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White hunters, black hearts

Scambaiting turns the tables on Internet con men. But when the clever pranks turn dangerous and degrading, where does the moral compass point?
By MIKE MILIARD  |  September 12, 2007

SLIDESHOW: Images from Scambaiting Web sites

A man has sliced his palm open, for reasons that are unclear. Another reclines, naked and still, as his body is spattered with milk and egg yolks. One holds a sign declaring, I WAIT FOR YOU ON MY KNEES AT THE GLORY HOLE. Another’s placard proclaims him a GAY LAD. One has attached dozens of clothespins to his face and torso. One lays supine as a crude tattoo, huge and hideous, is cut into his back: “Pwn3d by Slaw.” One holds a piece of poster board scrawled with a question: ARE WE NOT HAVING FUN YET?

There are hundreds of faces in the “Trophy Room” of, and most of them are black. They gaze into the camera with wry smiles, sometimes, but more often with affectless expressions, eyes staring wanly into middle distance.

The persons depicted in the photos are e-mail scammers, those Nigerian hucksters whose broken-English entreaties — promising millions in riches if only some dim dupe across the Atlantic will wire a few thousand in processing fees up front — flood your inbox each morning.

They’ve been procured by scambaiters, a cadre of swashbuckling online vigilantes who tangle with scammers by the hundreds, replying to their e-mails and, by promising them quick cash, turning the tables on the scammers themselves, goading the greedy into all kinds of absurd — and demeaning — behavior.

The practice seems a devilish bit of creative comeuppance. Those 419 e-mails (named after the Nigerian penal code for fraud), also called advance-fee frauds, managed to bilk Americans to the tune of $720 million in 2005. Worldwide, it’s estimated, they cost the gullible $3.2 billion each year.

What more noble pursuit than to beat these crooks at their own game? To humiliate them? To waste their time and their money, thereby diverting their attention, even temporarily, from their unsuspecting marks? (Many baiters forward all their correspondence with scammers to the authorities, in the hope of producing arrests.) If one can have a little fun in the process, even better.

After all, scammers, it seems, will do almost anything for money. By promising them that they’ll cash in if they perform an elaborate song-and-dance routine, or sit for a series of professional photographs with dead fish on their heads, or book a pricey hotel suite for a cash-handoff rendezvous that never occurs, one can forestall them, for however long, from plying their felonious trade.

But poking around various scambaiting Web sites, somewhat more sadistic dimensions to the practice come into view. While most scambaiters keep their pranks on the up and up, many others seem to revel in making their marks as miserable as possible.

Those photographs of abject humiliation are hard to swallow, even if one knows the mortification is self-imposed. The fact that their subjects are primarily poor and black only adds to their disquieting power.

Photographic memories
On the message board at UK-based scambait site, more than 20,000 registered users gleefully compare notes in hundreds of threads about their ever-more creative baiting techniques, uploading photos and videos, as well as audio files of their phone conversations with scammers.

Some of the baits are funny. One scammer eagerly transcribed — longhand — an entire Harry Potter book, his pen spurred on by thirsty visions of a big payday. One was cajoled into carving a Commodore 64 replica from a block of wood.

In one classic prank, a baiter purported to be CEO of a video-production company, claiming that his firm was giving out scholarship payments to aspiring actors worldwide. All one had to do was submit footage of oneself acting out scenes from popular movies and TV shows.

Log on to YouTube and you can watch two scammers — or actors hired by the scammers — re-enacting Monty Python’s “Dead Parrot” sketch. (“He’s a steeff!” the Nigerian thespian complains. “Bereft of life, ’e rests in peace! If you ’adn’t nailed ’eem to the perch, ’e’d be pushing up the daisies!”)

It was a smashing success, about as good as a scambait can get. As the baiter wrote proudly: “The scammer, greedy for money, fell for the story hook, line, and sinker.”

But not all scambait videos are so amusing. For instance, one baiter responded to a 419 e-mail, professing to represent a Hollywood stunt agency. Would the scammer like to audition?

So it is that one can visit YouTube and watch clips of a man taking brutal punches to the skull, jumping off roofs, falling off ladders, leaping through flaming hoops, and setting his pant legs afire as he runs howling in pain.

“I’ll be curious to see the reaction here if someone dies,” writes a poster on “[I]s it ethical to . . . get him to beat himself up . . . when he is clearly such a complete idiot?”

The disclaimer at is oft-repeated:

It should be noted that scambaiters do NOT go actively seeking scammers of a certain skin colour. We only engage thieves who send us e-mails trying to steal from us. We do not target any particular type of person or country.

Fine. But it doesn’t change the fact that those “Trophy Room” photos can be unsettling on a very visceral level. What sort of desperation possesses a man to tattoo some guy’s screen name on his back like a slave’s brand? How hard up for cash can a person be?

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White hunters, black hearts
so what? Who started this thingy? The scammers or the so-called baiters? Nobody is forcing the scammers to do whatever they do.
By mathias on 09/13/2007 at 4:48:34
White hunters, black hearts
so what? Who started this thingy? The scammers or the so-called baiters? Nobody is forcing the scammers to do whatever they do.
By mathias on 09/13/2007 at 4:50:26
White hunters, black hearts
The author worrying about the "racism" of the scambaiters is ludicrous. Would the same concern be shown if the scammers were poor, bible-thumping white Southerners that were being baited? Perhaps so, but I bet not. If most of the degradation was happening to Whites, not a problem. Unfortunately, as with the crime stats here, most of the criminals are black. The Phoenix doesn't have enough pages to go into why this is the case. Did the author have this much discomfort in the way Imus was treated? What about the Duke lacrosse team? It is the same type of thinking for the out of Iraq and into Darfur crowd.
By Flytrap on 09/13/2007 at 11:00:34
White hunters, black hearts
I first read about the advance fee scam back in the '80's in the pre internet days. Some church in Minnesota received a letter from someone in Nigeria that said they had $3M bequeathed to them in a will. Then a subsequent article explained that the church had to pay 10% tax to get the money. Ultimatley it was determined that this was an advance fee scam. More recently I read about some guy who was a PhD student at Tufts Medical School who ran his own scam on his friends to raise $60K to pay a 419 scammer in Nigeria to get the millions the Nigerian guy promised him!!! I have read that the 419 scammers in Nigeria are regarded as national heros!!! I feel that anyone who is stupid enough to fall for a 419 advance fee scam is too stupid to have a lot of money and deserves to lose it to some bozo in Nigeria.
By Dalvan on 09/13/2007 at 12:29:48
White hunters, black hearts
I wonder how they know the scammer is black before they send a photo.. I'm also wondering how they can "know" they are targeting a wealthy, upper class American, who must be no more than moderately inconvienced by the wholly voluntary transaction of money. The answer is, the baiter does not, and nor does the scammer. They'll take money from anyone, so why would the baiter be doing anything other than responding to a would-be fraudster? Sadly, there are many Nigerians who engage in these types of scams, and many of them are better off than the norm. Success and popularity do not make it any less of a crime.
By Shazbot on 09/13/2007 at 12:47:32
White hunters, black hearts
Stuff like the dead parrot sketch, that's a hilarious waste of time. When you're getting into guys sprayed with urine or tattooed, though, that doesn't so much suggest to me that the baiter is a racist, as they are a depraved person in general. (i.e. they would ask a white guy to abuse themselves in exactly the same fashion.) Enjoyment of nastiness like that is why I stopped visiting 419eater, no matter how funny I found some of the lighter-hearted pranks.
By mathilde on 09/14/2007 at 12:47:39
White hunters, black hearts
Sorry, "slave branding"? No-one's being kidnapped from their home and forced into a life of slaverly. The scammers are choosing to contact the scambaiters, and acting entirely of their own free will, whatever their ethnic origin. If they decide that getting peed on, tattooing themselves or jumping off a roof is a sensible way to go about their lives, that's up to them. It's pretty much the old "if someone told you to jump off a bridge...?" scenario. The difference being, these guys say yes.
By fred mckenzie on 09/14/2007 at 6:45:18
White hunters, black hearts
What's really depraved is the little old lady that has been scammed out of her life savings by some lad, vlad or ninja. It's a pity you didnt read all the stickies in the forums to see the threads on the ethics of scamming, how not all scammers are from nigeria and why you shouldnt feel sorry for the scammers. How about how SICK it is to find something like this: // Or even like this: // And how about those lonely hearts on dating sites that are preyed upon by the scum scammers? Methinks you need to spend just a little more time stepping outside of your ivory tower of backpatting and feel good psychology and enter the real world for a little while. Talk to some of the victims of scams for a bit and develop some empathy for the REAL victims of these crimes.
By angelor2000 on 09/15/2007 at 7:03:03
White hunters, black hearts
Ah go easy on the guy a little. After all he's just a poor, misunderstood, under-educated hack who's only trying to scratch out a living to feed his addiction(s). You can't blame many journalists for what they do - it's in their culture to be that way! If it weren't for us here in the "fat white west" making conditions so hard for journalists for so long, they wouldn't be forced to play the race card so often to feed their families. The fact that the majority of scammers and / or baiters may or may not be white or black, and the fact that baiters may or may not be fat are totally irrelevant. Journalists do what they have to do in order to live a better life. In fact, a journalist who publishes enough believable nonsense may someday be awarded a job at a college newspaper if he gains enough respect within his community. If a journalist can get his work published in a syndicate, he knows he's made it to the top. If, however, he still lives with his mom at age 40 and can only have his work published on "alternative" news websites, he probably isn't being paid very much and may even have to get a real job some day. Instead of punishing these hogwash-artists, it's possible that we need to understand them and nurture their inner children and limite egos. We can't just have them euthanized, because that will just perpetuate the cycle. Keep in mind that most journalists live in a world where bullshit is respected and often rewarded. Before any real change can be affected, journalists will have to be shown that there really is more out there than just them and their fabricated misconceptions. A real journalist would have done just a little more research to determine that lives of victims were being lost. There is no mention that women were being conned into meeting these criminals and being raped and robbed. One victim was tortured and set on fire. Then, maybe then, we can all just get along.
By Nami on 09/15/2007 at 12:40:09
White hunters, black hearts
An interesting article, despite the use of the initially "obvious" (and, with the use of any kind of journalistic research, trivially disprovable) racism gambit. Yes, I'm part of the scambaiting community, such as it is. What we doi is nothing to do with humiliating people due to their skin colour, nor due to their education, but due to the fact that they are criminals, and particularly vicious ones at that. While it's true that a significant proportion of advance fee fraud comes from West Africa, it's far from the case that all the scammers are (for wont of a better word) "black". It's also far from the case that all West Africans are scammers; the scammers are a minority of the population, criminals attracted by an "easy" crime that exposes them to minimal risk for potentially large payoffs. Sure, it's entirely possible that some scambaiters are, in themselves, racist; take any sufficiently large community and you're liable to find racists. But that doesn't make the community in general, or the act of scambaiting itself, racist. All of the scambaiting sites I've visited are *extremely* careful to keep the racists out, to make sure that what's being done is being done for one reason only - to waste the time and money of criminals and keep them from spending that time and money defrauding their victims. Advance fee fraud, eBay scamming, internet romance scams and the like are not victimless crimes. These are nasty crimes that destroy lives, destroy familes, and that's without mentioning those that travel to meet their scammers, who have been raped, robbed, and in some cases, killed. These scammers, whatever their coulour, whatever their race, whatever their location, are bottom-feeding scum, the lowest of the low. Do some baits "cross the line" of decency? Maybe, maybe not. The general approach of scambaiters is to employ the scammers' own tactics against them, to appeal to their greed, to push them further and further until they have so much invested into the "scam" that they are "running" that they can't step out, that they simply can't bring themselves to believe they aren't going to get the big payoff. Does anyone or anything other than their own greed entice them to send naked photos of themselves with heavy objects tied to their genitals, to have tattoos carried out, or any other "demaning" acts? Of course not. A scambaiter will make a suggestion, which may in itself be something they would not consider carrying out themselves, but at all points the scammer is perfectly able to say "no". Frankly, at all points, the scammer is free to go off and get a proper job that doesn't involve ripping people off across the internet. The main (indeed, only) qualm I have with this is that the money wasted by the scammers is money they obtained from real victims, money that they will replace by scamming more victims. We, the scambaiting community, *may* succeed in driving some scammers into other occupations, in convincing them that the "big bucks" simply aren't going to happen from scamming, but the majority of scammers will simply shrug it off and carry on as normal. While there are people gullible enough to believe that there really is such a thing a free lunch, the scammers will continue doing their thing. And while there's still scammers doing their thing, we will be doing ours.
By Just a Guy on 09/17/2007 at 8:18:36
White hunters, black hearts
Typical liberal whine.
By Just a Guy on 09/17/2007 at 8:31:36
White hunters, black hearts
Being both a scam baiter and a massachusetts resident, I expected the race card to be pulled here, it simply would nto have been correct had he not, after all we are in massachusetts. With that said, I have to agree with each and every comment that has been made. We have no idea when we recieve those 20 some odd promises of millions that a black man is behind sending them. How could we, we have to look for the tell tale signs that it came from nigeria. If you do this long enough you can pinpoint words they will misuse. Tell the woman who just lost $400,000.that she will never see that pile of gold at the end of the rainbow, she is 70 years old, she is intelligent, she has lost her house, her car, he office she spent 50 years building, she has borrowed from her house, borrowed from her family, friends, and when she got the phone call telling her she was being scammed, she was stunned. Was that your grand mother Mr. Millard. Probably not, but it was someones grand mother. Or how bout the woman who owned a construction company and put an add in a local paper for investors, just to be contacted by a Nigerian scammer, who promised to invest 2.0 million in her project. Instead he helped himself to $900,000. of her money, oh and she is being sued, imagine that, yes she lost everything too. Was perhaps that your Wife Mr. Millard. In this case she didn't give a dime, they helped themselves to her accounts by fraudulent means. It is not a black and white thing, it is a decent human that is spending his or her own time and resources to stop these scammers in any way they see fit. You may not like the tactics of some of the baiters, but if you read enough stories, I assure you, what you saw will seem like a day at disney. BTW I am a proud member of TSB, and more then happy to work with the Babe Ruth of Baiting.
By Lizzy on 09/19/2007 at 8:48:57
White hunters, black hearts
The Internet truly is the land of morons. Miliard's point was not that we should be nice to underprivileged robbers, but that the practice of scambaiting, as exhibited in the photographs and in the attitudes of some of the posters here, is all about DEGRADATION. Can we agree that degradation, in itself, is wrong? In the same way that torture, in itself, is wrong, regardless of who is being tortured or why? The bogus Darwinism of the scambaiter - 'They're scum! They had it coming!' - could just as easily be applied to the victims of scamming - 'They're idiots! they had it coming!' Compassion is universal, or it is not compassion at all. If violating human dignity at long-distance is how you get your kicks, at least be honest about it - don't pretend you're Robin Hood.
By rain king on 09/20/2007 at 8:46:30
White hunters, black hearts
thank you rain king. The world could be compassionate, and such conflicts would dissolve. Or, spamming becomes spambaiting begets vicious spambait-baiting and it devolves into a ghandian-blind-meaningless loop where all eyes are plucked out. No person is forcing spammers to set themselves on fire or pretend to be Eric York, but a more complex set of circumstances, economic is probably more persuasive. That is if you lack the slumlord to provide said motivation. So does it really seem equivalent that a retired private investigator in america will spambait as a "hobby" whereas desperate people in africa spam to make money (regardless of whether they already have it) The victims here seem to be a) victims of scams/frauds and b) victims of scambaiters. The vigilantes have evaded the justice here, and they take up the cause of elderly women to seem noble. Trying to draw a comparison to bush/post 9/11 terror scares and the dangers of working outside the (already corrupt itself) justice system. But someone did that already. I'm tired. And torn on this subject. Certainly defies generalizations and tidy conclusions. Dope article. Let's help nigeria out.
By basterdpeople on 09/20/2007 at 10:59:41
White hunters, black hearts
What the scambaiters fail to realize is that the people who actually participate in the photos are not the ringleaders behind the scams, but rather the impoverished people employed by scammers. Scambaiters should ask themselves what their true motivation is, whether they sincerely want to stop the scams, or if they get their thrills from humiliating some anonymous person who most likely isn't the one raking in the big bucks from the scams. And-- are the scambaiters really preventing people from getting scammed? The scammers continue to operate despite the baiters' efforts. Maybe the baiters should turn their time and energy away from these tactics that don't get much more than a cheap (and sometimes uncomfortable) laugh, and instead focus on something that will actually do some good in the long run, such as campaigning for better online law enforcement, or helping to educate people about online scams, or educating themselves about corrupt/ineffective governments that are unable to stop online crimes. Or how about lobbying our government to enact measures to better protect people from scams and to bring justice to scam victims? Oh wait, never mind, these things all require more intelligence than it takes to think of ways to degrade someone over the Internet.
By centralsquarebetty on 10/09/2007 at 12:16:11
White hunters, black hearts
Nobody is forcing the scammers to make these images. Some of them do choose not to send the images. The scammers go around ripping people off for billions of dollars each year (they also scam coloured people, and white scammers exist, so I can hardly see how scam-baiting as done by 419eater could be considered racist). The law cannot stop the scammer's operations, so why not waste their time? As for "degrading" people, I consider ripping innocent people (and often charitable people- a lot of scammers pretend to be someone in need, so good people who aren't in the know often "help" them) off for hundreds of bucks pretty humiliating. The comparison of the victims being idiots therefore they had it coming is junk- they might have been duped, but they're not malicious. The scammers steal thousands of bucks, and the baiters trick them into making them send a picture of them holding up a sign with something funny on it. Equally bad? Please. As for lobbying the government etc, like they'll ever listen. (Soory this sounds communist or whatever, but it's true). On top of that, it's funny, and the scammers have got their just desserts. And one final thing- this article is not very ballanced- the leader of 419eater and many other members don't get their scammers to carry out "degrading" activities- the idea of scambaiting is to waste the scammers' time. Try and make scambaiting unprofitable. Sure, it might not be massively effective, but there's no effective countermeasures to this around, so anything is worth it. Do some scambaits cross the so-called "line". Probably. But any hobby, however safe, will always have people who cross the line (e.g. football hooligans).
By Ultra on 12/12/2007 at 2:59:13
White hunters, black hearts
I think one of the guys on said that the scammers are lucky, considering that they rip people off for millions of bucks, and all they get is a silly picture of them on the internet. And yes, the racism argument is ludicrous. In fact, this argument actually somehow links the term "trophy room" to slavery, or even "pwnage". To be pwn3d means to be DEFEATED, not ENSLAVED, for God's sake! If that's what you're bringing up, I think your argument may be a little tenuous, don't you think?! Scambatiing has nothing to do with racism, it's about wasting the time of the scammers and keeping them away form potential actual victims. As mentioned above, if the victims were white, this article would not exist. Here's something else to think about: I'm willing to bet you've seenor at least heard of home alone. If not, look it up: essentially a bunch of crims break into a kid's house and get pwn3d (oh god, that was racist, wasn't it?). That's funny. This is similar- a bunch of crims trying to steal stuff from people who know what's going down, and as such they get defeated. That is also funny. The fact that most scammmers are black is irrelevant- if they were white, the same thing would be done. Next time you want to criticise an activity, try and research it a little better first.
By Bob01 on 12/22/2007 at 2:06:50
White hunters, black hearts
Another point I forgot- by no means do all baits involve extracting photographs of anything from the scammers. A lot just involve emailing them to waste their time, or giving them fake western union documents (so they go off to the western union office and don't get any cash), or getting them to travel a long way to meet you- except you don't show up. Of the ones that do involve photpgraphs, not all of them are as humiliating as this journalist makes out. I'm a baiter, and at the time of writing, I havent' got any photpgraphs from my guys. As a lot of baiters will tell you, the most satisfying thing is to get the guy as angry as you can. Introduce problems. Make them think that a whole load of cash is waiting for them and they can't get it. Have a fake scammer get involved. Another trick I like is to give them a fake phone number (usually a test number for a phone company- these just play a message when the call connects, wasting their time and money, and frustrating them big time). Some guy called me many many times- and I never had to answer! Ok, so some baits are nasty. But most aren't. It is really like saying that knives should be banned because you can kill people with them- far more people use them to cut bread. And I know I've mentioned this, but one more thing with the racism argument: just because a black guy is the victim doesn't mean it's racist. It's only racist if the black guy is the victim BECAUSE he's black.
By Bob01 on 05/25/2008 at 7:19:41
Re: White hunters, black hearts
If anyone was wondering where the flood of pretentious imbeciles came from: // Seems they were having a little bitch-fest over the article and decided to come here, suceeding in nothing apart from insulting the writer. Rain King hit the nail on the head; what these sad people are doing is degrading others and then actling like it's for some great noble cause. Are you honestly suprised that Shiver Metimbers, the creator of 419eater, is overweight?
By verdantabyss on 07/01/2008 at 3:28:41
Re: White hunters, black hearts
It is certainly apropos that someone with a moniker containing the word abyss should write such an abysmal response.  A group of people reading an article trashing something they believe in, and they aren't praising it--what a shock!  And the best that you can do is to make pointless cracks about Shiver's weight?  I actually agree with the author that there are those who go too far, and seem to revel in humiliation.  But extremes exist in any activity, and to use them to judge the activity as a whole is ludicrous .  And for those who claim that the scammers are targeting the wealthy and only taking money the victims can spare, think again. These scammers will go after anyone, and don't hesitate to knowingly push victims into losing everything if it gets them what they want.  The scammers who pose for ridiculous photos choose to do so--many scammers refuse to give "trophies" to baiters.  In the end, as long as the nonprofit I work for continues to receive 5-15 new scam letters on a daily basis, I will continue to support the scambaiters who are doing their best to thwart the scammers.
By attackcat on 07/04/2008 at 9:54:28

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