Speaking with Spammers

Despite what you may have heard, we all get at least some spam. The best way to deal with it is to block as much as you can, and ignore the rest. For most users of email, it is simply a minor inconvenience that is forgotten as easily as the paper variety of junk mail and junk faxes.

But haven't you ever wondered what happens to people who actually respond to these messages? I know I have. An anonymous visitor to my site, we'll call him "Steve," recently had some soon-to-expire Skype credits to burn, and started calling phone numbers in unsolicited emails sent to his account. It turns out that Skype is a great way to waste a few minutes of a spammer's time. (Make and receive calls to ordinary phones with your computer. He recorded the conversations using Audio Hijack, and sent them my way. I've compressed them and made the accessible via the buttons at the top left of this page.
While setting up this page, I did some googling and found out that Steve isn't close to being the first person to do this. It's called scam baiting, and the main goal is to waste the scammer's time—time that they would otherwise use to steal someone's money. Unlike some other sites I found, I can tell you that the recordings on this page are safe for work.

Below is Steve's commentary (minimally edited by me) on each recording.

Hi everyone, hope you enjoy this. If you do this on your own, please remember to follow legal requirements regarding the recording of telephone conversations. For each call, I alerted the other party that the conversation was being recorded before I said anything else. Surprisingly, they had no reaction to my statement in every case. And of course, never give personal information about yourself or anyone else.

€1,000,000 - Steve's First Jackpot

This is the first call I recorded, so I didn't know what to expect. I was waiting for the part where he asked for my bank information or for a transfer fee, but I learned through this call (and the others) that they like to work through email and fax, probably so they can have time to forge documents with the correct spelling of one's name, etc.

$500,000 - Doctor Steve Wins Again

You're going to have to trust me on this one, but I was on the phone with this guy for 18 minutes. A call of this length to the Netherlands is a good way to use up those Skype credits. Unfortunately, I forgot to hit record, and didn't realize it until 10 minutes into the call. Here's what went on for the 10 minutes before the recording begins (paraphrased):
Me: I got an email about winning five hundred thousand United States dollar. [Yes, I used the singular "dollar.")]
Him: [Asked for batch number]
Me: [Gave a series of characters about three times as long as the number in the email, ending it with "QQQQGQQQQQQQQQF. Batch number." I was impersonating the SNL spelling bee sketch.
Him: Congratulations, you are a winner. What is your name?
Me: Daniel Strom.
Him: Where are you calling from?
Me: Quahog, Rhode Island, which is in the United States. [How do you like my American accent? I'm actually Canadian... can you tell?]
Him: What is your full name?
Me: Daniel Strom [again.]
Him: Is it Mr. Strom or Dr. Strom or anything?
Me: Oh, yes, it's Doctor Strom. [This should make him interested in my money.]
Him: What is the winning email address? It will show in our records if this is the winner.
Me: [I gave an inactive Yahoo! address, which wasn't where I received the email.]
Him: What is your telephone number?
Me: 1 555 [I am referencing a bit by filmmaker Andy Signore in which a lawyer's telephone number is "Five, fuh-fuh-five, five five five five, extension: fuh-fuh-five."]
Him: Triple five?
Me: Yes. This is really easy. 1 555 555.
Him: Triple five then triple five? [I think he likes to say "triple five."]
Me: Yes. Then 5555. That's four fives.
Him: So triple five, then triple five again, then 5555?
Me: Yes.
Him: Okay, so it's 1 555 555 5555?
Me: Yes. Then if they ask for an extension, ask for 555.
Him: Oh, is this a shared number?
Me: Yes, it is a business phone.
Him: [He went on for a while telling me how I should be careful, and asked for a personal number.]
Me: I trust that the call will get to me. I own the business. [A doctor with his own business? Jackpot!]
Him: [More stuff about being careful. He said that a male secretary can be secretive and pretend to be me, and that this is why they might ask for a photocopy of my passport or driver's license. He talked about this for a while.]
Me: I'll answer the phone myself until you call.
Him: What time is it in the US?
Me: It's 3:00 in the morning. [which it really was EST]
Him: [He told me what time it is in the Netherlands and some other unintelligible information]
Him: What is your fax number?
Me: I don't have one. Fax is outdated over here.

At this point, I had been searching for fake email addresses so I wouldn't have to find unregistered ones on my own, and came across a spam-fighting random email generator. I decided to try one on him, using the excuse that my Yahoo! address was unreliable. It was a bunch of random letters and I had to play the "b as in boy" game several times, which I am terrible at. Maybe I should memorize the radio alphabet. The recording picks up as he his confirming my address. By this time, my impersonation of Will Forte's Daniel Strom (or is it "Strong?") has worn off.

M.D. Not Cutting It - Steve Needs a Ph.D.

This email, which I received several copies of, advertised university diplomas from "prestigious, non-accredited universities" with no examinations necessary for those who were "eligible." I tried calling it on a few different occasions during this project but it always went to voice mail. Notice how his accent changes within only a few sentences. I think he was going for British.

The long pause before I begin speaking is on purpose. Pretty easy way to waste someone's time.

I've been told by a nerd that the phone number is missing 3 digits, but remember, it's not a US number. I'm pretty sure I got the digits correct for whichever country uses code 5. - Steve Calls an Old Friend

I'll leave it up to your interpretation, but to me, it sounds like this guy is pretty used to getting these calls. He doesn't seem surprised at all by my spam accusation. Ace Printwear has been sending me spam for a long time now. I never thought much of it since I only get it at my Hotmail address which really serves no other purpose than spam collection. Back in May 2005, however, I noticed that there was a phone number at the top of every email, and I decided to call it. I asked for my address to be removed, and gave my real email that was receiving the unsolicited messages. Of course, I continued to receive them during the following months, and the worthless "remove" emails (which really just confirm that you're an active address) did nothing. So I called him back. I really wanted to use the comical "Misty" address when talking to one of the lotto guys, but I forgot to during those calls. I'm actually glad I saved it for this one, because my oral illiteracy is admittedly quite hilarious. And yes, I know that I told him to "send a message" to the email instead of asking to take it off the list. Whoops. I didn't know what to call him while keeping these recordings worksafe (as per Wysz's policy), so I could only come up with "I just think that's terrible."

Steve's Off To The Netherlands

I wish I could have made this call longer. I was down to my last few Skype credits, and unfortunately ran out and got disconnected after eight minutes. It was probably good that it ended, however, as it was creepy talking about actually going there.

I had a pretty cool back story for this call:
- I am Dr. Michael Scott from Scranton, Pennsylvania, in the United States of America.
- I'm actually the Prince of Scranton. If he challenged this, I was going to tell him that Pennsylvania towns can have princes, since Pennsylvania is a commonwealth, not a state.
- I am a doctor of cereology.
- My phone number has the * and # symbols because it's a secure line that the government can't listen to.
- My email is
- I want to be paid once cent less than my winnings, because it puts me in a lower tax bracket. He would probably assume that this makes sense.
- I was going to try to work in the phrase "Ecky ecky ecky patong zoim-ping!" if at all possible.

This guy's audio levels were all over the place, and it was obvious he was having trouble hearing me as well, so it may be hard to hear.

That's it from Steve. Go home now or read the blog.

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t-shirt that says 'I scroll like butter'