Scamming the Spammers

Spam — those unwanted, illegal emails that clog inboxes
worldwide with pleas from deposed princes or secrets to boosting
sexual performance — is notoriously hard to stop. Even as
investigators hail the recent capture of Robert Soloway, the
27-year-old known as the ‘Spam King,’ who is accused of sending
millions of unwanted emails, Jennifer LeClaire of the technology
news service reports that internet
security experts believe the volume of spam will ‘remain

In response to this onslaught of spam, Ron Rosenbaum of the
Atlantic (Subscription required) reports
that a culture of counter-con artists known as ‘scam-baiters’ has
emerged to fight the spammers themselves. Rosenbaum focuses on one
group known as 419 Eater, which claims more than 20,000
registered members. The anti-spam crusaders focus their efforts on
the notorious Nigerian-style email scam run by ‘419 scammers’ —
named after the Nigerian penal code for fraud (419) — who send out
mass emails promising access to a vast African fortune in order to
lure money from unsuspecting victims.

The 419 Eater community tries to ‘reverse this dynamic,’
Rosenbaum reports, and scam the scammers. Members respond to
Nigerian-style emails, ‘simply to waste their time and resources,’
according to the group’s website. Scam-baiters play the role of an
unwitting victim who is tantalizingly close to sending in money.
‘Blinded by the same greed that blinds their marks,’ Rosenbaum
writes, scammers are enticed into a series of time-consuming and
often humiliating tasks deemed necessary for the financial
transaction. Scammers have taken long trips (known as ‘safaris’) to
collect promised money, many have posed for humiliating photos, and
some have even been fooled into transcribing lengthy novels (such
as the Lord of the Rings trilogy or the Harry Potter adventures)
entirely by hand. One particularly gullible scammer carved an
intricate wooden sculpture of a computer after a scam-baiter posed
as a representative of an art gallery. Evidence and photographs of
successful scam-baiting is then posted on a part of the 419 Eater
website known as the ‘trophy room.’

The righteous veneer of the scam-baiters as ‘cyber-guardians’
begins to wear off, according to Rosenbaum, when visiting this
trophy room. Searching through the posted photos, it is not
difficult to see a trend: Nearly every victim of the scam-baiters
is black. The website states, ‘Scambaiting is not a racist
activity. Anyone with racist views is most definitely NOT welcome
on this site.’ But Rosenbaum points out that the rhetoric used by
the 419 Eater of
owning‘ scammers (when a scam-baiting session
is successful) is problematic.

If sites like the 419 Eater would simply, ‘[l]ose the trophy
rooms,’ Rosenbaum argues, many of the racist undertones of the
group would be dispelled. Humiliating photos do little to help the
fight against internet fraud. Rosenbaum writes that the
scam-baiters are ‘superhero-like’ in their mission to protect
innocent people from spam, but is quick to add, ‘I like my
superheroes humble.’

Go there
How To Trick an Online Scammer Into Carving a
Computer Out of Wood

Go there too >>

And there >>
Spam King’s Revenge: Junk Email Rages On

Related Links:

Related Links from the Utne Reader Archive:

Comments? Story tips?
Write a letter to the editor

Like this? Want more?Subscribe to
Utne Reader

In-depth coverage of eye-opening issues that affect your life.