Scam baiting (or scambaiting) is a form of internet vigilantism primarily used towards advance-fee fraud, IRS impersonation scam, technical support scams, pension scams, and consumer financial fraud.
Scambaiters pose as potential victims to waste the time and resources of scammers, gather information useful to authorities, and publicly expose scammers. They may document scammers' tools and methods, warn potential victims, provide discussion forums, disrupt scammers' devices and systems using remote access trojans and computer viruses, or take down fraudulent webpages. Some scambaiters are motivated by a sense of civic duty, some simply engage for their own amusement, or a combination of both. Some scam baiting has been described as racist.
Popular methods of accomplishing the first objective are to ask scammers to fill out lengthy questionnaires; to bait scammers into taking long trips; to encourage the use of poorly made props or inappropriate English-language idioms that surreptitiously cast doubt upon their scams.
Baiters may deceive scammers with claims as ludicrous as the ones they have used to defraud their victims; or they may entrap them with Trojan horses, such as remote administration tools, that enables baiters to gain sensitive information from or damage scammers' computers. Baiters may publicly humiliate scammers by live streaming their sessions or persuading them to produce humiliating images colloquially known as "trophies". Some of these images have been described as reinforcing racist stereotypes.
In May 2004, a Something Awful forum poster asked for advice on how to deal with a bogus escrow scam from a buyer on eBay. Since the eBay auction was for an Apple PowerBook G4, another forum poster suggested that he construct a replica PowerBook out of cardboard. The buyer, who lived overseas, was forced to pay several hundred dollars to customs to claim the fake laptop. A member of the scambaiting website 419eater.com was able to convince a scammer to send him a wooden replica of a Commodore 64.
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 January 2014, members of 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.
In March 2020, an anonymous YouTuber and grey hat hacker under the alias "Jim Browning" infiltrated and gathered drone and CCTV footage of a fraudulent call centre scam operation with the help of fellow YouTube personality Karl Rock. Through the aid of the British documentary programme Panorama, a police raid was carried out when the documentary was brought to the attention of assistant police commissioner Karan Goel, leading to the arrest of call centre operator Amit Chauhan who also operated a fraudulent travel agency under the name "Faremart Travels".
YouTube and Twitch are popular sources scambaiters use to educate and/or entertain their audience about various types of scams.
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