Boston Boomer’s baits aren’t meant to be mean-spirited. “One of the first ones I set up,” he recalls, “I established the Church of Red Sox Nation. I got 13 people to join, and they held up signs saying they were members. I managed to get one guy to spend the entire day calling the Red Sox switchboard, asking for Reverend Johnny Damon and Bishop Yaz.” Such a bait is typical of the practice: it’s relatively harmless and fun, even as it wastes scammers’ time and money. “He ends up spending four or five hours on phone calls, and it eats up the charges on his phone card.”
TheScambaiter.com (or TSB in the group’s lingo) was founded in 2004 by a computer salesman in Providence who goes by the screen name “The Failure.” When it comes to scambaiting, however, he’s anything but. “He’s the Babe Ruth of Scambaiters,” says Boston Boomer admiringly.
“I got started with this because, 11 years ago, I was sent a fake check from Indonesia for some laptops and cellular accessories,” The Failure tells the Phoenix. “I knew, at that point, there was absolutely no way I could get any of my money back. What, am I going to hire a lawyer and go to Indonesia? It would cost me more than the four grand I lost.”
So he enacted revenge in diabolical fashion — a technique he’s perfected and used to bait many a scammer since. Via his fake Web site, AnusLaptops.com, The Failure has ensnared dozens of crooks looking to score computer hardware using phony credit cards and bum checks.
“DHL [the worldwide shipping company] realizes the corrupt nature of what goes on in Lagos,” says Boston Boomer. “So they’ll only accept cash for shipments over there. [The Failure] tells them that he’s going to ship them 30 or 40 laptops, and then he packs an old washing machine or stove, and ships it over.
“These guys end up paying $3,000 for shipping, thinking they’re gonna get 40 laptops off of a stolen credit card. Then they open the box, and it’s nothing but junk. Then they call him and hit the roof.”
(The Failure hosts audio from a series of lengthy phone calls between him and the angry scammers on his site. He further fucks with them by playing a variety of characters as he concocts a convoluted, cockamamie drama involving suicide, murder, wrongful arrest, and recrimination. It’s pretty involved entertainment.)
It’s worth noting that Nigerian 419 scams are only — by far — the most prevalent. Scambaiters fight many different kinds of fraud, perpetrated by people of many different races and nationalities. “You have a large Eastern bloc [contingent] of scam artists that we deal with,” says Boston Boomer. “The Romanians are huge on eBay. The Russians are big with bank scams, what they call phishing. The next group that’s up and coming with this is the Vietnamese. They’re huge with phishing credit cards. We even had one scammer who lived in Swansea, [Massachusetts]. She was involved in stolen credit cards, and she was as white as the driven snow. Thieves are thieves.”
TheScamBaiter.com went live in 2004, and now boasts 13,000 members. “It’s just blown up,” says The Failure, who guesses he gets into it with at least five scammers a week. “I figured it would be a good opportunity to post what I’m doing on the Web. Just to give everybody hints and tips on how to play around with these scammers.”