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Anatomy of a Scamhunt.
September 17, 2011 12:45 PM   Subscribe

How to track down a scammer. Two weeks ago, "Ken", a writer at the politics/law/gaming blog Popehat, got a fax in the vein of the toner scam - an invoice from a company he'd never done business with, hoping that the firm would pay the bill anyway out of sheer ignorance. Instead, he decided to use the name and contact information on the fax to expose every detail he could find about their operation. After a series of in-depth searches he found quite a lot - from real names and addresses to criminal records - and wrote up his methodology in detail to help others do the same.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish (22 comments total) 81 users marked this as a favorite

 
So awesome. If I won the the lottery, I would do this all day long. Seriously, fuck those guys.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 12:55 PM on September 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ken, and Popehat generally, really brighten my week. In particular, I enjoy reading the posts in which he tears sanctimonious politicians or unscrupulous lawyers new ones.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 1:01 PM on September 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is like a master class on how to use google and public records to practical effect.
posted by T.D. Strange at 1:16 PM on September 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've always wondered what stops these scammers from sending bills to collections (along with falsified proof of services rendered) and leveraging the threat of credit problems against their victims. Even though they lose a chunk of the money, the collection rate would have to be an order of magnitude higher, and once people's FICO scores are on the line a lot of them are going to pay up. Hey, it worked for the RIAA.
posted by crapmatic at 1:25 PM on September 17, 2011


Um, where is the write-up where David and Cynthia Bell are arrested and incarcerated for fraud?
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 1:28 PM on September 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


I've always wondered what stops these scammers from sending bills to collections (along with falsified proof of services rendered) and leveraging the threat of credit problems against their victims.

Collection agencies are no strangers to lawyers.
posted by stavrogin at 1:32 PM on September 17, 2011


Um, where is the write-up where David and Cynthia Bell are arrested and incarcerated for fraud?

Yeah, that rarely happens.

For years, I was a participant researcher at the Make Money Fast Hall of Humiliation. A bright team of search engine users at the dawn of the internet would spend days and weeks hunting down pertinent information about people that sent out Make Money Fast scams of various descriptions, and all we could really do was post the information for the public eye to see, and hopefully provide a signpost for anyone else hapless enough to encounter these people.

The guy that was in charge of the archive of these posts eventually had to shut down the archive (the MMFHoH was operational from 1996 - 2002, or thereabouts), as he was getting death threats from "reformed" scammers who were now encountering prospective employers and business partners that knew how to use Google. Thank god for the Wayback machine, or it would all be lost to eternity.
posted by thanotopsis at 1:50 PM on September 17, 2011 [5 favorites]


@popehat
posted by cjorgensen at 1:53 PM on September 17, 2011


This is like a master class on how to use google

Yeah, my reaction was, at first, that this had very little to do with "how to find scammers" and a lot to do with "how to use Google effectively" and thus it wasn't very useful. But then I realized based on observation of even otherwise competent people that most folks are really, really bad and using search engines and processing information in general. So while it isn't very useful to me I'm sure there are a lot of people for whom that isn't true. Folks who can't scan a page of search results in a second or two and figure out which are likely relevant and which are likely not, for example.
posted by Justinian at 2:35 PM on September 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


I've always wondered what stops these scammers from sending bills to collections...

These guys thrive because they operate solo and fly just below the radar of authorities. Once you involve outsiders in your scam, you really begin to risk exposure.
posted by Thorzdad at 2:40 PM on September 17, 2011


Also: collections agencies going to work without pay, which means either: (a) you pay them to collect the money and give it to you; (b) they work for a percentage of the money they collect; or (c) they "buy" the debt from you and keep whatever they can collect. You're not going to pay them if you're running a scam, since the return on fake invoices is low. But the collection agencies aren't stupid - they're not going to work for free or pay you money for something worthless. Also, their modus operandi involves scaring people who owe money. You don't want them to start scaring you.
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:57 PM on September 17, 2011


Shoot! I just finished Part 3 and Popehat's site crashed. I want to read PART 4!!!
posted by jeanmari at 8:02 PM on September 17, 2011


Jeanmari: Here's a currently-working link to the Google Cache of part 4.
posted by subbes at 8:21 PM on September 17, 2011


Cool. That was unexpectedly fascinating, and now I want more. I'm thinking ... a new franchise? "Law & Order: Special Scumbags Unit"? Every episode is just hardened cops eating giant donuts, slurping black coffee and Googling. What's not to love?
posted by taz at 5:12 AM on September 18, 2011


Apparently this found its way to BoingBoing, and then Adam Savage's Twitter feed, and then the site broke.

So...uh....if you're reading this, sorry, guys.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 6:39 AM on September 18, 2011


Good stuff, but I think he's getting the wires crossed a little with the whole Kansas thing. US Telecom was one of the predecessors to Sprint, which explains the shared corporate address and shared president, etc-- that also probably explains BBB complaints for cramming.

There's a good chance the scammers chose that name specifically because it's generic, tied to a legitimate business, etc, but I'm surprised he wasn't able to close that lead quickly with all the searching-- It's mentioned on the Sprint Wikipedia page and Dan Hesse (one of the new name "leads") was, for a while at least, all over my tv.
posted by cosmonaught at 5:22 PM on September 18, 2011


They've now posted the fifth chapter.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 8:34 PM on September 18, 2011


One of the players in this scam saga is a 2nd gen connection to one of our Mods on LinkedIn. Stuff is small world.
posted by jeanmari at 12:57 PM on September 19, 2011


Chapter Six. This one's about how to get scammers arrested.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 12:04 PM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Chapter Seven. In which the phrase "prior convictions" comes into play.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 12:56 PM on September 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


Thanks much for the updates HZSF – I'd forget to check if it weren't showing up in my recent history.

I'm amazed at the energy and effort it must take to slither and twist and creep through such a convoluted history of criminality. It sure seems that if the same amount of determination and application was expended on legal entrepreneurship these guys would be doing quite well for themselves without all the dirty... but I have to assume that they love the game. For me it would be excruciating.
posted by taz at 12:39 AM on September 27, 2011


Chapter Eight. Some truly impressive douchebaggery from the Bells, and a call for expert assistance.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 4:19 AM on October 5, 2011


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