Confessions of a Scambaiter, Part I
Scambaiting is the action of conversing with a scammer for a prolonged period of time so as to distract him/her from further scamming.
I will admit that scambaiting began as a form of vengeance. A few weeks fresh from my scam discovery D-Day, the urge to seek some form of justice still raged through my veins. I began with language apps, then stemmed into Facebook and dating apps. In the beginning, the goal was only to waste the scammer’s time. After a while, it became a form of dark therapy, allowing me to relish over and over that I had “played” the “player” -- I was in on the charade before the scammer could even begin his charade. There was no sympathy for scammers, just a burning desire to know why they would scam sincere and kind people. I had heard that some scammers were human trafficked into their job, but I couldn’t believe it. It was to me another ploy from the scammer playbook -- engender sympathy from victims to maximize profits.
My perspective has shifted since then to a better understanding of the industry, one in which things are not totally black and white. I’ve also gained a better perspective of what can be lied about and what can’t. The following tales highlight some of the most memorable moments since I started scambaiting last August. I hope to put a face behind the people involved in scamming and shed light on human trafficking.
Part I: “Daddy”
“Daddy” was the first scammer I had attempted to scambait. Riding on the fire and fervor of my desire for vengeance, I happened across a scammer on the language app HelloTalk and baited him. The conversation flowed eloquently for three days while I fed him a bogus story about how my parents lived in Canada and I was unable to see them due to coronavirus. The scammer himself had a distinctive character. Dry humor, slight naughtiness, terrible translation software, short sentences, and indelible moments of brainlessness to the point where I didn’t know if he was trolling me or if he was serious. There arrived the moment in our conversation where we chose “pet names” for each other and he asked me to call him “Daddy.” In another moment, he shared a photo of “himself” (a model’s photo) in blue waters off the Italian coast, distinctively colorful buildings stacked atop the elevated mountainside. I asked where the photo was taken and he said “New York.” Daddy was quite the character.
However, by the third day, twinges of guilt began to settle in. My original scammer was evil and heartless, but Daddy just seemed like a simple man. I didn’t like what he was doing, but I started to worry if he wouldn’t be able to eat or pay his bills because of me. Just because Daddy was doing bad things to others did not mean I could do bad things to him.
So the ruse was up. With a sigh, I spelled out the truth letter by letter -- I was a victim of the scam myself and I knew he was a scammer. I was angry and I wanted to waste his time, but now I felt guilty about it and I was letting him go. There was a pause.
“What do you want to say to me?” he said in admission.
I paused. I had never thought about what I would want to say to a scammer if I had the chance.
“Nothing,” I said hesitantly, “I just hope you’re doing okay and that you can find a better job.”
Pause again. “I want to know why you do this job,” I wrote.
“No choice.” He said curtly. He warned me there was no way to get my money back and that continued talking with scammers would only lead to losing more money.
In the days and months following, Daddy and I continued our conversations. I met two of his friends, spoke with his roommates, viewed their living space, and even video-chatted the scammer himself. Daddy’s personality never changed. He liked to joke about how fat he is, send me music which annoys me, and trolled me on days when he was bored. We played mobile phone games on off times and discussed politics of the US and China. I neither pitied him nor hated him.
Daddy, who is self-described as an “ugly panda,” grew up in a rural village in Hebei province. The only boy in a family of three despite China’s strict “one-child” policy, he dropped out of school at age thirteen to begin raising money for the family. When he reached adulthood, he moved to Shanghai and ran a decently-successful milk tea shop. According to him, the pandemic drove him out of business, leaving him desperately searching for a way to make ends meet. One day, he saw an ad online to work as a scammer in Dubai and seized the opportunity.
Photos of Daddy's life in Dubai:
Lower right: On the smartphone screen, you can see the phone is connected to Middle East network Etisalat. Notice also the sticker covering the camera, as is common practice among them.
Luckily for Daddy, his workplace is kind. All employees receive a minimum wage base pay, plus a 16% bonus for successful scams. They live in a relatively clean dormitory, and no one is beaten or hurt. Workers may go out freely on certain days, being tourists at the Burj Khalifa, shopping for groceries, or visiting fresh fruit farms. The employees, most of whom have likely never before left their home country, overall appear to be enjoying their scam life. This can be juxtaposed next to the weekly influx of victims we receive in our victims group, many of whom are in tears or suicidal. Many of whom lost their life savings.
Recently, Daddy showed off his $21k bonus from scamming an individual out of nearly $138k. He was so excited he could barely sleep for days.