NPR "Xeni Tech": Scambaiters and Monty Python, 419-style

My blog-mate Cory recently pointed to a YouTube video in which two Nigerian men reenact the famous Monty Python "Dead Parrot" sketch.

For today's edition of the NPR News program "Day to Day," I speak with the mastermind behind that video and others -- "Shiver MeTimbers," UK resident Mike Berry.

He's one of many so-called "Scambaiters" who make a sort of online sport out of humiliating and wasting the time of email scammers. This handsome wooden bust and fake dead squirrel were part of his complex counter-ruse, too...

About six months ago, Mike received a scam e-mail from a man in Nigeria who claimed to be rich and dying of cancer. The scammer wanted Mike's help, and of course, Mike's cash, distributing tens of millions of dollars to charity before he died.

But the man from Lagos wasn't dying of cancer, and his story wasn't true. Through a complicated chain of e-mails that lasted more than six months, Mike persuaded him to re-create the Monty Python parrot sketch, promising to enter it in a phony film contest with a cash prize. The resulting video shot to the top of YouTube's hit rankings, and has become an instant Internet classic.

Mike Berry has been scambaiting for five years. In that time, he has posed as a priest, a pirate, a scientific researcher –even an adult-video impresario. He has published the long and often hysterical e-mail chains between him and the scammers he taunts on his Web site, and some are collected in his book: Greetings in Jesus Name! The Scambaiter Letters. But Mike insists that the site has become more than just a good joke for him; he sees it as a way to keep criminals harmlessly occupied, so they won't be able to scam real victims.

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Link to transcript and archived audio (Real and Win). Direct MP3 Link. Or, listen in the "Xeni Tech" podcast, and you can subscribe via iTunes here.

Archive of previous NPR "Xeni Tech" features, with narrated image slideshows and transcripts, here. (Special thanks to NPR News producer Nihar Patel!)

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Related links:

  • Book: Greetings in Jesus Name! The Scambaiter Letters, the collected works of 419 scammers, by Mike Berry.
  • How the "Dead Parrot" video came to be (3 screens' worth, click through for very funny photos): Link.
  • Mike's website:
  • US State Department "International Financial Scams Brochure" (how to avoid being tricked by 419 scammers): PDF link. More on