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What is Scam Baiting?

By Phil Shepley
Updated May 16, 2024
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While most Internet users are wise enough to avoid online scams, there are still people out there who fall victim to these fraudulent schemes every day. They can be taken for hundreds and even thousands of dollars. Sometimes, however, the tables are turned on these scammers, the people running the scams, in a process known as scam baiting.

Scam baiting starts when a person is fully aware that someone is attempting to rip them off in one of many different styles of online fraud. They might get a suspicious email, see an online auction scam or make contact with a fake escrow website. This scam baiter will use several different techniques in order to give the scammer nothing but a difficult time, and ultimately attempt to defraud or humiliate them. He or she can also cost the scammer money or sometimes even get them caught by the authorities. The main point of scam baiting is to do everything possible to keep scammers from stealing money from innocent people, and to aggravate and humiliate them in the process.

The most popular type of scam that is targeted in scam baiting is the 419 scam, also known as the Nigerian 419 scam. In this type of fraud, the scammer will promise the victim large amounts of money on the condition that the victim first sends them a smaller amount of money, usually via a wire transfer. The scam baiting begins when the scam baiter pretends to be the potential victim and responds, usually via email, to the person running the scam. The scam baiters will usually make themselves out to be someone eccentric or peculiar. The point of this is so they can later post the thread of emails online. This is to show how gullible the people perpetrating the scams themselves can be.

One of the major goals of scam baiting is to get the perpetrators to pose for a picture and then to post it online for people to see. The scam baiter will promise to send the scammer the money they are attempting to steal only if the scammer sends a picture in which he or she is doing something ridiculous or holding a sign that says something funny or humiliating. Since there is a language barrier between the scammer and the scam baiter, the scammer will often be oblivious to the humor in the sign they are taking their picture with. In retaliation, the scammer will often use someone else to take these pictures. Sometimes the scammer will become aware that they are being “taken for a ride” and simply cut off communication from the scam baiter.

Scam baiting raises some ethical questions. One is that it is a form of vigilante activism. Another is that the scam baiter cannot be sure if the picture they are posting online is of the scammer or just another one of their victims. Finally the scam baiter’s motives are not always to do justice and often are simply for their own amusement. Journalist Patrick Cain has referred to scam baiting as “the Internet’s first blood sport.”

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Discussion Comments

By anon45287 — On Sep 15, 2009

I was looking for a way to turn the tables on the posers who sometimes send me e-mails that are clearly an invitation for me to be scammed. What can the person who does not want to become a viglante but wants authorities to catch scammers do? I know that answering the e-mail would be stupid but deleting it makes me feel like someone who left the scene of a witnessed crime without calling the police to help the victim.

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