Towards a Categorization of Scambaiting Strategies against Online Advance Fee Fraud

Towards a Categorization of Scambaiting Strategies against Online Advance Fee Fraud

Andreas Zingerle (University of Art and Design Linz, Austria)
Copyright: © 2014 |Pages: 12
DOI: 10.4018/IJACDT.2014070104
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Scambaiters are individuals in online information communities specializing in identifying, documenting and reporting actions of so-called ‘419 scammers'. A qualitative research approach was applied to two active scambaiting communities - and Content analysis of several discussions and the examination of interviews from the web radio ‘Area 419: Scambaiting Radio' resulted in the seven categories of scambaiting techniques that are presented in this article. The aim is to both give a wider understanding of the scope of existing Internet scams as well as answering questions of why and how individuals or communities of scambaiters take action against Internet scammers. The analysis on various scambaiting practices is intended as a base for future discussions, for instance, whether some scambaiting methods should be implemented in media competence training.
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We all receive them in our Inboxes - unsolicited emails with mass advertisements offering cheap electronics, medicines without prescriptions or phishing mails asking us to update our banking information. Sometimes, a once in a lifetime opportunity slips through the spam filter, revealing a story and offering us a ‘get rich quick’ opportunity by just paying a little amount of money upfront. Once the receiver detects a scam email, it is either deleted or spam settings get adjusted. Some recipients, perhaps out of frustration or misinterpretation, take the time to reply to the scammer with messages like ”unsubscribe” or ”please take me off your list”. Cybercrime is a growing phenomenon in the interpersonal interactions of computer-mediated communications. In 2012 the Internet Complaint Center (IC3) received over 290,000 complaints; reported dollar loss was over 525 million (Internet Complaint Center, 2013). In the past victims were mainly contacted by ‘unsolicited bulk emails’: now, the widespread use of social networking services (SNS) has made it easier for scammers to contact potential victims. The general tactics of advance fee fraud can be traced back to the early 16th century. Face-to-face persuasion known as the Spanish prisoner scheme was widely used to trick victims. Over centuries the basic scheme has been adapted to new ways of communication: letters, telegraph, fax, phone or Internet. A global boost happened in the 80’s, with the growing use of emails, enabling scammers to contact a large number of people fast and very cost efficiently (Brunton, 2012). In these emails the recipients’ identity and the context of the message is irrelevant as long as the message is applicable to a large number of potential victims. According to the 2011 report of the Messaging Anti-Abuse Working Group, 88-90% of email traffic is considered ‘abusive’ letters that are unwanted or unexpected, or those trying to exploit the recipient (Messaging Anti-Abuse Working Group, 2011). These schemes are also known as ‘419 scams’, referring to the article of the Nigerian Criminal Code dealing with fraud (Brunton, 2013). Scammers use different story-scripts to persuade their victims to pay money upfront. An efficient script seduces the victim into a fast initial payment and allows a constant flow of further payments until the victim is either bankrupt or loses trust in the scammer. After a successful scam, the scammer often re-activates a victim, usually with a follow up scheme like contacting the target in a new role by posing as law enforcement.

Scambaiting arose as a counterattack to ‘419 scams’. This online vigilante community of scambaiters investigates scam emails and implements social engineering techniques to document, report or warn potential victims. Scambaiters have own personal motivations to justify their actions. As Tuovinen et al. point out, these motives can range from community service and status elevation to revenge for being a victim of a similar scam in the past (Tuovinen, 2007). Through the documentation and sharing of these plots, scambaiters waste the scammers’ time, exploit their resources and raise awareness about online fraud.

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