Scambaiting: Scamming The Email Scammers That Are Trying To Scam You


WhatsApp is home to an online community of scambaiters.

Founded by Michael Berry in September 2003, 419eater is currently celebrating its 10th birthday this month. The name 419 comes from the Nigerian criminal code that relates to this kind of advance fee fraud.


But what is scambaiting?

“Well, put simply, you enter into a dialogue with scammers, simply to waste their time and resources. Whilst you are doing this, you will be helping to keep the scammers away from real potential victims and screwing around with the minds of deserving thieves.”

They do this, for example, by pretending to be a professor involved with a handwriting research project, telling the scammer they have no time to help them out, but that if they know anyone who would want to take part in the handwriting experiment there would be large financial rewards for them. The scammer greedily agrees, and copies out every page from one of the Harry Potter books by hand before scanning all the pages and sending them to the professor.

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You’ve got to remember that the perpetrators of these lucrative scam emails rake in millions of pounds, and for the most part they are not poor people trying to scrape a living, they’re professional fraudsters who ruin people’s lives. And it’s not just a financial loss that the victims of these emails suffer, the emotional pressure that people have undergone as a result of these scams has led to suicide. In 2004 a man from Cambridgeshire set himself on fire when he realised the $1.2 million lottery fund he had won was a scam, and in 2007 a Chinese student at the University of Nottingham killed herself when she realised she’d fallen for another similar scam.

The scambaiters often ask the email scammers to send them photos or other items to prove their legitimacy, and some of the results are pretty funny:

419eater Photo 2419eater Photo 1

419eater Photo 3419eater Photo 4

And there’s this video of scammers recreating the famous dead parrot sketch from Monty Python, that was sent in with the promise that it would be entered into a film contest with a cash prize:

Some of them are a bit more morally ambiguous, though.

In this one, a scambaiter pretends to be a priest working to raise money for Sudanese families fleeing war-torn Darfur. The email scammer, blinded by greed, agrees to travel across Africa from Nigeria to the Chad/Sudan border — an extremely violent and war-ravaged region — to help transport some charity money to a bank.

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