a supportive and caring person while she’s serving overseas.
After coming across your profile, ‘she’ tells you she thinks you look ‘cute and gentle’. If you respond, things will move very quickly;
“You are the best thing that has happened to me and always a source of my happiness. I think I am in love with you’. You feel the same? Spoken words alone cannot express, the love I have for you. The written art of love is what convinces me, that you are the one for me. As I gaze into your eyes with every movement of your listless ways, the grasping of your hand, the warmth of your heart I believe that you can make me feel like no other.”
Despite being American, her English seems broken. And then she asks you for a favour…
It’s here where a story of a safe box worth $19.2 million USD is spun. Her share is £3.2m, and only you can help get it out of Yemen – if you send money for the ‘courier’ and a ‘diplomat’ to pick it up.
Wayne first realised his knack for scam baiting after replying to an Advanced Fee scam (where a scammer asks you to send some money and in return they’ll supposedly send you a lot more).
When he realised he was good at it, he set up Scam Survivors, a hub for victims and a small army of vulnteer scambaiters.
He told me they receive up to two dozen messages a day from people around the world who have fallen victim to scams. Around 25% of those are romance scams via dating sites.
According to Action Fraud, more than £50 million was lost by more than 4,500 victims of romance scams alone last year.
And that number is likely to be higher as romance scams are notoriously underreported because victims are so embarrassed.
But it’s important that you do report romance scams to Action Fraud so they’re aware of the problem and can help get the account shut down.
What are your thoughts on scambaiting? Is it a good idea? Have you ever knowingly emailed back a scammer? If so, let us know what happened.