The IRS is calling because you owe money. There’s a warrant for your arrest because you missed jury duty. You’ve won millions in a sweepstakes.
All scams, all the time.
Bamboozled has heard lots of scammer stories over the years from the personal experiences of our readers. Some just hung up the phone or ignored the emails they received, but others had a little Clint Eastwood or Charles Bronson in them.
They wanted to get revenge on the would-be crooks.
It’s called “scambaiting.”
A potential victim responds to the fraudster, keeping up the conversation. The goal? To waste as much of the scammer’s time and efforts as possible, and hopefully distract the scammers enough to delay their move to the next target.
That’s what an East Hanover senior did when he was targeted in a car wrap scam. We wrote about his efforts to string along the scammers for several weeks before he told them he was on to their game.
And next week, we’re going to bring you the story of a Boonton man who was told he was the winner of a sweepstakes award of $2.5 million and a new Mercedes. He didn’t just hang up the phone, but lured the scammers into working with him over several weeks before he revealed his intentions.
If you’ve got the time and the inclination to take matters into your own hands, we wanted to offer a few tips and strategies. And warnings.
Before you take on a scammer, it’s vital that you remember you’re dealing with a criminal. The main priority is to stay safe.
While the scammer’s use of the English language or his accent may lead you to believe the person is located in a foreign country, you have no way of knowing that. He could be a local.
When you receive a call or email from a scammer, you have to assume they already have some private information about you. It could be your address, your bank account or credit card number, or anything. You’ll never know for sure.
And while the fraudsters may seem slow on the uptake, it may be a ruse. Even if their English is filled with grammar, spelling and punctuation mistakes, that doesn’t mean they don’t know what they’re doing. They may keep contact with you, even if they know you’re not going to wire them money, just to see how many other small nuggets of private information they can get about you.
If they get the right nugget, you could end up scammed anyway.
Indeed, scambaiting can backfire.
Scambusters.org tells the story of a woman who responded to a fake ad for apartment for rent. When she realized it was a scam, she gave the huckster a piece of her mind, and the huckster took his own revenge. He had the wom
an’s cell phone number, and he put the number on a bunch of other fake ads. For days, the woman’s cell was overrun with calls from potential tenants.
In another example, a man was targeted by a fake Microsoft help caller. (We’ve written about that one, too.) After he told the scammers where to go, he was bombarded with a continuous stream of robocalls that ran through the night, Scambusters said. It got so bad that the man had to turn off his phone at night, but the calls stopped after a week.
Because of reports like those, Scambusters doesn’t recommend individuals play with scammers. Instead, the site suggests you delete and ignore fishy emails, hang up the phone if they call and contact the authorities if you receive a threat.
But we know Bamboozled readers can be hardheaded. So if none of these stories is a deterrent, check out a web site called 419eater.com — named “419” for the section of Nigerian law that covers fraud. The site is a community of anti-scammers who try to beat the scammers at their own game. Along the way, they try to get the scammers to send them a “trophy,” such as a photo of the scammer.
It even explains how scam-fighters can find scammers to play around with.
419eater.com offers tips on how to handle certain situations, such as if an email scammer wants to talk to you on the telephone (explain to the scammer that you’re deaf), how to create a new email account to use specifically for scammer contact, and how to receive documents from the scammer without giving out your real address or fax number. It also shares strategies on how to string a scammer along, such as intentionally making mistakes on documents the scammers may ask you to complete, or creating fake bank names and account numbers.
If you’re talking to scammer and he seems to be catching on that you’re not about to be a victim, the site said you should start the ultimatums.
“…Tell them point blank that the deal is off ‘unless you agree to XXXX.’ Be bold and brash and make out the YOU are dictating the terms here. YOU are the one with the cash (they think!) and YOU are the boss,” the site said. “Many times the scammers have refused me things – such as providing me with a photograph – and I have told them, ‘OK, the deal is off, goodbye.’ It’s quite surprising how some of them will buckle and do almost anything you ask if they think you are serious about ending ‘the deal.'”
Bamboozled isn’t recommending you give scambaiting a try — there are real risks. But if you’ve already do
ne this, we’d love to hear your successes. If you tried and it backfired, we want to hear about that, too. Please share your tales in the comments section below.
Have you been Bamboozled? Reach Karin Price Mueller at Bamboozled@NJAdvanceMedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @KPMueller. Find Bamboozled on Facebook. Mueller is also the founder of NJMoneyHelp.com.