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What is ‘scambaiting’?

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.

Read more: how to stay safe online and on dating apps

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.

Read more: know the signs of a romance scammer

Why scambaiting?

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.

Comments

The intro says:
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.

That made me laugh. Yesterday I offered a real live recording of a share buying scam to Action Fraud but they were not interested. You can read about it here and their reply.
https://conversation.which.co.uk/money/telephone-share-buying-phone-scam-investment/#comment-1558778

How often do the police get to hear scammers in action? I would have thought not very often and I wonder what is the point of Action Fraud? Their reply said they would use the information I provided but it will only go towards creating statistics not listening to the recording to keep themselves up-to-date on how scammers are operating.

Frankly, I was disgusted with Action Fraud. The whole process was extremely long-winded, and took me nearly 2 hours by the time I used their online chat then registered and reported.

DerekP says:
14 February 2019

From my own recent brief foray onto Action Fraud, I think they are set out to place most of their effort onto retrospective investigations, after actual harm has been caused by scams, as opposed to prevention and intelligence gathering, to foster prevention measures.

As I’ve learn here and on YouTube, modern day scamming is usually highly organised cyber crime and employs many traditional espionage skills. Fighting back often seems to employ cyber warfare skills. Hence, I bet the right skills are only held by a very small proportion of those employed in the police service.

As this is a worldwide problem, internet based “vigilante” groups have formed organically, to fight back against the scammers. Sadly, the skills sets and IT kit needed for effective scam baiting seems to be relatively harder to acquire, when compare with the minimal training needed by scammers, who can work off a carefully prepared script.

Would you like to know more?

If so, here’s a stub link to Jim Browning’s YouTube channel:

youtube.com/channel/UCBNG0osIBAprVcZZ3ic84vw/videos

I have watched quite a few of Jim Browning’s videos, some of them are really sickening.

Which? wrote an article in Sep 2018 that said More than 96% of cases reported to the UK’s national fraud reporting centre Action Fraud go unsolved, exclusive Which? Money analysis can reveal.
https://www.which.co.uk/news/2018/09/exclusive-more-than-96-of-reported-fraud-cases-go-unsolved/

Trustpilot is no better:
https://uk.trustpilot.com/review/www.actionfraud.police.uk

Google how many crimes does action fraud solve and there is a Daily Telegraph report on pressreader entitled Do you know what happens when you report fraud?
The arcticle reminds me of the old days of the Sky helpdesk when you had to get through the front desk Rottweilers to speak to someone who might actually be able to help you, thankfully that has changed and Action Fraud needs to do the same.

I’ve seen a good few of these in my time. The first couple made me wonder how on earth we got matched then by the 3rd or 4th I twigged what it was. I can 100% see how people who are in more vulnerable positions end up being scammed.

Scam baiters do the world a great service. The scam bait story that most amused me was a few years ago when the scam baiters tricked some “419” scammers into traipsing a long distance from Nigeria across Africa to Darfur in a failed pursuit of someone else’s money.

https://419eater.com/html/RoadToChadDarfur/

DerekP says:
15 February 2019

Awesome – thanks very much for that 😀

It doesn’t sound as if there are enough scambaiters out there, does it.