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Scam baiting is a form of Internet vigilantism, where the vigilante poses as a potential victim to the scammer in order to waste their time and resources, gather information that will be of use to authorities, and publicly expose the scammer. It is primarily used to thwart advance-fee fraud scams and can be done out of a sense of civic duty, as a form of amusement, or both.
A bait is very simply initiated, by answering a scam email, from a throwaway email account, i.e. one that is only used for baiting. The baiter then pretends to be receptive to the financial hook that the scammer is using.
The objectives of baiting are, in no particular order:
- Keep the bait going as long as possible, thus costing the scammer time and energy.
- Gather as much information as possible, so that the scammer can be personally identified and publicly exposed.
- Ensure the scams, and any names used, are easily found by search-engine spiders, as a preventive strategy.
A popular method to accomplish the first objective is to ask the scammer to fill out made-up questionnaires, which is very time consuming. The idea is that when a scammer is preoccupied with a baiter who has no intention of falling victim to the scam, it prevents the scammer in question from conning genuine victims out of their money.
Amusements that the baiter may gain from the interaction include fooling the scammer into falling for claims just as ludicrous as the ones that the scammer is using to defraud his victims. Baiters will often use joke names or references to Western popular culture which, while obviously ludicrous to a native or fluent English speaker, will go unnoticed by the scammer. Similarly baiters may introduce characters, and even plot-lines, from movies or television shows for comedic effect. It has also been known for the scammers themselves to adopt fake names that in their native culture would seem equally ludicrous. This reflects Western scambaiters using names from popular culture; in contrast Westerners would probably be unlikely to identify names that would be familiar with Nigerian or other West African popular culture.
In February 2011, the Belgian television show Basta portrayed, with hidden cameras, how a scammer was fooled during a meeting with baiters, raising the stakes by involving a one-armed man, two dwarves and a pony. Eventually, a police raid was faked, during which the baiters were arrested and the scammer went free, abandoning the money, and without any suspicion.
In season 1 of the popular comedic podcast How to Do Nothing without Really Trying, the hosts carry on a lengthy email correspondence with a Nigerian scammer who goes by the name of Berthern Bogodougou. The podcasters pretend to be a Vermont-based model/candy store owner/brothel proprietor named Alexandra L. Cocksinrather, whose nickname is "Cocks." Professing her undying love for Bogodougou, the fictional Cocksinrather repeatedly and unsuccessfully tries to get the scammer to send a photograph of himself holding a sign that says "I love Cocks."
In January 2014, members of the scambaiting website 419eater.com appeared in two segments of the Channel 4 show "Secrets of the Scammers". In the first segment scambaiters persuaded a scammer to travel from London to a remote location in Cornwall by train and taxi to meet a victim (played by a baiter) and collect payment for a gold deal. In the second segment a female scammer met with two scambaiters posing as victims in Trafalgar Square to pass them a fake check. This scammer was subsequently questioned by the police.