You know those ridiculous fraud emails you get from deposed princes, corrupt bankers, desperate widows (and so on), with weird capitalization and punctuation, asking you to advance them some money so that they can liberate a giant, multibillion-dollar sum and give you ten percent for your trouble? These "419" letters originate from all over the world, but Nigeria's perfect storm of connectivity, corruption, lawlessness and poverty meant that the "Lads" of Lagos have elevated ripoff letters to a high art.
And for every Lad, there's a scambaiter. Scambaiting is a vibrant internet sport that involves turning the tables on 419 scammers, getting them to undertake ridiculous rituals, expend money and energy, humiliate and debase themselves as they seek to ruin their "victims'" lives through fraud.
Scamorama is a popular website for scambaiting, and its creator, Eve Edelson, has put a lot of thought into the nature of the 419 con and those who seek to disrupt it. In Scamorama (the book), Edelson traces the history of scamming back to the middle ages and forward to the present day, giving practical advice on not getting taken in and scam-proofing your friends and family.
But where Scamorama really gets going in as a HOWTO manual for scambaiting, with long, hilarious email exchanges between baiters and scammers, and good tips for running your own reverse con.
As hobbies go, scambaiting sounds like a pretty fun one -- and it has redeeming social characteristics, since the 419 con artist who is busily whittling you a Commodore 64, sojourning to Amsterdam to meet an "eccentric clergyman" who will front him $20,000, or re-enacting the Monty Python Dead Parrot Sketch is a con artist who is not ruining the life of some more trusting soul. Scamorama on Amazon, Scamorama.com
* 419 scammers tricked into re-creating Dead Parrot Sketch
* 419 victim shoots Nigerian diplomat
* NPR "Xeni Tech": Scambaiters and Monty Python, 419-style
* Laura Bush's 419 letter
* Dick Cheney's 419 letter
* Dutch court locks up 419 scammers
* Busting a 419 scammer spammer
* Nigerian Letter scammer convinced to carve replica Commodore 64
* Man loses money trying to double it by marinating
* Nigerian letters fuel Lagos's Internet Cafe boom
* Nigerian legit email hard to distinguish from 419s
I write books. My latest is a YA science fiction novel called Homeland (it's the sequel to Little Brother). More books: Rapture of the Nerds (a novel, with Charlie Stross); With a Little Help (short stories); and The Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow (novella and nonfic). I speak all over the place and I tweet and tumble, too.