Fed up with e-mail scammers, some would-be victims fight back

PORTLAND, Ore. - It's a story you've likely heard before - somebody falling victim to a Nigerian e-mail scam. These international scams have cost victims millions of hard-earned dollars and become the butt of countless jokes.

We've covered stories of people who lost their fortunes all because of an e-mail promising millions that turned out to be scam.

Fed up with the onslaught of scams, some would-be victims are now finding a way to fight back.

Steve Conrad was looking to sell a box of china, so he posted an ad online. He soon got an offer saying a check was on the way.

"I thought at that point it was sold," Conrad said.

But when the check arrived at his home in Salem, he saw it was clearly a fake. It wasn't written for the right amount; the scammers were trying to get him to cash it and send them the difference.

He didn't fall for the scam, but worries others might.

"Especially the older folks," he said. "This could be a dream come true for somebody. You know, this could be medicine for next week to keep me alive and then they get scammed."

Many of the scammers are in foreign countries, far away from the reach of law enforcement. That's why Conrad and others are turning to a tactic called "scam baiting."

"The theory is if you waste their time, they can't scam somebody else," Conrad explained. "They can't scam somebody else or not as much time to scam other people."

Scam baiters essentially toy with the scammers, trying to irritate or mock them. That, in turn, wastes their time and prevents them from actively running new scams.

Several websites talk about the best ways to bait the scammers. In one example we found, someone convinced a scammer to take pictures with various props.

That inspired us to try our hand at scam baiting. I started by responding to a man named Wilbur Daniels who wrote to us here at KATU.

At first, he said the late Dr. Edward Tomlinson passed away, leaving a large sum of money behind. Daniels wrote that he needed our help to get access to the money.

I wrote back under the pseudonym "Mr. Problem Solvers" and told Daniels that I was a convicted thief who wanted to steal his money. I then told him of my plan turn the Portland bubblers into beer fountains and provide free lattes for every bicyclist.

Not missing a beat, our scammer changed the late doctor's name to "Dr. Edward Solvers" and asked me to move forward with the deal.

I also contacted a scammer going by the name Rubeca Kasalla. Three days after receiving my e-mail, Kasalla declared she wanted to spend the rest of her life with me, Mr. Problem Solvers, and just needed money for a passport.

I told her I would only do it if she wore a clown suit and rode a bicycle built for two. Then we requested a sign of her love.

She agreed, sending us a picture of her hand-written note that said "I love Problem Solvers."

Dozens of e-mails later, both Daniels and Kasalla ended up with nothing but valuable scamming time lost.

Buzz Siler may be the original scam baiter. More than a decade ago, the Portland artist and businessman started answering scam faxes and later ended up taking down four international scam gangs.

"These guys go out and prey on people and they could care less if it's your last dime," Siler said.

Siler helped on an undercover sting where he met with a Nigerian scammer in a Houston hotel room with Secret Service agents listening in.

"They opened the door and had their guns in their hands and had this guy on the floor in what seemed like two seconds," he said.

Ten years later, what does he do with those e-mails and faxes?

"I did my part, so I throw them in the trash," he said.

Secret Service agents here in Portland told us that they don't recommend scam baiting because there is too much risk involved. Scammers don't know your e-mail address is real until you answer back and then they can harass or intimidate you. They recommend simply deleting e-mails that you think are from scammers.

If you do end up getting caught in a scam, the Secret Service offers advice about what to do on its website.