The Art of Stringing Along Scammers

We’ve all been targeted by scammers. I wish I were kidding when I say that—between starting and finishing this article—my bank’s fraud department contacted me to say that someone had gotten a hold of my credit card number (1). Whether it’s “This is the IRS calling, there is a problem with your social security number,” “I am a Saudi Prince and I need help moving money,” or “If you click here, we’ll tell you how to grow your ding dong an extra 5 inches” we’ve all seen them in our everyday lives. While most of us know not to interact with sketchy phone calls, advertisements, or emails, according to the Federal Trade Commission, there were more than 1.4 millions fraud reports in 2018 (2) and over 3.2 million fraud reports in 2019 (3). While not every person lost money for every report in 2019, “People reported losing more than $667 million to imposters.”

While I normally immediately trash every scam email that comes my way, in his web series “Scamalot”, comedian James Veitch hit’s reply to scam emails instead. In his videos, Veitch recounts ridiculous stories of interactions with scammers. Having been solicited every moneymaking scheme imaginable—from snail farms to lost safes found in the desert—Veitch humorously strings along the very scammers who are trying to scam him.

In his video “Free Toaster” Veitch is contacted by a Lt. Kamanda Korma claiming to have 1,000 pounds of polished diamonds that he needs help moving. After agreeing to help, Veitch is immediately told the terms of conditions: set up a bank account with a (fake) branch of Royal Bank of Scotland and pay a fee.

This is where things begin to derail.

Flipping the narrative, Veitch tells Lt. Kamanda Korma that he is excited for a new toaster promised in a promotion for opening an account with Royal “BS” (Bank of Scotland). Impatient and using guilt tactics, Lt. Kamanda Korma begins a series of hilarious back and forth emails chalked full of spelling errors and a sob story to get Veitch to open his account. Eventually, Veitch contacts the fake Royal Bank of Scotland and “plagues” them with emails about his promised toaster. He even shows them proof of the promotion: a digitally edited newspaper clipping. Email after email, they continue to try and persuade him to give them his money. Until finally, a final email from the scammers begging on their knees: “Please stop emailing us.” The deed is done. Veitch emerges victorious.

“Scamalot” videos are there for the laughs: accompanied with animated segments, light hearted music, well timed pauses, and that special brand of comedic overacting. More than that, however, it actually functions as a PSA in its own way. Most people are not educated about online scams. For older generations, these scams use newer technologies that might not have even existed while they were growing up. For younger generations schools teach about drugs, sex, and alcohol. They teach about stranger danger. Students aren’t taught about how to deal with people who, in the future, might call or email them about how their cousin has been thrown in jail and that they need bail money right away. People are just expected to be able to identify what is real and what is fake. Though it may be hard to believe, and the numbers a bit skewed (due to self reporting bias) this is especially a big problem for young people who have a lot less life experience. According to the Federal Trade Commission, “Younger people reported losing money to fraud more often than older people… [in 2017], of those people who reported fraud and their age, 43% of people in their 20s reported a loss to that fraud, while only 15% of people in their 70s did.” While some of the scams on the show seem ridiculous, and many of us watching probably think “I would never fall for that,” there are people out in the world who do fall for them. It’s why scammers continue to scam.

“Scamalot” also helps out in a second, albeit smaller, way: by interacting with scam emails, Veitch actually preoccupies scammers from working with other victims. I’m not saying he’s some knight in shining armor who has saved 1000’s of people from being scammed. I’m sure there are many scams out in the world that just require a well written computer code. However, some of these scams—such as the scammers in the “Free Toaster” video—are probably only ran by a few people. Real people who still have to deal with emails, phone calls, and banking. So, while Veitch is just a drop in a pond of preventing scams, there is a poetic justice seeing scammers getting a small taste of their own medicine.

In the end “Scamalot” makes for great comedy. It seems fitting that James Veitch managed to make content and money from the very people who were trying to scam him.

(1) Seriously, what are the chances that I started writing this article and then had my card stolen?

(2) 2018 report:
https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/2019/02/top-frauds-2018

(3) 2019 report:
https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/2020/01/top-frauds-2019

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Maya G.

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