How to Waste Spammer’s Time and Participate in the Race Against Spam
Over the years (and especially recently) I’ve been getting a lot of spam from poor, hapless folks in dire need of money (relatives of prices in Nigeria’s the big one here, although more recently I’ve had spam from people who were supposedly victims of Katrina, or a Tsunami, or a bad divorce, or they were in the right place at the right time just before a dictator was toppled…you get the idea), who offer you a small percentage of a ridiculous sum – usually millions of dollars – in exchange for your contact information or more likely, your bank account.
A couple times I’ve even had my parents – both intelligent people with advanced degrees – send me emails they’ve received to the effect of, “You may just have won the UK lottery,” and ask, “Is this for real?” This kind of spam, particularly the Nigerian ones, is called 419 spam. How can the average computer user take a step further than using simple spam blockers and fight back against the criminals who employ this method to gain the trust and money of unsuspecting internet users? One word: spambaiting.
Spambaiting is the practice of engaging the spammers – because these emails are most often sent and replied to by real, live people rather than bots – in long, meaningless diatribes that result in wasting their time and preventing them from going after more susceptible individuals. It’s kind of like trolling, but in reverse, and if you have time on your hands and a little bit of savvy, you can visit sites that will show you how you can fight against 419 spam at a grassroots level. What’s more, since it looks like a lot of 419 spam originates with people who don’t have a particularly good grasp of the English language, you can wind up with some pretty entertaining emails to show around the office next time the topic of spam comes up.
Of course, there are some basic safety precautions you should take before you start engaging in spambaiting, since in the end the people you’re dealing with are breaking the law and trying to extract money from innocent victims. If you decide spambaiting is for you, remember not to use your real name (or even your real email address – as social networking sites become more prevalent it gets easier for spammers to figure out who you are and how to take advantage of your identity, so sign up for a fake account with a free provider) or to hand out any real information on yourself. Above all, be creative, and remember that whatever the spammer you’re dealing with might say, you’re the one in control.