Scam the Scammer
Scam the Scammer | Scam Baiting
Mike is an unlikely vigilante. A 43-year-old self-employed computer engineer and self-confessed "comedy nerd" from Manchester, he spends seven hours a day sending and receiving emails, and maintaining his website. But to countless west African criminal gang members, Mike is public enemy No 1. He is not only standing up for the little guy - he is hitting back at the bad guys. And hitting them where it hurts - by making them look silly.
"Oh, I must get a couple of death threats a week," he admits cheerfully. "They're going to come round, you know, they're going to feed me bits of my own body ..." He laughs. "They can be quite imaginative, some of them."
Luckily for Mike, his real identity is a mystery to the would-be murderers. They know him as Arthur Dent or Derek Trotter or, if they have really done their homework, as "Shiver Metimbers", Mike's alter ego on his website, 419eater.com. That is because Mike is a scam baiter (scam the scammers). Part cyber-vigilantism, part karmic justice and part schoolboy prank, scam baiting (scam the scammers). is the practice of conning a conman. And for righteous-minded geeks, it's the online sport du jour. It starts with one of those annoying emails:
"Dear Sir, I hope this letter will find you in the best of health. I am Prince Joe Eboh, the Chairman of the Contract Award Committee, of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), a subsidiary of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) ..."
It seems there has been some funny business at the NDDC and Prince Joe needs help moving some cash quickly. Luckily, he is prepared to pay - but first he needs your bank details. Most people delete the message, but scam baiters (scam the scammers). String the would-be conmen along. "The more time and energy they are wasting on me, the less they are spending trying to con somebody else," says Mike. These emails are big business. There are thought to be more than 250,000 people operating "419 scams", named after the section of Nigeria's criminal code that covers the conduct, and they are stealing nearly $2bn (£1.8bn) a year.
When Mike received the email from Prince Joe Eboh, he replied as Father Hector Barnett of the Holy Church of the Order of the Red Breast, which had $18,000 to invest with people of the same faith. Joe immediately expressed his desire to convert. Father Barnett wrote back with a series of outlandish demands. Joe duly complied with a signed certificate promising not to listen to hip-hop or covet his neighbour's ass, and attached a photo of him with a large red number nine painted on his breast. There followed a correspondence lasting five months, which introduced a whole range of characters - including Father Mike Myers and Father Wayne Sworld - and culminated in a bizarre deal to export snow to Siberia. By the end of it, Joe didn't know if he was scamming or being scammed and must scam the scammer.
The whole correspondence can be found on 419eater.com, along with photographs sent in by other fraudsters of themselves - or hapless stand-ins they have coerced - posing with ridiculous props (one man has a loaf of bread balanced on his head). "It is fun," says Mike, "but at the same time you have to be very careful. For the most part these men are ruthless criminals and they will try to rob you in any way they can. You have to be very careful not to give away any clues to your real identity."