The Rules and Ethics of Scambaiting
Shared by @Baiter's Bard on
While scambaiting tends to be a largely independent and unregulated activity, the Scambaiting community still requires all baiters who wish to be a part of it to adhere to a loosely defined code of ethics if we want to keep the movement alive and growing.
Why is this? After all, we’re fighting bad guys, right? And it’s not as if they’re going to go to the police if we bait them too hard, are they?
While it is true that internet scammers are indeed “bad guys”, the simple act of combatting them does not automatically place you on the side of the angels. Even though some scambaiters may attempt to justify morally grey (and even borderline illegal) activities in the name of fighting 419 scammers, we should at least try to hold ourselves to a higher standard and not condone any of our members to take part in any activities that may: (i) put them, other members, or our/their organization at risk; or (ii) make the general public think poorly of scambaiters as a whole.
As Friedrich Nietszche famously wrote in Beyond Good and Evil, “Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.” Think of these rules as our way of helping to keep you from becoming as bad as the monsters we fight.
1. Safe baiting: Actually, as loosely defined as our rules may be, you can go ahead and carve this one in stone: ALWAYS BAIT SAFELY! You should never use any real-life details (such as your real name, address, phone number, email address, social media accounts, or any other personal information that may give a scammer any indication as to who you are, what you do, or where you live) in your baiting activities. Instead, set up a disposable baiting email address that you can abandon at the first sign of trouble. Gmail accounts are highly recommended since they hide your IP address and give you a massive amount of free storage. It’s also a good idea not to publish this email address just in case a google-savvy scammer decides to do a bit of research.
2. Innocent third parties: We never involve innocent third parties in our baiting activities. This includes not only giving a scammer the name, address, phone number, email address, or social media account of a real person or organization, but also includes posing as a representative of a real company, a government agency, or a police force. We have absolutely no right to drag a real-life entity into our baits, so we simply do not do it.
Over the course of a bait, you may find it necessary to claim you are a person belonging to a real-life organization (such as a money transfer clerk, a police officer, or something similar). Although deciding to bring this type of character into a bait is potentially entering a grey area, so here are a few guidelines for you to consider as you make your own ethical choices:
- If you choose to do this, do this only for minor characters, or those that you need for a specific purpose. Any of your primary characters in the bait should not be a part of any real organization.
- Be aware that, in most jurisdictions, impersonating a police officer is a crime.
- If you are going to portray someone as being affiliated with a real organization, try to give the scammer as few real-life details of this individual as possible (i.e. do not provide a specific police precinct location, number, or name and do not tell the scammer the address of the branch of WU/MG you work for).
3. Burning scammers: Telling a scammer that you never had any intention of paying him and that you were merely baiting him and having fun at his expense (also known as “burning” him) may serve to gratify your ego but, really, all it does is educate the scammer as to how we operate and reduce the chance that he will be baited again. Why? It’s quite simple. Once a scammer knows he has been baited, he will be distrustful of any victims who are not immediately compliant or who draw out the process for longer than necessary, thus making the scammer more apt to drop them, and freeing up more of his time to find actual, fast-paying victims.
4. Educating scammers: While this concept is similar to that of burning scammers, it is possible to unknowingly educate a scammer without telling him that he has been baited. During a bait, it can be very tempting to make fun of a scammer by laughing at the titles he gives himself, by critiquing the poorly manipulated documents he has sent you, by pointing out mistakes he has made, or by mocking his poor communication skills and his incoherent opening format. Doing any of these, however, is nothing more than giving the scammer suggestions on how to become a better scammer and improve his chances of fooling future victims, which is completely counter-productive to our mission.
5. No illegal activities: While this should be pretty obvious, it still bears repeating – don’t commit crimes in furtherance of a bait. Mailing dangerous substances to a scammer could run you afoul of your postal service, and shipping scammers trash or fecal matter is just gross. And, finally, since most of us are not duly authorized members of the judicial branch of a government, we have no legal right to determine that a scammer needs to be punished, to say nothing of deciding that we are the ones who should mete out the punishment. Hence, putting a scammer in a situation where you reasonably expect him to get killed or severely injured is not only vigilantism but a clear case of the punishment far outweighing the crime.
6. Racism: Baiting is an activity that is designed to combat internet scammers, and no baiter should be performing any baiting activities that target people of any particular race, religion, or gender. While many internet scammers do seem to be from Africa (and while the vast majority of those scammers seem to be based in a very small subset of countries), it is ridiculous to assume that being a resident of one of those countries automatically equates to “scammer”. In general, baiters should simply respond to the emails they receive which means that, instead of baiters targeting scammers, the scammers are the ones targeting us.
7. Cash baiting: We never try to get scammers to send us money. No, not even small sums, and not even if you plan to donate the money to charity. Why not? Well, most importantly, asking a scammer to send you money in return for something that you are never going to do or send is considered mail fraud in many countries (see Rule #5, above) and accomplishes nothing more than making a baiter indistinguishable from the scammer. In addition, the vast majority of the time, any money you may receive was probably stolen from some other victim.
8. Sending real files: Or, for that matter, good fakes. While it’s probably a good rule of thumb to never send a scammer anything he requests, some baits may require you to send out a file at some point. In such a case, it is an absolute priority for you to be sure that whatever you may send the scammer cannot be re-used in another scam or with another victim. Above all, this means no ID cards, driver’s licenses, passports or the like, no matter how evidently fake they may be.
9. Nuking scammer accounts: While it may be very tempting to report a scammer’s email (or social media account, telephone number, etc.) to the provider, doing so is nothing more than an exercise in futility. Not only does it probably take less time for the scammer to set up a new email account than it does for you to fill out the complaint form but, in some cases, a scammer’s contact information has been reported on one or more scam awareness web pages. By taking a scammer’s email down and requiring him to set up a new one, you are allowing the scammer to operate with a clean account that cannot be found by potential victims knowledgeable enough to do a google search. And what about those current scam victims you thought you saved by closing a known scam email account? Most scammers keep a list of their current victims’ emails in a separate file, and it’s an easy enough matter for them to come up with an excuse as to why they needed to contact their victim from a new email account.
10. Doxxing fellow baiters: As baiters become more active within their community, it’s natural for us to learn more about each other. And, as with any community, it’s also natural for conflicts to arise between baiters. However, under no circumstances should any baiter publicly release another baiter’s personal information. Few acts are more petty, and more potentially dangerous.
11. Using jargon: Want to hear a depressing truth? Scambaiting will never be able to stop the proliferation of internet scams. There are too few active baiters out there (and there are far too many scammers out there) for our activities to make any difference at a macro level. Even worse, the barriers to entry to become a decent scammer are far lower than the barriers to entry to become a decent scambaiter. So, then, why do we keep doing this? To get the attention of the general public in the hope of raising scam awareness. And, when you are dealing with the general public, one of the quickest ways to turn them off is to speak in incomprehensible jargon. So, instead of sending a cafeboi an ASEM with an RSOT so he would push it to his oga, just say that you sent a scammer an email in the hope that he would show it to his boss. And, whenever you are talking with non-baiters, always be sure to refer to scammers as scammers, and not lads. Calling scammers “lads” makes them sound cute and fun and defuses the impact of the crimes they commit.
12. Tattoos: Because we are so used to Western tattooists (who are licensed and are required to follow strict sanitation procedures such as wearing gloves and sterilizing needles), we tend to assume that tattoo parlors are the same all over the world. However, in Africa, many tattooists will use the same needles on multiple customers and, since diseases such as hepatitis can linger on unsterilized needles for up to three weeks, this greatly increases the risk of spreading such diseases. Sure, getting a scammer tattooed can be funny as hell but you need to be aware that there is a big potential downside to it.
13. No Poaching: Always keep in mind that (mass baits being the exception) a bait belongs to the baiter(s) who are running it, which means that no baiter should ever insert himself/herself into a bait without the express permission of the principal baiter(s). While it is quite possible that two separate baiters will be baiting the same scammer independently, there is absolutely no reason to refer to the other bait (or to the characters in the other bait) without that baiter’s consent.
14. Professional Courtesy: Whenever a baiter has a great success with one specific scammer, it’s natural that other baiters are going to want to try to bait the same scammer in an attempt to recreate (or surpass) the first baiter’s results. When a baiter has a good bait going on, the worst thing in the world is to have a bunch of other baiters clamoring to get that scammer’s attention, so anyone else who may be baiting the scammer at that time should back off and no other baiters should try to begin a bait with that scammer. Once a bait/safari has ended, it is acceptable for the other baiters to continue their baits but even the most compliant scammer may think that something is amiss when he receives 15 different emails from 15 different victims shortly after he returns from safari.
15. Fake Baits: Even though this one should be self-evident, let’s say it anyway. Please do not post fake baits, phone calls with friends pretending to be scammers, doctored emails, or anything else that isn’t part of a 100% genuine bait. There’s plenty of fun to be had with real scammers, so there is no need to attempt to raise your status within the community by posting a bunch of fabricated interactions.
Burn it to the ground