Hunting the Elusive 419 Scammer

A dangerous game, but some people like to play: A Web Cadre Turns the Tables on African Scam Artists

Scam-baiters scam the scammer. They antagonize, humiliate and frustrate scammers who think they have an unwary victim. The baiters trade tips, tales and “trophies” on thriving discussion boards like those at 419eater.com, scamorama.com and aa419.org. (The 419 refers to the section of the Nigerian penal code that deals with fraud.)

“My reason for scam-baiting is to waste the time and resources of the scammer,” said a scam-baiter with the Web name of Scam Patroller, who declined to provide any identification beyond an e-mail address. “Each minute a scammer spends on my bait cannot be used to scam a real victim.”

Their motives may seem altruistic, but not all law enforcement officials approve of their tactics, which can include entrapment and public humiliation. Many of the scam-baiters succeed in getting embarrassing photographs of their targets posted on the Internet.

“At first you might smile and think the trophy photographs are funny, but I have seen some with fraudsters in highly degrading positions,” said Ralf Zimmermann, a crime intelligence officer in the financial and high-technology crimes division of Interpol, based in Lyon, France. “They are fraudsters and they are not good people, but they have their human rights.”