Tracking down a con artist with PACER

On Saturday, I posted about Popehat's "Anatomy of a Scam Investigation," in which Ken, a former federal prosecutor, is documenting his work to run down a con-artist who tried to rip him off with the "toner scam." Yesterday, Ken posted a new installment in the series in which he documents the use of PACER, the database of court records, to research crooks. It's gripping stuff.


  1. Wow. I consider the Bells quite lucky they haven’t run afoul of criminal enterprises more powerful and efficient than themselves, and haven’t been permanently relieved of certain body parts…say thumbs, ears, or eyeballs.

  2. This series is great… it has given me a bunch more techniques to use against my oppressors.  Thank you Ken.  Two thumbs up.

  3. I see a business opportunity here.  I’d love to stick it to the spammer/scammers, but don’t have time to do this kind of digging myself.  How much would it cost to _pay_ someone like Ken to track down and punish a spammer for me?  Obviously he invested a lot of time and energy in this one-off investigation, but supposing someone made a business of it—how much could he automate so reduce the time and skill needed for each case?

    I’d see payment for this as a kind of contribution to society aimed at cutting down on spammer/scammers, so I’d be willing to pay for at least a few hours of work by (say) a smart teenager following a script for how to do the work.

    1. In a functioning society, they might have things called “taxes” whereby everyone pays in to a kitty from which public services, including the salaries and operating expenses of “detectives,” “district attorneys,” and “federal prosecutors” might be funded.

      On a less depressing note, when my family ran a scammer to ground in small claims court back in the 80s, we were approached by an attorney who in his words was “collecting judgements” against this particular scammer in hopes of reaching some sort of threshold at which more serious charges could be laid.  I’m not sure whether my family took him up on it (I was a kid).

  4. These articles are fascinating, not just as an example of how to build a case against a scammer, but also how to think about and research a complex subject using mostly online tools.  This should be required reading for several disciplines of research, as a demonstration of thinking outside the box.  I am sure many people the Bells have scammed ran into dead ends, but the information was there the whole time.  

  5. Thanks again, Cory.  I am glad people are enjoying it.

    For what it’s worth, I plan to talk next (as soon as time permits) about where and how to report such things.

    I’m thinking of doing this again, fresh, from a new scam, and want to focus on scams directed at the elderly.  Happy to take suggestions for new targets, if anyone has gotten one (or especially if anyone’s elder loved one has gotten one).

  6. All good wishes Ken.  My pet hate is those people who tour the world touting ‘cures’ for autism.  I have a special kind of hatred for those charlatans.  Although I do understand the hatred for people who rip-off older folks.  A great target for your efforts. For me, it would have to be very vocal and public exposure for these parasites.

    (edited to appear less upset and/or likely to hurt some of these people)

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