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.”

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

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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.

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“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.

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Europe Faces Bleak Winter Energy Crisis Years in the Making

 
Europe is preparing for an extreme winter as an energy emergency that has been a very long time in the making leaves the landmass depending on the ideas of the weather.Faced with flooding gas and power costs, nations from the U.K. to Germany should rely on gentle temperatures to traverse the warming season. Europe is shy of gas and coal and if the breeze doesn’t blow, the most dire outcome imaginable could work out: far and wide power outages that power organizations and plants to shut.

The extraordinary energy crunch has been fermenting for quite a long time, with Europe developing progressively reliant upon discontinuous wellsprings of energy like breeze and sun based while interests in petroleum products declined. Natural strategy has likewise pushed a few nations to close their coal and atomic armadas, decreasing the quantity of force establishes that could fill in as back-up in the midst of shortages.

“It could get very ugly unless we act quickly to try to fill every inch of storage,” said Marco Alvera, CEO of Italian energy framework organization Snam SpA. “You can survive a week without electricity, but you can’t survive without gas.”

Energy request is ascending from the U.S. to Europe and Asia as economies recuperate from the worldwide pandemic, boosting modern movement and powering worries about swelling. Costs are so high in Europe that two significant compost makers reported they were closing plants or shortening creation in the region.

And it’s not simply organizations. Governments are additionally worried about the hit to families previously battling with greater expenses of everything from food to move. As force and gas costs break records for a long time, Spain, Italy, Greece and France are largely stepping in to shield shoppers from inflation.

“It will be expensive for consumers, it will be expensive for big energy users,” Dermot Nolan, a previous CEO of U.K. energy controller Of gem, said in a Bloomberg TV meet. “Electricity and gas prices are going to be higher at home than everybody would want and they are going to be higher than they have been for about 12 years.”

Europe’s gas costs have dramatically multiplied for the current year as top provider Russia has been checking the extra conveyances the landmass needs to top off its exhausted stockpiling locales following a virus winter last year. It’s been difficult to get hold of elective supplies, with North Sea fields going through weighty support after pandemic-instigated postponements, and Asia gathering up cargoes of condensed gaseous petrol to fulfill rising need there.

Higher gas costs helped the expense of creating power as renewables wavered. Low wind speeds constrained European utilities to consume costly coal, draining stores of the dirtiest of petroleum products. Energy strategy additionally assumed a part, with the expense of contaminating in the European Union flooding over 80% this year.

“Gas supply is short, coal supply is short and renewables aren’t going great, so we are now in this crazy situation,” said Dale Hazelton, head of warm coal at Wood Mackenzie Ltd. “Coal companies just don’t have supply available, they can’t get the equipment, the manufacturers are backed up and they don’t really want to invest.”

European gas inventories are at their most minimal level in over 10 years for this season. Gazprom PJSC’s CEO Alexey Miller said Europe will enter the colder time of year in with regards to a month without completely renewing its support reserves. The Russian gas monster has been pushing to begin its questionable Nord Stream 2 pipeline.

Europe now needs great climate. While forecasters say temperatures are probably not going to plunge beneath typical one month from now, assumptions can generally change. Comparable climate gauges didn’t appear last year, bringing about an unpleasant temperatures that sent LNG costs in Asia to a record in January.

“It may happen again,” said Ogan Kose, an overseeing chief at Accenture. “If we end up having a very cold winter in Asia as well as in Europe, then we may end up seeing a ridiculous spike in gas prices.”

In 2018, a profound freeze that became known as the Beast from the East shocked energy brokers. This year there’s additionally a possibility that a La Nina climate example would grow once more. While the wonder can carry warm climate to Europe, it will in general send temperatures diving in Asia.

The U.S. Environment Prediction Center said there’s a 66% possibility that a La Nina example will return some time from November to January. That could fuel the battle for LNG cargoes, as purchasers from Japan to India start alarm purchasing because of fears of rivalry with Europe.

“Unfortunately, the way the weather works, when it’s cold, it is cold: it’s cold for the U.S., it’s cold for Europe and then it gets cold for Asia,” said Snam’s Alvera, who is wagering on hydrogen as the future for efficient power energy markets.

Europe should diminish request if the colder time of year is cold, Goldman Sachs Group Inc. said, anticipating the district will confront power outages. There are as of now indications of stress, with CF Industries Holdings Inc. closing two compost plants in the U.K. furthermore, Yara International ASA will have diminished its smelling salts creation limit by 40% by next week.

Shutdowns additionally hazard hitting the food store network, which utilizes a side-effect of compost creation in everything from meat handling to brew. The sugar and starch businesses are likewise influenced, with France’s Tereos SCA and Roquette Freres SA cautioning of higher energy costs.

And it doesn’t stop there. Europe top copper maker Aurubis AG said greater costs will keep on getting edges through the remainder of the year. Indeed, even synthetic compounds goliath BASF SE, which delivers the greater part of its force, said it has been not able to completely turn the effect of record-breaking power prices.

Supplies are probably not going to improve altogether any time soon. Russia is confronting its very own energy smash and Gazprom is guiding its extra creation to homegrown inventories. Costs could remain high regardless of whether Europe winds up with a gentle winter, said Fabian Ronningen, an expert at energy specialist Rystad Energy AS.

“With natural gas prices already hitting record highs in Europe ahead of rising winter demand, prices could move even higher in the coming months,” said Stacey Morris, overseer of exploration at file supplier Alerian in Dallas. “There is a potential it can get worse.”

Source: Europe Faces Bleak Winter Energy Crisis Years in the Making – Bloomberg

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Crypto Price Mayhem: Data Reveals Bitcoin Is Braced For A ‘Short Squeeze’

bitcoin, bitcoin price, crypto, image

Bitcoin traders and investors are still reeling from a steep sell-off that’s wiped around $1 trillion from the combined cryptocurrency market.

The bitcoin price has crashed from almost $65,000 per bitcoin to under $40,000 despite a flood of positive bitcoin news in recent weeks—including Twitter TWTR +0.2% chief executive Jack Dorsey teasing a bitcoin payments plan.

Now, analysis of bitcoin trading data has suggested the bitcoin price could be hit by a so-called “short squeeze”—when the price of an asset increases rapidly due to an excess of bets against it.

“Given bitcoin’s past market performance, when traders use excessive leverage to short the market during a horizontal price adjustment, there will often be a short squeeze phenomenon,” Flex Yang, the chief executive of Hong Kong-based crypto lender and asset manager Babel Finance, wrote in analysis seen by this reporter and pointing to market data that shows recent capital inflows are “from short-sellers and that leverage has greatly increased.”

Since the bitcoin and crypto market crashed in mid-April, the volume of bitcoin perpetual holdings on the crypto exchange Binance have increased by 110%, with the ratio of long to short traders reaching a new low of 0.89—pushing funding rates into the negative.

According to Yang, the reasons behind such excessive shorts include “many people are anticipating a bear market; bitcoin “holders are building hedges,” or “those who bought at high prices are locked in.”

Historical bitcoin price data between February and April 2018 and then again from June to late July 2020, suggests an increase in short-selling is often followed by a bitcoin price surge.

“In November 2020, there was a temporary sharp increase in the number of short-selling positions at a high price,” wrote Yang. “Afterwards, the price of bitcoin continued to rise, continuing its bull market position. No matter if the market outlook is trending downwards after rebounding or if bitcoin maintains its bull market status, short traders have always suffered the consequence of being squeezed out and liquidated.”

The early 2021 bitcoin price bull run was brought to a sharp halt in April when fears over a crypto crackdown in China and mounting concerns over bitcoin’s soaring energy demands sparked panic among investors.

Tesla TSLA +1.1% billionaire Elon Musk sent shockwaves through the bitcoin market when he announced Tesla would suspend its use of bitcoin for payments until the bitcoin network increased its use of renewable energy.

The bitcoin price has failed to recover its lost ground despite continued reports that Wall Street banking giants are increasingly offering bitcoin investment and trading services and the Central America country El Salvador revealed plans to adopt bitcoin as legal tender alongside the U.S. dollar.

Follow me on Twitter.

I am a journalist with significant experience covering technology, finance, economics, and business around the world. As the founding editor of Verdict.co.uk I reported on how technology is changing business, political trends, and the latest culture and lifestyle. I have covered the rise of bitcoin and cryptocurrency since 2012 and have charted its emergence as a niche technology into the greatest threat to the established financial system the world has ever seen and the most important new technology since the internet itself. I have worked and written for CityAM, the Financial Times, and the New Statesman, amongst others. Follow me on Twitter @billybambrough or email me on billyATbillybambrough.com. Disclosure: I occasionally hold some small amount of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.

Source: Crypto Price Mayhem: Data Reveals Bitcoin Is Braced For A ‘Short Squeeze’

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Critics:

Predictions of a collapse of a speculative bubble in cryptocurrencies have been made by numerous experts in economics and financial markets. Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies have been identified as speculative bubbles by several laureates of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, central bankers, and investors.

From January to February 2018, the price of Bitcoin fell 65 percent. By September 2018, the MVIS CryptoCompare Digital Assets 10 Index had lost 80 percent of its value, making the decline of the cryptocurrency market, in percentage terms, greater than the bursting of the Dot-com bubble in 2002.

In November 2018, the total market capitalization for Bitcoin fell below $100 billion for the first time since October 2017, and the price of Bitcoin fell below $4,000, representing an 80 percent decline from its peak the previous January. Bitcoin reached a low of around $3,100 in December 2018.From 8 March to 12 March 2020, the price of Bitcoin fell by 30 percent from $8,901 to $6,206.By October 2020, Bitcoin was worth approximately $13,200.

Bitcoin has been characterized as a speculative bubble by eight winners of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences: Paul Krugman, Robert J. Shiller, Joseph Stiglitz, Richard Thaler, James Heckman, Thomas Sargent, Angus Deaton, and Oliver Hart; and by central bank officials including Alan Greenspan, Agustín Carstens, Vítor Constâncio, and Nout Wellink.

The investors Warren Buffett and George Soros have respectively characterized it as a “mirage”and a “bubble”; while the business executives Jack Ma and Jamie Dimon have called it a “bubble” and a “fraud”, respectively. J.P. Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon said later he regrets calling Bitcoin a fraud.

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