SCARS Position Statement Against Scambaiting

A Commentary On False Solutions

April 2021

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Regarding Recent Studies Of Scambaiting By Noted Academics

Recently, two studies attempted to understand the phenomena of Scambaiting by vigilante anti-scam hater groups on Facebook and elsewhere.

While the research did not exactly promote the practice it gave it a voice and notoriety.

Regrettably, we have to strongly oppose the positions taken in these papers. While it is always valuable to study and understand phenomena, such as online crime, we find this research and articles to be unethical.

Why would we say something like that and condemn obvious research with the purpose of understanding a serious problem of criminality?

Scams and cybercrime are massive problems worldwide!

They generate multiple trillions of dollars in losses across the globe. Individuals lose their life savings and frequently take their lives. Businesses have been known to shutdown after major cyberattacks.

Victims are angry – because they have been traumatized and are going through grief. But vigilantism is not the answer!

Instant experts and charlatans promote scambaiting to validate themselves and feed off of victim pain. They have substantial arguments in favor of what they do. How it slows down scammers, interferes with their offenses against others, and more. These are all proven to be false narratives.

Ignoring the self-corrupting aspects of it – namely engaging in the very same deceptions as the criminals. Not only does it cause significant harm to the real victims that participate by protracting their anger and delaying their recovery, but it has been turned into a sport by many, leading victims astray and away from legitimate victims’ assistance providers and recovery programs – such as those offered by SCARS

Proponents of scambaiting believe that their “savior” actions are saving victims by slowing scammers down. In fact, in our experience, it is the opposite. They are increasing the institutional knowledge that scammers acquire and share.

Certainly, scambaiters can waste the time of a small number of individual fraudsters, but the organizations are so large that it has no significance.

There is a small argument that scambaiters can acquire information that “might” help police in identifying individual scammers, but with hundreds of thousands of scammers operating it is insignificant. Almost all arrests result from reporting by other means that lead to the identification of scammers for other offenses, such as tax avoidance and other fraud.

The very nature of vigilantism can have profoundly negative effects on those that engage in it – both for the zealots that steadfastly adhere to its doctrine, but more importantly the serious compounding of trauma that can result.

Our organization reaches approximately 1.1 million scam victims a year. In all of our history, we are not aware of more than a handful of law enforcement actions that have come from scambaiting.

How can engagement in deception by those who have been profoundly deceived be validated? It is a crime being perpetrated by victims of crime – nothing more. Yes, scambaiting is a crime – it uses deception and fraud. All fraud must be condemned!

As a real victims’ assistance provider we have established ethical standards to both define our work and the lines for all that should not be crossed, and scam baiting is one of those lines.

We are profoundly troubled by the popular tendency to accept unethical behavior because it fits a narrative or maybe fun.

We believe that to study it as has been done in these documents serves both to validate the practice in the minds of its followers, and to misdirect real victims from valid recovery and law enforcement services.

Scambaiting creates a narrative that law enforcement does not work and that victims must take the law into their own hands. This is completely false. In 2019 over 111,000 scammers were arrested, and even in the pandemic of 2020 over 67,000 were arrested by law enforcement. This is very far from ineffective. Even the Nigerian EFCC will reach record numbers of arrests inside of Nigeria. Almost every country (except for Ghana) has recognized the impact that cybercrime is having, with the U.K. declaring it a national emergency in the press.

We have observed that when traumatized victims engage in vigilantism they are many times more likely to increase trauma and develop PTSD – the same is true here with scambaiting. They are also likely to turn away from law enforcement and real support that such anti-scam hate groups provide.

Scam baiting must be condemned in the fullest because of its ethical corruption and the harm that it promotes in victim communities.

These studies – in our opinion – fail to do that, and serves to validate it as a method for anti-scam defense – which it is not.

Sadly, the researchers never talked with real cybercrime victims’ advocates or those that truly support them, such as SCARS, prior to conducting or publishing their articles.

Normally, we are a strong promoter of research into our subject area, but not in this case.

For these reasons, we are substantially against the statements made in their research.

We felt that making this statement was vital in establishing balance and promoting the real welfare of victims worldwide.

We sincerely hope that the authors will consider looking at scambaiting from the other side of the coin and the real harm it does overall.

If you are a scam victim we encourage you to stay away from vigilantes and instant-expert saviors. Stay away from saviors and anti-scam hate groups. You are placing your own mental health in the hands of people that are in it for the sport!

If you need help we are here or talk to a real trauma counselor or therapist. Your future is what is at stake!