Chat with email scam artist

The following is an IM conversation between someone who posts on a message board I frequent and an email scam artist. The scammer's email is first. The scam target's thoughts are in bold. Their chat follows at the end.


I have a listing out for a room in my place and received the
following e-mail from a potential roommate:

Hi ,

Thank you for your quick response.I would have loved to set up an appointment with you but at the moment,i am out of town. My name is Susan Rice and i am a deaf mute female caucasian of about 25 years of age.I am a native of York in Pennsylvania. I do not smoke. I am single with no kids and pets friendly and easy going.I am single and with no kids. I am currently trying to obtain my Masters degree in Clinical Pharmacy at Sunderland University in the UK. I will be rounding up my programme come june 10th,2008. I will be sending you a certified check of $3500 which will written in your name and cashable in your bank. I am sending you that much money because i will be using the balance to pay for my travelling expenses.I know this is a very difficult task but i am craving your indulgence to please take the check to your bank and cash it. After cashing,deduct the stipulated fees and send the balance to my travel agent via moneygram. Moneygram transfer is available in every Walmart outlets. Please send me your full name and address in order to write the payment in your name.

I hope to hear from you as soon as possible

Regards
Susan

Obviously a scam. But it came from a gmail address, and lo and behold, last night "her" id showed up in my gmail chat client. Curious, I decided to see if "she" would talk to me. Very interesting conversation. My favorite part was her concern for my well being at the end. Here's the transcript:

me: so do your scams ever work?
susan: yes
4:57 PM me: really? i'm amazed that there are people out there
naive/greedy enought to fall for such a thing
how often does it work?
4:58 PM susan: about 4-5 times a month
me: out of how many emails sent out?
4:59 PM like how much time do you spend sending them?
susan: why all this questions
me: I'm curious. I get these kind of e-mails all the time
5:00 PM I could not believe people were falling from them
but someone must be making a decent living off them if they still
keep coming
5:01 PM susan: it is a good business
Are you male or female
5:02 PM me: male. so is it enough to live off of?
susan: yes
me: and don't you worry about getting caught?
i guess you must be overseas
5:03 PM susan: no
5:05 PM There is so much laxity as regards internet security
5:06 PM me: true. and if you're based outside the US, it would be
costly to track you down. i doubt american officials even care at that
point.
5:07 PM so what is your average take on a successful run?
susan: $2500
5:08 PM me: $2500 a month or per take?
susan: PER TAKE
5:10 PM and you canget as much as 3-4 takes a month depending on how
lucky you are
me: tax free
5:11 PM does the government not pay attention to your expenditures
where you are
i guess if you pay cash for everything, there's nothing to trace...
especially depending on the country
5:12 PM that is quite a confortable living!
susan: yes
5:13 PM what do you do for a living
5:14 PM me: tax consulting for oil companies.
5:15 PM susan: you are a tax lawyer
me: no more of an accountant. but the laws are favorable for the oil
companies here
5:17 PM so is your priamry target americans or it works worldwide?
5:21 PM so about $100k/year?
5:22 PM susan: worldwide
it is like illegal drug business
5:23 PM the momentyou start, there is no going back
me: what do you mean
no going back
susan: you cannot stop
5:24 PM me: because the money is so easy you mean?
you don't work under anyone
5:26 PM do you have to live in a country with favorable laws or can
get away with this in industrial countries?
5:27 PM susan: yes
i am in Africa
5 minutes
5:33 PM me: Okay gotta go home and sift through the valid rental
offers. Talk to you later
susan: ok
5:34 PM dont fall scams
me: thanks for the info. very interesting. people are dumber than i
though!
susan: there are a lot of scams out there
5:35 PM good
take care

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Illuminating

I can almost excuse it. It's valuable education and the tuition is reasonable. Anyway if there's nothing that can be done about it, it's pointless to kvetch - a point worth repeating to utilitarians bemoaning the effective end of copyright protection.

This isn't like copyright or

This isn't like copyright or drugs, though.

If I illegally download movies, I don't make the creators any worse off than if I didn't watch the movies at all. It's a societal net positive that ideally could be distributed a tiny bit more fairly, but the $billions net benefit to creators that draconian copyright enforcement might deliver would be swamped by the $trillions loss in overall social utility it would cause.

If I get in the habit of toking up, it's possible that I'd become less useful to my employer and others depending on me, but that varies from person to person; in any case, to the degree there are negative consequences, I'll suffer from some of them. So, to the degree that this illegal activity may be a net negative to society, disincentives already exist.

Whereas if I become an email scam artist, I make my real victims much worse off and also waste the time of a huge number of other people. The only disincentive is the threat of being caught, the damage dealt is huge, and the rewards are fairly large too.

Therefore, the threat and consequences of being caught really should be as large as possible. Email scammers deserve life imprisonment or worse.

Skeptical

I find it hard to believe that this scammer is telling the truth. If he or she was really making over $100,000 each year for little to no effort, I would expect there to be a lot more email scammers entering the "market" and lowering the potential income.

Re: Constant's "if there's nothing that can be done about it"

What about reminding/teaching/asking everyone who tries to send a "moneygram" if they are reimbursing someone they don't know very well for a check that may bounce? Or would this just shift the scam to other methods of payment?

Marginal effect

We can think of this two ways.

1) People have been so thoroughly and repeatedly warned about Internet scams that the marginal benefit of each additional warning is today probably much lower than it was initially. And this has to be balanced against the cost - the cost to you, the cost of cluttering up the recipient's inbox and taking up his time.

2) You yourself doubt that this scam is very successful. If so few people are likely to be victimized, then to reach the occasional person who is likely to be victimized you'll have to send your message to many, many people who do not need it, and each of these bears the cost of an additional useless email.

But I'm happy to modify my wording anyway from "nothing that can be done" to "virtually nothing that can be done".

I don't doubt that the scam

I don't doubt that the scam is successful, I just doubt that it's as successful as the scammer claims, i.e. that he or she makes as much money from it each month as claimed.

Incidentally, last month's Atlantic mentioned that the number of successful Internet scams has remained about the same over the last few years, but the amount of money lost on average for each successful scam has increased.

Fraction

I don't doubt that the scam is successful, I just doubt that it's as successful as the scammer claims

My point about its successfulness concerns the number of people who fall for it versus the number who do not, and what this means about how many people you need to warn (each time with a certain cost, as I described) for each person you warn usefully.

Oh, I agree that the key

Oh, I agree that the key behind Internet email scams is the lost cost and high volume of spam. But previous efforts to curb these types of scams have been aimed at the general population. Why not warn just those people who wire money using places like Western Union? That seems like it would at least shift the focus to the people most susceptible to being scammed.

Uh ?

What about : Fucking thief ! You're the scum of the earth, you're nothing but a parasite. Human earn their living through work and trade, by helping each other, you are not human, you're a predator. You live off other, you claim by fraud the fruit of their work, that's slavery. Fortunately, sometimes people squash predators. I hope you get caught and rot in jail for a long time.

Useless, most certainly, but I can't grasp how your friend could remain that cool during the conversation.

It is hard to believe there

It is hard to believe there are people who buy this stuff, but i did actually have a roommate who almost fell for it.

If you send enough emails, you are bound to find them: -> profit.

I investigate these scams everyday

It's way more common than you can imagine and there are a few online communities that are very fertile scamming grounds these days.
I won't mention the communities because I don't want to encourage more scammers.
The people that do this try to blend in with the Nigerians but lots of times I can trace them back to locations in the US. Getting the money back is harder. It can be done but it's usually not cost effective to hire a PI if you got scammed for the same amount as a retainer.
The scammers I have talked to sound a lot like this one. Nice and polite apologetic but unremorseful. 100k a year sounds about right also.
I have some stories up on my blogs at www.emailrevealer.com