Who Scams The Scammers? Meet the Scambaiters

Police struggle to catch online fraudsters, often operating from overseas, but now a new breed of amateurs are taking matters into their own hands.

Three to four days a week, for one or two hours at a time, Rosie Okumura, 35, telephones thieves and messes with their minds. For the past two years, the LA-based voice actor has run a sort of reverse call centre, deliberately ringing the people most of us hang up on – scammers who pose as tax agencies or tech-support companies or inform you that you’ve recently been in a car accident you somehow don’t recall. When Okumura gets a scammer on the line, she will pretend to be an old lady, or a six-year-old girl, or do an uncanny impression of Apple’s virtual assistant Siri.

Once, she successfully fooled a fake customer service representative into believing that she was Britney Spears. “I waste their time,” she explains, “and now they’re not stealing from someone’s grandma.” Okumura is a “scambaiter” – a type of vigilante who disrupts, exposes or even scams the world’s scammers. While scambaiting has a troubled 20-year online history, with early forum users employing extreme, often racist, humiliation tactics, a new breed of scambaiters are taking over TikTok and YouTube. Okumura has more than 1.5 million followers across both video platforms, where she likes to keep things “funny and light”.

In April, the then junior health minister Lord Bethell tweeted about a “massive sudden increase” in spam calls, while a month earlier the consumer group Which? found that phone and text fraud was up 83% during the pandemic. In May, Ofcom warned that scammers are increasingly able to “spoof” legitimate telephone numbers, meaning they can make it look as though they really are calling from your bank. In this environment, scambaiters seem like superheroes – but is the story that simple? What motivates people like Okumura? How helpful is their vigilantism? And has a scambaiter ever made a scammer have a change of heart?

Batman became Batman to avenge the death of his parents; Okumura became a scambaiter after her mum was scammed out of $500. In her 60s and living alone, her mother saw a strange pop-up on her computer one day in 2019. It was emblazoned with the Windows logo and said she had a virus; there was also a number to call to get the virus removed. “And so she called and they told her, ‘You’ve got this virus, why don’t we connect to your computer and have a look.” Okumura’s mother granted the scammer remote access to her computer, meaning they could see all of her files. She paid them $500 to “remove the virus” and they also stole personal details, including her social security number.

Thankfully, the bank was able to stop the money leaving her mother’s account, but Okumura wanted more than just a refund. She asked her mum to give her the number she’d called and called it herself, spending an hour and 45 minutes wasting the scammer’s time. “My computer’s giving me the worst vibes,” she began in Kim Kardashian’s voice. “Are you in front of your computer right now?” asked the scammer. “Yeah, well it’s in front of me, is that… that’s like the same thing?” Okumura put the video on YouTube and since then has made over 200 more videos, through which she earns regular advertising revenue (she also takes sponsorships directly from companies).

“A lot of it is entertainment – it’s funny, it’s fun to do, it makes people happy,” she says when asked why she scambaits. “But I also get a few emails a day saying, ‘Oh, thank you so much, if it weren’t for that video, I would’ve lost $1,500.’” Okumura isn’t naive – she knows she can’t stop people scamming, but she hopes to stop people falling for scams. “I think just educating people and preventing it from happening in the first place is easier than trying to get all the scammers put in jail.”

She has a point – in October 2020, the UK’s national fraud hotline, run by City of London Police-affiliated Action Fraud, was labelled “not fit for purpose” after a report by Birmingham City University. An earlier undercover investigation by the Times found that as few as one in 50 fraud reports leads to a suspect being caught, with Action Fraud frequently abandoning cases. Throughout the pandemic, there has been a proliferation of text-based scams asking people to pay delivery fees for nonexistent parcels – one victim lost £80,000 after filling in their details to pay for the “delivery”. (To report a spam text, forward it to 7726.)

Asked whether vigilante scambaiters help or hinder the fight against fraud, an Action Fraud spokesperson skirted the issue. “It is important people who are approached by fraudsters use the correct reporting channels to assist police and other law enforcement agencies with gathering vital intelligence,” they said via email. “Word of mouth can be very helpful in terms of protecting people from fraud, so we would always encourage you to tell your friends and family about any scams you know to be circulating.”

Indeed, some scambaiters do report scammers to the police as part of their operation. Jim Browning is the alias of a Northern Irish YouTuber with nearly 3.5 million subscribers who has been posting scambaiting videos for the past seven years. Browning regularly gets access to scammers’ computers and has even managed to hack into the CCTV footage of call centres in order to identify individuals. He then passes this information to the “relevant authorities” including the police, money-processing firms and internet service providers.

“I wouldn’t call myself a vigilante, but I do enough to say, ‘This is who is running the scam,’ and I pass it on to the right authorities.” He adds that there have only been two instances where he’s seen a scammer get arrested. Earlier this year, he worked with BBC’s Panorama to investigate an Indian call centre – as a result, the centre was raided by local police and the owner was taken into custody.

Browning says becoming a YouTuber was “accidental”. He originally started uploading his footage so he could send links to the authorities as evidence, but then viewers came flooding in. “Unfortunately, YouTube tends to attract a younger audience and the people I’d really love to see looking at videos would be older folks,” he says. As only 10% of Browning’s audience are over 60, he collaborates with the American Association of Retired People to raise awareness of scams in its official magazine. “I deliberately work with them so I can get the message a little bit further afield.”

Still, that doesn’t mean Browning isn’t an entertainer. In his most popular upload, with 40m views, he calmly calls scammers by their real names. “You’ve gone very quiet for some strange reason,” Browning says in the middle of a call, “Are you going to report this to Archit?” The spooked scammer hangs up. One comment on the video – with more than 1,800 likes – describes getting “literal chills”.

But while YouTube’s biggest and most boisterous stars earn millions, Browning regularly finds his videos demonetised by the platform – YouTube’s guidelines are broad, with one clause reading “content that may upset, disgust or shock viewers may not be suitable for advertising”. As such, Browning still also has a full-time job.

YouTube isn’t alone in expressing reservations about scambaiting. Jack Whittaker is a PhD candidate in criminology at the University of Surrey who recently wrote a paper on scambaiting. He explains that many scambaiters are looking for community, others are disgruntled at police inaction, while some are simply bored. He is troubled by the “humiliation tactics” employed by some scambaiters, as well as the underlying “eye for an eye” mentality.

“I’m someone who quite firmly believes that we should live in a system where there’s a rule of law,” Whittaker says. For scambaiting to have credibility, he believes baiters must move past unethical and illegal actions, such as hacking into a scammer’s computer and deleting all their files (one YouTube video entitled “Scammer Rages When I Delete His Files!” has more than 14m views). Whittaker is also troubled by racism in the community, as an overcrowded job market has led to a rise in scam call centres in India. Browning says he has to remove racist comments under his videos.

“I think scambaiters have all the right skills to do some real good in the world. However, they’re directionless,” Whittaker says. “I think there has to be some soul- searching in terms of how we can better utilise volunteers within the policing system as a whole.”

At least one former scambaiter agrees with Whittaker. Edward is an American software engineer who engaged in an infamous bait on the world’s largest scambaiting forum in the early 2000s. Together with some online friends, Edward managed to convince a scammer named Omar that he had been offered a lucrative job. Omar paid for a 600-mile flight to Lagos only to end up stranded.

“He was calling us because he had no money. He had no idea how to get back home. He was crying,” Edward explains. “And I mean, I don’t know if I believe him or not, but that was the one where I was like, ‘Ah, maybe I’m taking things a little too far.’” Edward stopped scambaiting after that – he’d taken it up when stationed in a remote location while in the military. He describes spending four or five hours a day scambaiting: it was a “part-time job” that gave him “a sense of community and friendship”.

“I mean, there’s a reason I asked to remain anonymous, right?” Edward says when asked about his actions now. “I’m kind of embarrassed for myself. There’s a moment where it’s like, ‘Oh, was I being the bad guy?’” Now, Edward doesn’t approve of vigilantism and says the onus is on tech platforms to root out scams.

Yet while the public continue to feel powerless in the face of increasingly sophisticated scams (this summer, Browning himself fell for an email scam which resulted in his YouTube channel being temporarily deleted), But scambaiting likely isn’t going anywhere. Cassandra Raposo, 23, from Ontario began scambaiting during the first lockdown in 2020. Since then, one of her TikTok videos has been viewed 1.5m times. She has told scammers her name is Nancy Drew, given them the address of a police station when asked for her personal details, and repeatedly played dumb to frustrate them.

“I believe the police and tech companies need to do more to prevent and stop these scams, but I understand it’s difficult,” says Raposo, who argues that the authorities and scambaiters should work together. She hopes her videos will encourage young people to talk to their grandparents about the tactics scammers employ and, like Browning, has received grateful emails from potential victims who’ve avoided scams thanks to her content. “My videos are making a small but important difference out there,” she says. “As long as they call me, I’ll keep answering.”

For Okumura, education and prevention remain key, but she’s also had a hand in helping a scammer change heart. “I’ve become friends with a student in school. He stopped scamming and explained why he got into it. The country he lives in doesn’t have a lot of jobs, that’s the norm out there.” The scammer told Okumura he was under the impression that, “Americans are all rich and stupid and selfish,” and that stealing from them ultimately didn’t impact their lives. (Browning is more sceptical – while remotely accessing scammers’ computers, he’s seen many of them browsing for the latest iPhone online.)

“At the end of the day, some people are just desperate,” Okumura says. “Some of them really are jerks and don’t care… and that’s why I keep things funny and light. The worst thing I’ve done is waste their time.”

By:

Source: Who scams the scammers? Meet the scambaiters | Cybercrime | The Guardian

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Related Contents:

Cyberthreats: The Emerging Fault Lines of the Nation State. Oxford University Press.

ISBN9780190452568. Fisher, Bonnie S.; Lab, Steven (2010). Encyclopedia of Victimology and Crime Prevention. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications. p. 493.

ISBN9781412960472. “FBI 2017 Internet Crime Report” (PDF). FBI.gov. Federal Bureau of Investigation. May 7, 2018. Retrieved 28 August 2018.

“The Economic Impact of Cybercrime— No Slowing Down” (PDF). McAfee. 2018. Retrieved October 24, 2018. Goel, Rajeev K. (2020).

“Uncharitable Acts in Charity: Socioeconomic Drivers of Charity-Related Fraud”. Social Science Quarterly. 101 (4): 1397–1412. doi:10.1111/ssqu.12794. ISSN1540-6237. Burke, Cathy.

“L.I. charity chief convicted of embezzling nearly $1 million meant for disabled”. nydailynews.com. Retrieved 2021-04-22.

“Charitable Contributions: For use in preparing 2016 Returns” (PDF). “Scam Watch – Nigerian Scams”. Scam Watch – Australian Government. 12 May 2016. Jamie Doward (2008-03-09).

“How boom in rogue ticket websites fleeces Britons”. The Observer. London. Retrieved 9 March 2008.

“USOC and IOC file lawsuit against fraudulent ticket seller”. Sports City. Retrieved 1 August 2008. Jacquelin Magnay (4 August 2008).

“Ticket swindle leaves trail of losers”. The Sydney Morning Herald. Kelly Burke (6 August 2008). “British fraud ran Beijing ticket scam”. The Sydney Morning Herald. Francis, Ryan (2017-05-11).

“What not to get Mom for Mother’s Day”. CSO from IDG. Retrieved 2017-11-28. Hew, Khe Foon (March 2011). “Students’ and teachers’ use of Facebook”. Computers in Human Behavior. 27 (2): 662–676. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2010.11.020. Kugler, Logan (27 October 2014). “Keeping online reviews honest”. Communications of the ACM. 57 (11): 20–23. doi:10.1145/2667111. S2CID11898299. Wilson, Brian (Mar 2017). “Using Social Media to Fight Fraud”. Risk Management. New York. 64 (2): 10–11.

ProQuest1881388527. “Woman loses £320,000 in ‘romance fraud’ scam”. BBC News. Retrieved 20 October 2020. Tom Zeller Jr (April 26, 2005).

“A Common Currency for Online Fraud: Forgers of U.S. Postal Money Orders Grow”. New York Times.

“Counterfeit Money Orders: The Ultimate Guide”. Fraud Guides. 2017-09-07. Retrieved 2021-04-22.

“CyberCops.com – Counterfeit Postal Money Orders”. http://www.cybercops.com. Retrieved 23 May 2017.

“Online Shopping Scams / Scams and Fraud / Consumer Resources / Home – Florida Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services

Google Hit With $593 Million Fine In France For Failing To Ink Deal With News Publishers

FRANCE-ECONOMY-TECHNOLOGY-VIVATECH

Google was hit with a $593 million (€500 Million) fine by antitrust regulators in France on Monday after the company failed to offer a fair deal to local publishers for hosting their news content on its platform, adding to the list of several large fines the U.S. tech giant has copped in Europe in the past few years.

The ruling comes after Google failed to comply with an April 2020 decision by the French regulators to negotiate a deal “in good faith” with publishers to carry snippets of their content on its Google News platform. As part of the ruling, the French Competition Authority has ordered Google to come up with an remuneration offer for its use of the news snippets within two months.

If the tech giant fails to meet the deadline, it will face penalty payments of up to $1 million (€900,000) per day of delay. In a statement shared with Forbes, Google said it was “very disappointed” with the ruling and it believes it had “acted in good faith throughout the entire process.” The company added that it is about to reach a global licensing agreement with the French news agency, Agence France-Presse (AFP), but did not provide a timeline.

Google will be able to appeal Tuesday’s fine, but it is unclear if it will choose to do so.

Crucial Quote

“The sanction of 500 million euros takes into account the exceptional seriousness of the breaches observed and how Google’s behavior has led to further delay of the proper application of the law…which aimed to better take into account the value of content from publishers and news agencies included on the platforms,” Isabelle de Silva, president of the French Competition Authority said in an official statement.

Surprising Fact

Tuesday’s fine is the second-biggest antitrust penalty a single company has faced in France. Last year, the competition regulator hit Apple with a $1.2 billion fine after the company was found to have signed anti-competitive agreements with two distributors over the sale of non-iPhone products such as Apple Mac computers. Apple has appealed the ruling.

Key Background

Publishers in Europe have clashed with Google multiple times in the past year, accusing the tech giant of luring away billions of euros in advertising money from the publishers while leveraging their content. Particularly contentious has been the company’s Google News platform which hosts snippets of news stories from publishers without paying them. On the flipside, publishers are unable to yank their content from Google’s platform as they rely on it heavily to drive traffic to their sites.

Earlier this year, Google managed to reach a $76 million deal to pay a group of 121 French Newspapers. But the AFP and other French publishers who were not part of the deal expressed anger and slammed Google for being opaque. De Silva has dismissed that deal and criticized Google for limiting the scope of the negotiations, excluding agency content like photos, and offering to pay the same amount for news content that it does for dictionary listings or weather information.

Further Reading

Google Fined $593 Million By French Antitrust Agency (Bloomberg)

Follow me on Twitter. Send me a secure tip.

I am a Breaking News Reporter at Forbes, with a focus on covering important tech policy and business news. Graduated from Columbia University with an MA in Business and Economics Journalism in 2019. Worked as a journalist in New Delhi, India from 2014 to 2018. Have a news tip? DMs are open on Twitter @SiladityaRay or drop me an email at siladitya@protonmail.com.

Source: Google Hit With $593 Million Fine In France For Failing To Ink Deal With News Publishers

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Critics:

Google said it was very disappointed with the decision but would comply. “Our objective remains the same: we want to turn the page with a definitive agreement. We will take the French Competition Authority’s feedback into consideration and adapt our offers,” the U.S. tech giant said.

A Google spokesperson added: “We have acted in good faith throughout the entire process. The fine ignores our efforts to reach an agreement, and the reality of how news works on our platforms.”

The framework agreement, which many other French media outlets criticized, was one of the highest-profile deals under Google’s “News Showcase” programme to provide compensation for news snippets used in search results, and the first of its kind in Europe.

Google agreed to pay $76 million over three years to a group of 121 French news publishers to end the copyright row, documents seen by Reuters showed. It followed months of bargaining between Google, French publishers and news agencies over how to apply the revamped EU copyright rules, which allow publishers to demand a fee from online platforms showing extracts of their news. read more

Ransomware gang REvil’s websites become unreachable

Apple’s potential ‘buy now, pay later’ plan sends sector tumbling

Americas Faced with rare protests, Cuba curbs social media access, watchdog says

Altan Redes files for bankruptcy protection in Mexico

ECB to launch digital euro project

Can Reddit’s silver “apes” beat the market?

Biden taps ex-Pentagon official for key China tech position

FCC votes to finalize program to replace Huawei equipment in U.S networks

Content Marketing Outsourcing: The Agency Vs Freelancer Question – Mariame Bakkouri

Content marketing outsourcing - the freeelancer

Richard Branson once said: “Everything in your business can be outsourced, if you’re not emotionally attached to doing it.” Indeed, any project type can be outsourced, including content creation and distribution.

CMO.com cites 10 reasons when outsourcing your marketing is a better choice than doing it yourself.

Here are five of them:

  1. You don’t have the time or expertise.
  2. You don’t have the technology.
  3. You want to lower your marketing costs.
  4. You’re on a rapid growth trajectory.
  5. You’ve just expanded your business to operate in another customer channel or geography.

As your business grows and your content marketing needs become too much to tackle in-house, consider outsourcing.

Freelancer vs. content marketing agency

One question foremost on businesses’ minds when deciding to take the outsourcing route for their content marketing is:

Should I hire a freelancer or an agency?

This article will explore the advantages and disadvantages of hiring freelancers over agencies, and vice versa, so you can hopefully arrive at the best possible decision when confronted with the same dilemma.

Option 1: The freelancer

Freelancers can come in handy for any project type – writing, administrative assistance, design, data entry, or transcription services.

And with job sites like Freelancer, Upwork, and Craigslist carrying a diverse and massive pool of freelancers from all over the world, depending on your objectives and the amount you’re willing to pay to achieve them, there’s a freelancer that’s just right for you.

Advantages

1. Skill

You can hire freelancers for a specific skill set your full-time employees don’t possess. That said, you can hire as many freelancers with certain skill sets (e.g. subject matter experts, writers, editors, designers, video creators, community managers, and social media professionals) as you need.

If you already have a roster of freelancers to tap into, you can award projects to those whom you think are best qualified for the job.

2. Flexibility

When business is on the upside, keeping full-time staff to perform needed tasks and other activities is an advantage. It’s a different story, however, when the amount of work fluctuates.

Freelancers, on the other hand, can be hired per project or for a limited time. If you no longer need their services, you’re not obliged to keep them. You can always rehire them when business booms again.

 3. Lower costs

Freelancers have less overhead expenses compared to their agency counterparts, which explains why they normally charge less than the latter.

 Disadvantages

 Limited availability

There’s a saying among those seeking lifelong partners that goes, “All the good ones are probably already taken.”

This also applies to freelancers, who are known to juggle multiple projects and multiple clients.

There are good, dependable freelancers, and there are also those to avoid like the plague. Good freelancers take it upon themselves to regularly update you of their progress, while others can disappear into thin air when it suits them, without any way for you to contact them.

 A procedure that’s not entirely off your hands

Creating an organized, committed, and cohesive team of freelancers from different parts of the world, from different time zones is no easy feat. Face-to-face relationships with fellow workers are a necessary ingredient for successful teamwork.

This being the case, you must have the right tools and strategies in place for your team to effectively bond, collaborate, and communicate.

Also, if you hire multiple freelancers, you will have to take on the role of project manager to ensure everyone is on the same page.

 Time-consuming selection process

Choosing the most qualified freelancers involves time and attention. You will have to look through their work portfolios, ask for samples, and even check with their previous clients if they can be relied upon. As freelancers come and go, the vetting process will have to be done repeatedly.

Also, freelancers may be limited in terms of the things they can do and are willing to do. Often, the good ones are experts in their fields and possibly won’t take on projects that are beyond their field of specialization.

 Where to find freelancers

 Social media

LinkedIn is a good place to start when looking for freelancers. You may also post job openings to your Facebook or Google+ business pages.

If you have an email list, inform your subscribers of the opening, requesting them to also send your email to people they think are qualified, particularly if they themselves aren’t in the market.

 Job boards

There’s Craigslist, Upwork, and Freelancer, and they’re worth looking into if your content marketing budget isn’t much. Then again, like most marketers have already realized, you get what you pay for.

You can also look into advertising at Inbound.org, Smashing Magazine, and Problogger.

On blogs/online publications

Freelance content writers and marketers use guest blogging or run their own blogs to showcase their expertise and market their services. Take time to scour relevant blogs for skilled freelancers.

 Option 2: The agency

Freelancers, in general, work alone. Agencies, on the other hand, are composed of a group of people who are experts at certain fields. They can even be a team of skilled freelancers working together.

Agencies can range from three-member teams to full-service marketing agencies handling hundreds of content marketing projects simultaneously.

Advantages

Dependability

Content marketing involves a wide range of skills. The Content Marketing Team Matrix by Chris Lake, DueDil’s VP of Inbound Marketing, presents 16 roles and their required skills. Most people possess two or more of the said skills, but those who possess all of them are a rare gem.

Agencies, generally, are a one-stop shop. And they already have the necessary communication and collaboration tools in place, all you need is to lay down your objectives and expectations, and then measure their output against your ROI benchmarks.

Expertise

Besides being made up of a team of experts, agencies use specialized marketing tools and strategies to grow your digital presence on various channels. The tools at their disposal can include integrated reporting software, social media analytics tools, SEO software, even subscriptions to stock image sites.

Agencies also have structured processes and can easily scale.

Time savings

Because agencies are made up of multiple people with varying expertise, with a project manager to monitor each member’s progress, you don’t need to find and select the right people to create your own team.

Disadvantages

Higher costs

Compared to keeping an in-house content marketing team or organizing a team of expert freelancers, agency services generally cost more. In his article on Quick Sprout, Neil Patel says:

 “Typically, you’ll need to be spending at least a few thousand before an agency will take you on as a client.”

A process that’s completely off your hands

Delegating content marketing – and most other business processes, for that matter – to outside providers is an entrepreneur’s dream. However, there’s always the chance that an agency’s output, particularly if they’re not as familiar with your business and industry as you are, won’t hit the right note with your more savvy prospects and customers.

Hiring content marketing agencies specializing in your field is the safer bet.

Time invested on your projects may not be adequate

While this is in no way a generalization, agencies working on several projects at the same time may not afford you the dedication you expect of them, particularly if you’re not a “big fish”. Also, once your contract expires, you don’t get to keep their services until you renew your contract with them.

Content Marketing Outsourcing: The Agency Vs Freelancer Question

Conclusion

Gartner predicts that by 2020, 85% of all customer-brand relationships will be made without human interaction, which further reinforces the increasing value of content marketing.

If you’re not equipped with either the expertise or resources to tackle content marketing in-house, know that your budget, objectives, and the effort you’re willing to put in are essential to figuring out if it’s a freelancer or an agency you need to hire.

As to the lingering question of whether an agency is better than a freelancer, all I can say is this: I know of companies who have expressed disappointment over agency performance while lauding the efforts of independent freelancers.

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