We Spent Months Scamming a Scammer into Doing Our Work for Us

Scam-baiting is a form of internet vigilantism in which the vigilante poses as a potential victim to expose a scammer. The cover of the issue you're looking at is a trophy from the most elaborate bait I've ever been involved in.

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Dec 16 2013, 12:00pm

Scam-baiting is a form of internet vigilantism in which the vigilante poses as a potential victim to expose a scammer. It's essentially grassroots social engineering conducted as civic duty or even amusement, a cross-cultural double bluff in which participants on separate continents try to outdo each other in an online tug-of-war for one's time and resources—and the other's private banking information.

The baiter begins by "biting the hook"—answering an email from the scammer. The "victim" feigns receptivity to the financial lure, engaging the scammer in a drawn-out chain of emails. The most important element of baiting is to waste as much of the scammer's time as possible—when a scammer is preoccupied, it prevents him from conning genuine victims.

The cover of the issue you're looking at is a trophy from the most elaborate bait I've ever been involved in. Three scammers, spread across Libya and the United Arab Emirates, set the con. They posed as a widow named Nourhan Abdul Aziz, a doctor named Dr. Ahmadiyya Ibrahim, and a banker going by Ephraim Adamoah. From Nourhan's initial contact with my associ- ate, Condo Rice, to Ephraim's actually donning an Obama mask and shooting our cover for us, 7,000 words were exchanged over nearly four months of emails. During that time, Condo and I negotiated our way through a labyrinthine net- work of fake websites, bogus documents, and broken English, and ended up with the weirdest photograph I've seen in a long time.

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