An ad hoc militia of self-styled counterscammers on several continents is now taking the fight directly to the thieves. Aiming to outwit the swindlers, they invent elaborate and often outrageous identities (Venus de Milo, Lord Vader) under which they engage the con men, trying to humiliate them and, more important, waste the grifters’ time and resources.
They then chronicle the exploits, documented by elaborate e-mail exchanges, at sites like Scamorama (www.scamorama.com). They also gather financial and technical information about the fraud artists, who are sometimes part of broader criminal networks, and refer their findings to law enforcement officials. Some of the antifraud efforts even appear to straddle the bounds of legality: disabling fake bank Web sites used to dupe the unwitting, or breaking into swindlers’ e-mail accounts to warn victims already on the hook.
Part vigilante patrol, part neighborhood watch, part comedy troupe, the counterscammers are trying to beat the thieves of the Internet at their own game. And they certainly appear to enjoy doing it.