Scuppering the scammersbit-tech: How do The Artists work, and what procedure do you go through to combat 419 scammers?
The Artists spend 99% of their time identifying fake banks, checking their data, and writing complaint letters to hosting companies with fakes online. This takes down the vast majority of fake banks we come across. (I should note at this point that it is illegal in the vast majority of the world to pretend to be a bank if you are not registered with the relevant financial regulators, and illegal actions such as this are against the Terms Of Service of all reputable hosting companies.) Occasionally, a fake stays online for long enough that we need to send a second letter to the hosting company, it’s OK - we understand how stuff can get lost. If that
second letter isn’t acted on after a reasonable period, we consider the fake for a flashmob. There’s nothing illegal about complaining to web hosts.
Of course, in an ideal world, they’d work from the second letter. If they don’t we have to assume that they’re willing to ignore the fake bank. In that case, they may become the target of a flashmob. In that case, our tools like the Mugu Marauder and the Lad Vampire come into play. We’ve been accused of DDOS attacks on servers before. That’s not the case, we’re tech-savvy people - and any idiot with a modicum of knowledge can flood a website off the net, but that’s no good to us. Our tools are browsers, sure they reload the page an unreasonable amount to spike the bandwidth and leave the host with no excuse to claim they hadn’t seen the website, but they are at heart, browsers. They’re throttled to slow down on a website if it starts to return errors suggesting it’s under pressure. We basically create a slashdotting of the fake bank.
bit-tech: Would you call yourselves vigilantes, then?
We have been called vigilantes, we wouldn’t call ourselves that, but we don’t complain. There’s no-one else on the net policing this, when that happens, it’s time for the people to stand up.
bit-tech: So how well would you say traditional authorities handle internet fraud?
Poorly. There’s only one reasonable police anti-fraud website I know of, it’s run by the 419 task force of the South African Police Service, 419Legal.org
. They’re doing more than just throwing up an advisory and filtering all emails to /dev/null
. They’re orchestrating arrests in South Africa, they’re warning victims, and they’re providing a service allowing people to ask questions. Other than that - police forces just don’t care about Advance Fee Fraud.
bit-tech: How did you get the idea for Flashmobbing?
The first Flashmob was borne out of the Flashmobs craze a year or two ago. We realized that we could harness the power of a Flashmob, and direct it like a Slashdot to sites that we were unable to shut down by normal means.
bit-tech: Have you ever had any of the scammers and fake bankers complaining?
Oh yeah! A happy customer wrote:
Why is my name in your database? Please explain and I need to know who to report this altecartion too. I will be expecting your response asap.I dont need this sort of embarassment!!!!
There was also this little exchange in our forums, here
We get a lot of this sort of thing. We don’t remove details from our website. We’ll add a note explaining that someone claims their data was misused, or they registered for a guy they met in the bar, or their sisters-husbands-third cousin’s-dog’s-mother's-housekeeper but we use this data, so it doesn’t get removed.
bit-tech: How do ISPs feel about your actions?
We have great working relationships with some ISPs. Bluetower and The Planet
have really come on board with us, and are happy to root out scammers quick and clean. Others dislike what we do. That’s no surprise, but if they start paying some attention to the mail their abuse department receives and if they stop hosting web sites for criminals, they’ll never hear from us again!
bit-tech: What is the general background of The Artists - are most people hackers, students, network engineers...?
We’re all different people. The core of the Artists includes Artists, Programmers, Students, Retirees, Professionals. We’re spread worldwide, male, female, old and young. This is not the usual web team of white male geeks. And of course - as we say on our website - "Everybody is an Artist". Anyone who visits our website, and runs one of our tools, or supports us can call themselves an Artist Against 419.
bit-tech: What plans do you have to expand the organisation?
We’re sticking with what we’re good at. We know fake banks, and we still have a long way to go. Every time the fake bankers develop a new trick, we find a way around it. It keeps us busy. But we’ll go away sooner if more hosting companies would like to get in touch with us.