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Technical support scammers (and scambaiting) can be a lot of fun

Paulo Laureano
Paulo Laureano Opinion

It is a serious problem and a crime, but I can’t help ROTFL. Sorry.

Scammers claim to offer a technical support service to their victims. Instead, they use social engineering and confidence tricks to persuade their victim about fictitious problems on their computer. It can be pretty much anything, ranging from malware infections to claims that the user is using illegal or unlicensed software, or even a very “meta” revelation that some hacker is using their computer.

Initial contact with the victims may be started with a phone call they initiate, or they may be passively waiting to answer one made by the victims. To get the victim to call them, they use common tricks like fake pop-ups resembling error messages or fake helplines advertised on websites owned by the scammers.

Payments to the scammers are usually through ways that are hard to trace. For example, they get the victim to buy gift cards or even send them money in cash thru the mail (usually to “mules” they hire to collect it locally; asking victims to send money to India would look rather suspicious).

Technical support scams are not new; they have occurred as early as 2008, and the vast majority of the scammers can be traced back to locations in India. Millennials and Generation Z have the highest exposure, but senior citizens are more likely to give money away to scammers.

Responses to technical support scams include lawsuits against companies responsible for running fraudulent call centers (mostly in India) and… scambaiting.

 

Scambaiting

Scambaiting is a form of internet vigilantism. Technically prepared users pose as victims to waste time and resources of scammers, gather valuable information for authorities, and publicly expose scammers.

They document scammers’ methods and sometimes go all the way and hack their systems. Scambaiters’ motivations range from a sense of civic duty to personal amusement. Fantastic Youtube channels can educate you and keep you entertained for hours. Two of my personal favorites:

Scambaiting is an Internet Sport; it is not a new thing. It has been used against advance-fee fraud for many years. See https://www.419eater.com/ for a lot of fun with (mostly) Nigerian scammers.

Popular methods of entertaining scammers go from asking them to fill out lengthy questionnaires, convincing them into taking long trips, even getting them to send their “fake” victim money. In addition, baiters publicly humiliate scammers by filming their interactions or persuading them to produce humiliating images that will later be used as trophies.

This may all look like a lot of fun. Seriously, it is. However, I need to remind you that these people are real criminals. Do not engage with them. Chances are you may be ill-prepared to do it and place yourselves in real danger. Just don’t do it. Stay safe.

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