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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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

Hackers Sell Data of 129 Million Russian Car Owners for Bitcoin

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A database of 129 million Russian car drivers is being exposed on the darknet for just 0.3 Bitcoin or about $2,900.

The major cryptocurrency, Bitcoin (BTC), continues to be actively used for illicit activity. Anonymous hackers have taken the data of over 129 million Russian car owners to expose it on the darknet in exchange for cryptocurrency.

The leaked information includes the full names, addresses, passport numbers and other data belonging to millions of Russian car drivers, Russian news agency RBC reported May 15.

The stolen data is claimed to be leaked from the registry of Russia’s patrol jurisdiction, the General Administration for Traffic Safety of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Russia. The authenticity of data has reportedly been confirmed by an employee of a local car sharing company.

The leaked data is being sold for cryptocurrency, RBC said, citing an original report by local publication Vedomosti. As such, the full version of the database costs 0.3 BTC, which amounts to about $2,900 as of press time. The hackers also offered to buy some “exclusive” data for 1.5 BTC ($14,400), the report notes.

Cryptocurrencies are being increasingly used for illicit activity on darknet markets. According to Chainalysis — a New York-based blockchain analytics firm — the volume of darknet markets’ crypto flows doubled in 2019 for the first time in four years.

Cybercriminals often sell stolen data on the darknet for almost nothing or even give it away for free. In mid-April 2020, hackers were selling over 500,000 accounts of popular video conferencing platform Zoom for less than a penny each.

In March, cryptocurrency fund Trident Crypto Fund suffered a major security breach, resulting in the theft of 266,000 usernames and passwords.

By:

Source:https://cointelegraph.com

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Hello World’s host Ashlee Vance traveled to Moscow and got a rare glimpse into the heart of Russia’s hacker underworld and the latest techniques in investigating cybercrime. #BloombergHelloWorld Watch the full episode of ‘Hello World: Russia’: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tICL-… Read more about FindFace on Bloomberg.com: http://bloom.bg/2h1VPSy Like this video? Subscribe to Bloomberg on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/Bloomberg?sub_… And subscribe to Bloomberg Politics for the latest political news: http://www.youtube.com/BloombergPolit… Bloomberg is the First Word in business news, delivering breaking news & analysis, up-to-the-minute market data, features, profiles and more: http://www.bloomberg.com Connect with us on… Twitter: https://twitter.com/business Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/bloombergbus… Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/bloombergbu… Bloomberg Television brings you coverage of the biggest business stories and exclusive interviews with newsmakers, 24 hours a day: http://www.bloomberg.com/live Connect with us on… Twitter: https://twitter.com/bloombergtv Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/BloombergTel… Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/bloombergtv

Crazy Crowdfund Scammer Pitched a Backpack, Stole $800,000 to Buy Bitcoin

iBackPack, Bitcoin

A prolific crowdfunder is being sued by the FTC after duping investors to use their money for himself. | Source: Kickstarter

Douglas Monahan promised consumers a ‘high-tech’ backpack known as the iBackPack, but failed to deliver the product after raising over $800,000. After allegedly scamming Indiegogo users of $720,000, Monahan staged three more crowdfund campaigns to take his total bounty to $0.8 million.

IBACKPACK ‘CREATOR’ SHUT DOWN BY FEDERAL TRADE COMMISSION

The investigation against Monahan was inadvertently revealed last year when an FTC agent’s private email exchange was made public. On May 6th, the FTC took action and levelled a Complaint for Permanent Injunction and Other Equitable Relief against the Texas man.

According to the FTC, rather than use $800,000 to create the iBackPack, Monahan used the funds for ‘personal purposes’ – among them, buying Bitcoin. From the complaint filed in the Southern District of Texas, May 6th:

“Defendants have used a large share of contributions for Defendant Monahan’ s own personal purposes, such as making bitcoin purchases and ATM withdrawals and paying off personal credit cards; for marketing efforts to raise additional funds from consumers; and for other business ventures.”

Monahan’s victims also claim that their personal data was sold, owing to the unexpected marketing communications they all received soon afterwards. This is only the second time in history that the FTC has gone after a crowdfunder. In 2015, Erik Chevalier raised $120,000 for a board game, and then sold off contributors’ personal data after failing to deliver the product.

CROWDFUND HOPPING: INDIEGOGO TO KICKSTARTER AND BACK AGAIN

After failing to produce anything from the $720,000 he raised on Indiegogo, Monahan jumped over to Kickstarter and started marketing the iBackPack 2.0. From this campaign, he raised a further $76,000, all while his original backers were still awaiting their products.

He then launched another two campaigns back on Indiegogo and siphoned a further $11,000 from gullible investors.

The Indiegogo page for the iBackPack still exists, and has been inundated with nearly 4,000 comments from disgruntled patrons. One recent comment notes:

“I love that the FTC is suing you, and I hope they make Indiegogo just as guilty for letting this continue without protecting their customers.”

GULLIBLE VICTIMS? A PARALLEL BETWEEN BITCOIN AND CROWDFUND INVESTING?

Not a week goes by where the Bitcoin isn’t lambasted by critics in one way or another. This week it was Warren Buffet who dismissed Bitcoin as nothing more than a gambling device.

Cryptocurrency adherents are often characterized as gullible victims of an obvious bubble, but if $800,000 is being thrown away on the ‘iBackPack’ then we clearly have other problems to worry about. The ‘high-tech’ iBackPack appears to be nothing more than a bag with a charger and some USB ports inside it.

The parallels between Kickstarter promises and ICO pitches are obvious here. Just like with ICOs, crowdfunders do not have to guarantee that their project will even materialize. As Andrew Smith, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said:

“If you raise money by crowdfunding, you don’t have to guarantee that your idea will work. But you do have to use the money to work on your idea—or expect to hear from the FTC.”

 

Source: Crazy Crowdfund Scammer Pitched a Backpack, Stole $800,000 to Buy Bitcoin

A Crypto Fraudster Looking at 25 Years in Prison After Pleading Guilty in California

https://www.pivot.one/share/post/5c8634791d57e7746034ac03?uid=5bd49f297d5fe7538e6111b6&invite_code=JTOJYV

‘Unhackable’ Blockchains Increasingly Vulnerable to Theft – Report

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