Speaking with Spammers
you may have heard, we all get
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. www.skype.com.) 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
Below is Steve's commentary
(minimally edited by me) on each
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
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
Me: I got an
winning five hundred thousand United States dollar. [Yes, I used the
Him: [Asked for
Me: [Gave a
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.
are a winner. What is your name?
Him: Where are
Island, which is in the United States. [How do you like my American
accent? I'm actually Canadian... can you tell?]
Him: What is
Him: Is it Mr.
Dr. Strom or anything?
Me: Oh, yes,
Strom. [This should make him interested in my money.]
Him: What is
email address? It will show in our records if this is the winner.
Me: [I gave an
Yahoo! address, which wasn't where I received the email.]
Him: What is your telephone
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,
Me: Yes. This
easy. 1 555 555.
triple five? [I think he likes to say "triple five."]
Me: Yes. Then
That's four fives.
Him: So triple
then triple five again, then 5555?
Him: Okay, so
it's 1 555
Me: Yes. Then
ask for an extension, ask for 555.
Him: Oh, is
Me: Yes, it is
Him: [He went
on for a
while telling me how I should be careful, and asked for a personal
Me: I trust that
will get to me. I own the business. [A doctor with his own business?
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
phone myself until you call.
Him: What time is
it in the US?
Me: It's 3:00
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
Me: I don't
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
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.
aceprintwear.com - Steve Calls an
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
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
that the government can't listen to.
- My email is email@example.com.
- 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
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.
Valentine's Day Gift?