Scamming the Scammers

In my last post, I shared the one that got me hooked. In this post are some of the ones that kept me playing the game. As I said before, I do not lack for scammers to play with. And they’re just so fun (and easy) to bait. (Unfortunately, I don’t have screenshots for all of these conversations, but I did take contemporaneous notes — I’m old school like that.) DISCLAIMER: Do not try this at home! I am writing this blog so that you don’t have to mess with these guys!

The standard intro.

Most of these conversations took place while chatting on Words With Friends. They always start with a benign greeting, and then move on to “were you playing from“. (It’s almost always spelled like that, too.) Then comes “are you married with kids“. (Question marks appear to be afterthoughts, even to the extent that they are sometimes added in subsequent messages all their own.) Soon after will come a long-winded avalanche of their own backstories: “I am from (some American city, state), but I’m currently overseas in (Syria, Afghanistan, Ukraine, North Sea) because of (military, UN peace-keeping mission, oil and gas company). I have (one, two, three) sons — It’s almost always sons. Why is it almost always sons? — but my wife died (five, ten, fifteen) years ago from (a car crash, cancer).” Often the personal history is longer than that, but generally it comes in an unsolicited rush.

If they’re good at their job, the chat will include a couple of mentions of how nice and sweet I am, how they like my profile picture. Maybe they want to send me pictures, or have me send them pictures, so can we move off Words With Friends to another messaging app? Sometimes they’ll suggest an app, but I’ll always steer them to my scam-the-scammers account on Hangouts. And that’s the thing to remember when scamming the scammers (do not try this at home): the target has ALL the power. The scammers do everything they can to not let me realize it, but the target has ALL the power. I have what they want, so I get to dictate terms. And I do.

During one of these get-to-know-you chats, one scammer asked me my favorite color, so I said, “I’d have to say black.” He responded with something to the effect of, “My favorites are red and white. Because red is the color of roses and passionate love and white is the color of a pure heart, and that’s what I am, I have passionate love with a pure heart.” Oh, brother! Classic scammer dreck, run-on sentences and all! This was the guy that I busted, when he asked to move to another messaging platform, with “No, thank you. I already have a Nigerian scammer boyfriend. I can’t afford another one.” And then I played a 79 point word. His profile didn’t stick around long. (It may or may not be true that I have a Nigerian scammer boyfriend. You’ll have to buy my upcoming books to find out.)

But the best part of this story is that the next day, as I was wrapping up another chat with another scammer, this second scammer asked me my favorite color. I replied with, “I’d have to say black.” And he responded with EXACTLY THE SAME WORD-FOR-WORD DRECK as the guy from the night before. I couldn’t help it; I just laughed at him: “Hahahaha! Oh you guys really need to coordinate better. I got the exact same line from another scammer last night! Not for nothing, but it’s really insulting that you’re not at least putting in your own work in coming up with original material. Away with you!” His profile disappeared immediately.

The next time someone asked my favorite color, I said, “Black. Let me guess: yours are red and white.” I think I’ll recount this particular chat in its entirety next time. It was kind of awesome for a number of reasons.

But here’s my last, and favorite, one for today. This one was on Instagram. He tried so hard, but he just couldn’t master American geography:

Crash and Burn in Corpus Christi, TX

Can you blame me for my new hobby? But again…don’t try this at home. I may have gotten a voodoo curse placed on me recently, but that’s a story for another time.

New Hobby, New Choices

I’m going to skip over a rather large episode in my life that was the result of a number of not-good-choices, and jump straight to one of the side effects of said episode: my new hobby. I’ll write about the large episode later, but, for now, suffice to say that I now spend my “free time” baiting and harassing online scammers. It’s so fun, and there are so many out there, that I am rarely at a loss for entertainment.

Older? Yes. Wiser? Meh…maybe. Maybe not.

I suppose I should first offer a bit of an “online scam” primer for those of you who have been fortunate enough to not encounter such annoyances online. Let me preface this with a disclaimer that all of the following information comes from my personal experience. It’s not necessarily all universally true, but I have seen it to be true a great deal of the time in my encounters. I also do not recommend this as a pastime AT ALL. It takes up a lot of energy and, to be successful, you need to meticulously maintain a balance between vulnerability and defensive awareness.

I have found many of my scammers (or I suppose they have found me) on various social media platforms where I have a public profile. I have a closed profile on Facebook, so I keep that one just for my family and friends. But I can be found on Instagram and Words With Friends, and find me they do. I also encountered a fair number during my very brief flirtation with online dating sites. It all starts with benign interactions (liking posts, challenging to a word game, etc), and then the direct messaging starts. It used to start with a “Hello, dear,” but it’s recently been stepped back to a more moderate, “Hello.”

The next step will usually include questions about location and family (telling them I’m divorced with a child is like waving a slice of ham in front of a hungry dog’s nose). There may or may not be more “getting to know you” chat, but invariably the request will come to move the conversation off the social media platform and on to a private messaging app. I have set up a Gmail address that I use only for emailing with scammers and chatting with them on Hangouts. I rebuff any attempts to get me on to any other messaging app. Again, I have to say: DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME. I am the functional equivalent of a trained professional at this point.

Let’s see…what else do I need to tell you? Yes, all of my scammers have been from Nigeria. OF COURSE, not all Nigerians are scammers! I know some Nigerians who are perfectly lovely people. There is quite a professional network among SOME Nigerians, though, that supports and develops the various scamming strategies in use. The unit of currency used in Nigeria is called the Naira, and it currently exchanges at a rate of approximately 355 Naira to 1 US Dollar. A very common request from scammers is to be given a gift card, which they then can trade for either cash or a minuscule amount of Bitcoin. Google Play gift cards and Steam gift cards are popular requests. They prefer photos of the backs of physical gift cards to e-gift cards, because the exchange rate is better for the physical cards. I have gleaned a LOT of information about their processes and methods through my contact with this world. But, I think I’ve given you enough information for now so that you can appreciate my first experience with busting a scammer for fun.

I received a message from a man on one of the dating apps, so I checked out his profile, where I found some language that I recognized from my earlier experience with a scammer. It was a direct quote from how My First Scammer© liked to spend his time:

The EXACT SAME WORDS used by My First Scammer©

My initial reaction was shock that the similarity would be so obvious. I mean, a cut-and-paste scam template? That’s adding insult to injury. I want a worthy opponent, who uses their own original work. So, acting mostly out of a feeling of disdain, I decided to have a little fun and messaged back to my “suitor”:

My first attempt at harassing an online scammer.

I didn’t hear from him again; his profile disappeared almost immediately. And that was it — I was hooked. I have spent the last three months busting numerous scammers, whether by specifically calling them out or by simply wasting their time. Future posts will include some of my more amusing exploits, so be sure to come back for some excellent schadenfreude. And share with your friends!

Choosing to Make Choices

I want to look now at what makes me make not-good choices. I guess we have to start first with making choices at all. Why do we make choices? Road one or road two? Much of the time, these days (in America anyway), it seems we could actually get away with not making choices at all. Things just happen. We go to grade school, because we have to. And we don’t necessarily have to make a choice about where to go, because we’re all assigned districts and that dictates where we go. Unless we choose to make a choice to change it.

Image by Andrew Martin from Pixabay

We get to high school: same thing. What happens after high school? I guess we have to make some sort of a choice then: college, trade school, military, church, job? Even doing nothing is a choice. Perhaps that’s the first time in our lives, 17 or 18 years into the whole process, that we really have to make a choice. Whew! Can you imagine how daunting that choice would be if you’d never made a choice before? It would be so easy to take the least threatening path, then, and go directly to work.

Now imagine if you’d never even had the opportunity to make a choice, because there were no options open to you. You had to go to this grade school because there were no others. Or, you couldn’t even go to grade school…you had to stay and help at home. No choices other than to work or starve. Perhaps that’s an extreme example, but it’s not an inconceivable one.

With that in mind, my choice to make not-good choices is an expression of first world privilege, isn’t it? I have the luxury to say, yes, I could take this easier road, but I’m going to choose this slightly more treacherous one instead. Many people would yearn for the “easier road” that I disdain. I was incredibly fortunate to have a full-time position as a Stage Manager at a Broadway show, with a steady paycheck and benefits, a fulfilling and secure job. I gave it up to take the harder road of being a full-time mom with a gigging lifestyle to make ends meet. And the only reason that I could make that choice was because I felt I had a choice. It’s not a choice of work or starve for me. It’s a choice of work here and have plenty of food or work over here and eat out less. I’m not going to starve, just by virtue of where I live and the incredible support system that I have (both familial and societal). That’s a privilege, and one that I appreciate.

So am I squandering that privilege by making not-good choices? Am I abusing it? Or am I taking full advantage of the privilege that I have in order to live my fullest life and give my daughter the most adventurous upbringing possible? I can’t feel guilty that others aren’t as fortunate as I am. I can’t let that hinder my choices. If I shied away from making adventurous choices, THEN I would be squandering the privilege that gives me that opportunity. No, I need to keep taking the road less traveled, even if it’s less traveled because it can lead to places you might not want to go.

But in order to not abuse my privilege, I have to be responsible for the fallout of my decisions. I can’t expect others to catch me every time that one of my not-good choices makes me lose my footing. That’s immature and disrespectful. I’ve got to stand on my own two feet and accept the consequences of my actions. And because I want to keep making not-good choices, that’s exactly what I’m going to do.

Watch My Girl Smash the Patriarchy

Today’s post will depart a bit from my previous topics, and instead relate to my tagline: “If I fight back, I acknowledge the fight. I just do.” And this post isn’t about me; it’s about my 7 year old daughter.

Fearless at five years old.

I am always proud of my Little Lady, but I have never been prouder of her than I was tonight. After we finished dinner at a cafe, she gathered our garbage and carried it over to the trash receptacles, then stood there reading the signs about separating the trash from the recycling. However, as soon as she paused in front of the trash and didn’t move, two older men from different tables started yelling to her about how to open the trash cans. (You can pull the handle down or step on the pedal.)

She ignored them completely and kept reading, which, of course, made them more vocal. I finally called out that she’s reading the signs and she’s fine. One started arguing with me that the signs don’t tell her how to open the receptacles. I repeated that she’s fine. He settled into a disgruntled silence, and she continued to ignore us all.

She realized she couldn’t separate trash from recycling with her hands full, so she put everything down on a table behind her and sorted it all out, consulting the signs to confirm what should go where. She then demonstrated her utter competence at opening said trash receptacles and put everything where it belonged.

So, yes, I was pleased that she conscientiously separated the garbage from the recycling. I was delighted that she took it upon herself to clean up after dinner and that she just did it without talking about doing it. But I was absolutely OVER THE EVER-LOVING MOON to see the confidence, poise, and UNAPOLOGETIC COMPETENCE that she demonstrated in focusing on her task and completely ignoring the unsolicited (unnecessary, unhelpful) advice that came hurling her way while she fully claimed the time and space that she needed to do her thing. She didn’t defy or argue or even acknowledge. She ignored them as the gadflies they were and did what she knew was right.

I know I’m not doing a good job of explaining the significance of this. Some of you will get it because you have been in a position where you’ve been shouted down by someone who thought he knew better. And you will know how insidious that tiny act of acquiescence can be. Some of you won’t get it because you haven’t been in that position. You’ll say they were just trying to help. Yes, I get that. But they were not offering help. Offering help looks like, “May I help you? Do you need help?” They were hurling help indiscriminately her way, assuming they knew what she needed.

But she didn’t need help, so she ignored us all. I didn’t know she could do that. I didn’t know she would do that. I love that she did.

The Firecracker Chronicles

I’m always looking for something new to do. Some new way to make money. Four years ago, I thought it would be a good idea to run a retail fireworks tent for a nationally recognized fireworks company for the ten days leading up to, and including, July 4th. By myself. Well, not entirely by myself. Sometimes my then-2- (almost 3-) year old daughter would be with me. This was under a 20′ x 40′ tent set up in the parking lot of a shopping center in Bethlehem, PA. I had a storage container parked nearby, where all of the inventory had to be double-locked overnight. Yes, that means that all of the displays had to be set up every morning, and taken down every night.

All patriotic under the tent in Bethlehem, PA.

My mother was kind enough to watch the bookstore while I had my firecracker adventures, so, for ten days in late June and early July, I spent twelve to fifteen hours a day in a parking lot peddling petty explosives. I only had those fireworks that were termed “safe and sane”: sparklers and other novelties, and fountains that shot effects no higher than 10′ off the ground. Safe and sane. Many times, though, I was approached by folks interested in either buying or selling much louder and much more dangerous pyrotechnics.

My favorite was the guy who came by the tent at about 9:30 AM on a Thursday morning, while I was still setting up for my first day of sales. He drove his big black 4WD pickup truck right up to the tent (next to my storage container which was packed with explosives), leaned out his window, and said, “I’m looking for boom-boom.”

“I beg your pardon?”

He takes a swig of his beer and tries again: “I’m looking for boom-boom.”

“Sir, I’m not entirely sure what you’re asking for, but the answer’s NO.”

I sold fireworks to all sorts of people, in all sorts of weather. There were days when it was windy, and my wares rolled right off the tables. There were days when it rained and a small river ran straight across the floor of the tent. There were days when it was breezy and sunny and just gloriously beautiful. There was the day with the tornado watch. When I saw actual circular motion happening in the low grey clouds above my parking lot, I dropped the sides down on the tent, buttoned it up tight, and ran to my little red car parked beside the storage container full of explosives. I thought it would be unlikely for the car to be picked up by the wind if it was next to the container. Though, I knew that if I was wrong, things could go very badly very quickly. That was either a good idea or a very-not-good idea. Luckily it turned out well.

All in all, the experience was great, though it was also throughly exhausting; not only did I work long hours at the tent for the better part of two weeks, but also I went straight in to throwing my daughter’s birthday party on July 5th. Another not-good idea that turned out rather well. So well, in fact, that I ran that same tent again the following year.

Wandering Pt. II…

I was pedaling my bicycle back towards Auckland, in the rain, looking for lodging on my first day of solo bicycle trekking in NZ. I was considering bedding down in some shrubbery that edged a nearby field when a car pulled up alongside me. The window rolled down and a woman leaned over to yell to me, “Do you need a place to stay?”

“Um…maybe…”

Image by holgerheinze0 from Pixabay

“I was in the chip shop back there when you asked about a backpacker [hostel]. You can stay with us!” She then described how to get to her house a couple kilometers down the road and drove off to deliver dinner to her husband while it was still warm.

As I followed her directions, I had the fiercest internal argument with myself. What on earth did I think I was doing? This was definitely a not-good idea. Was I really going to go into a stranger’s house in a strange country where no one knew where I was? And was I really going to go to sleep there? Had my mother taught me nothing? But I was girded by the invincibility complex of youth and the conviction that “eh, it’ll be ok”, so I rode right up to her garage, stashed my bike, and I followed her into the kitchen where I was greeted by her husband and two year old daughter.

She made an omelet for me while I took a shower, and she put my soaked biking clothes in the utility room to dry by the heater. The couple chatted with me over dinner and told me about their own back-country bicycle treks (from their pre-baby days). They settled me in their guest room and, even though I spent a half hour in the darkness listening for any sound of creaking floorboards or turning doorknobs, I eventually slept a very sound and restful sleep.

And in the morning? These very kind people left me ALONE TO WATCH THEIR CHILD while they went out to the field to move their sheep in for the vet’s visit later in the day. New Zealanders, man. There’s no one else like them.

Wandering…

When I was twenty five, there was a wonderful confluence of life events that made it possible for me to wander off to New Zealand by myself for seven weeks. That was definitely a good idea, so that’s not going to be the subject of this post. There weren’t many not-good ideas that came out of that trip; the whole thing was charmed. But, there were two. One led directly to the other.

Heading out on a hybrid bike for some solo touring may be seen by some as a not-good idea for a woman, but I take issue with that. It would be a not-good idea for someone to mess with her while she’s traveling, but her solo traveling is not the bit that’s problematic. I’m not down with blaming the potential victim. But I digress. My first not-good idea of this leg of the journey was to head out on my first day on a bike at about 2 PM, with a vague idea of the direction that I wanted to head: southeast from Auckland city center.

Now, at the time of this journey, I called New York City home. Even when you head out of NYC, for some thirty miles in any direction, there’s not only dense civilization but also lodging options. Not so in the Auckland vicinity. I figured that I’d make it 25 miles, max, in the amount of travel time that I had left in that day. There had to be some possibility of shelter in the 15-20 mile range, right? Nope.

This was the day that I learned the necessity of planning a route, a stopping point, and a goal for each day in the bike saddle. And having a back up plan wasn’t a bad idea either, just in case a burst tire or some such event caused a travel delay. But on my first day out on my own, reliant strictly on what I had packed in my panniers, I got to the area where I thought I should stop for the night and asked in the fish & chip shop for any hotels, hostels, or other form of shelter. I got a blank stare in return and was told that I should head back toward Auckland. <womp-womp> Oh, and it was raining.

So, I got back on the bike and started pedaling west, eyeing hedgerows by the side of the road and wondering what kind of a nest I could build for myself, when my second not-good idea of the day pulled up alongside me on the road. This one had the potential to be a really not-good idea. But this post is already too long, so I’ll have to save that story for next time. To be continued…

Driving in the Dark

Sometimes, when you make a not-good decision, you know immediately that it was NOT GOOD. And sometimes, when you’re really lucky and you’ve lived a pure life (or close enough), you can immediately reverse the decision before anything REALLY NOT GOOD happens. And that’s what it was like that one night that I was driving from Durham, NC to the Outerbanks. I left home after midnight, with the intention of waking up at the beach with my dog at sunrise. And I did. Except that, somewhere around 3 AM, I thought it would be interesting to see what would happen if I turned off my headlights while driving. On a two lane road cutting through the middle of the wetlands. With absolutely no lights around but the stars.

It was not a good idea. It was terrifying. Pitch blackness, except for the light from my clock in the dashboard, which really only made it harder to see outside the windshield. While traveling at about 60 MPH. Luckily the road was straight. Also, luckily, my hand never even left the headlights switch before I turned the lights back on. Well, I’d had to see what would happen, and I saw what happened. And I will never, ever do anything like that ever again. I’m lucky to have made it to the beach at all, let alone by sunrise. Especially since I was so sleepy by the time I crossed onto the barrier island that I fell asleep while driving over the connecting bridge. But that’s a story for another time.

Better an Oops… — Cyranny’s Cove

“Sometimes in Life, you have to follow your heart.

People will try to convince you that it is not a good idea. They will bring you a hundred good reasons to act rationally, if only to look good in the end. Not to disappoint you, or just to argue with you, but generally because they want to save you from failure.

But failure isn’t always what it seems, and it isn’t necessarely a bad thing…”

https://wordpress.com/read/blogs/101419629/posts/48189

Another fan of the potentially not-good idea. It’s better to know than to wonder!