September 18, 2004 is the first brithday of 419eater.com, so Shiver put out a contest announcement, challenging participants to find a scammer dumb enough to pose with a sign that reads "Happy Birthday 419eater". The successful trophy-winners will have their pictures put up for a vote, and the winner will receive, 100% RISKY-FREE, a 419eater.com coffee mug!

I really don't have much confidence in my abilities. I'd only obtained four photo trophies thus far, and I'm not sure what kind of story I can concoct to convince a scammer to pose with the requested sign. Eventually, however, I decide that this can be a good way to hone by baiting skills by way of giving me practice on J-Dog's much-lauded technique, the Accidentally Sent EMail and, if I'm extremely lucky, get a killer trophy from a mugu.

It's a longshot, sure, but I wanted something more than a simple "HAPPY BIRTHDAY 419EATER" sign. I figured that if I was going to enter this contest, I'd go all out. I thought that I might get some fun out of it, though I didn't honestly expect to get anything worth shouting about. I also decided to get some use out of a fresh new gmail account that I'd set up :)

So, I wrote up a quick ASEM. I took on the role of one Michael Thomas (I just made the name up, it's not based on anyone or anything), writing to a man named "Mr. Hendrix". Our food supply company, the 419 Eater (so named for its address in London -- thanks Shiver) was preparing a promotional campaign to celebrate its first birthday, and Mr. Hendrix was our contact with the advertising company contracted to help us with our promotional materials. All that we needed before we would send them the $75,000 down payment was instructions on just how to send the money, and a sample photograph of the pending job.

Unfortunately, I haven't heard from Mr. Hendrix in awhile, so I decided to send him an email asking if everything was okay. Unfortunately, instead of directing it to Mr. Hendrix, I accidentally sent it to ... oh, just about every scammer email address currently in my scamtrap mailbox (over 200). Now just how did that happen?




Dear Mr. Hendirx,

I just wanted to confirm our order with you for the production of the promotional photographs for the promotion of our resturaunt's birthday. We normally do not do business with overseas clients such as yourself, but you have come hightly recommended.

We are wanting promotional pictures to celebrate the anniversary of our resturaunt, the 419 Eater. We have read your pricing requirements, and we have agreed to pay you your requested fee of $75,000 (Seventy-Five Thousand Dollars Only), which we will remit to you once you provide us with the preliminary photographs that we have specified.

Please let us know how to remit this payment to you when you are ready to receive it.

Also, did you receive my previous email, wherein I stated what I wanted within the preliminary photographs? I was having problems with my mail account. Let me know if you need me to send you those details again, and once you have made and showed me the preliminary photographs, I will be prepared to offer you the promised $75,000 fee for the professional campaign.

Thanks,
Michael

Lead Manager, 419eater Resturaunt
419 to 420 Seven Oaks Way
Burton-On-Trent
Stretford
London W4
http://419eater.co.uk



Simple enough? I was concerned that $75,000 might be a little over the top for a lad who has to pretend to be someone else rather than directly scamming it out of me, but I wanted to offer incentive for them to give me the goods. I also deliberately avoided giving the picture description in the initial email because I wanted to add a little depth to the deal by making the scammer ask for it specifically. Doing this would let me reply to them right away and make them believe that I had fallen for their hijacking of my business deal. Of course when replying to their request for the picture description, I was courteous and apologetic, assuming responsibility for the delay in communication, and I did provide them with a description of exactly what I wanted.



Dear Mr. Hendrix,

Thanks for letting me know that you still needed this. I thought that I'd sent it to you before, but I must have forgotten.

What we want is a picture of a group of people who are celebrating the birthday of our food company. And, we also want special recognition for our very popular spicy fish product "burning lad".

What we want, specifically, is a group of people celebrating our company's birthday, with a banner in the background that reads "HAPPY BIRTHDAY 419EATER". Also, one of the people in the picture needs to hold a sign that reads "BURNING LADS SINCE 2003". I would like to have about 10 people in the picture, though I will happily pay an extra $1000 if you can get 15 people in the picture and another $1000 if you can get 20 people total in the picture. Make sure that the signs are very clear in the pictures though.

Once you get a preliminary picture of it, send it to me, and I will prepare to send you the $75,000 for the full-size project, or if you have a picture with 15 people in it I will send you $76,000, or I will send you $77,000 for a picture with twenty people in it.

Let me know when you think that you can have it ready. Thanks,
Michael



Pretty clear, in my opinion, and even offering incentive for a larger group shot by waving more pretend cash in front of the scammer's nose. The "burning lads" bit was a bit silly, I admit, but I figured that if a scammer was dumb enough to fall for the overall scheme, the extra blurb wasn't going to set off any warning bells.

I received a lot of responses. I received quite a few people replying to the first one with a request for the photo description, which led me to send them the second one. I received a few people asking what the hell I was doing. I informed them that I was attempting to reach a Mr. Hendrix, and asked if they knew who he was (reiterating the $75,000 deal in an attempt to possibly get the slower mugus to catch on and start up an impersonation routine). One guy actually tried to draw me into the default scripted scam, but I wasn't about to waste my time on it when I had a specific goal in mind (though he did send me a scanned deposit slip from Ninja Security, and I got a laugh from that).

A few of the impersonaters asked for money up front. Typically it was just a percentage; one wanted $5000 and another wanted 20%. Naturally I replied that we had originally ade a deal where I would receive the photographs first and that if they were going to suddenly change the arrangement at the last minute, I would take my business (and my $75,000) elsewhere. Most twigged. One, however, did not.

Meet Williams Joe, who despite calling himself "HENDRIX" still kept the wrong name on the From: header of his emails. Fortunately I never noticed. Some might find it strange that he replied to the inital email that I sent out with the claim that he'd received the picture descriptions...since I know for a fact that I never sent it to him.



From: williams joe From: Williams Joe
To: Michael Thomas
Date: Sat, 11 Sep 2004 08:32:27 -0500
Subject: PREMILINARY PHOTOGRAHS IS READY FOR DELIVERY.


HELLO Michael,

I RECEIVE YOUR MAIL I COULD HAVE REPLY YOU SINCE BUT I WAS OUT OF OFFICE FOR SOME OFFICIAL ASSIGNMENT, SORRY FOR LATE REPLY.

SECONDLY I WANT TO LET YOU KNOW THAT I RECEIVE YOUR LAST SAYING WHAT YOU WANTED WITHIN THE PREMILINARY PHOTOGRAHS I WANT TO LET YOU KNOW THAT IT IS READY.

BUT WILL LIKE YOU TO MAKE THIS PAYMENT INTO THE FOLLOWING ACCOUNT.

EMIRATE BANK INTERNATIONAL DUBAI.

BRANCH SWIFT CODE: EBILAEAD.

ACCOUNT NUMBER : 0022441717001.

BENEFICIARY: FAITH COMMERCIAL BROKER.


GET BACK TO ME AS SOON AS YOU MAKE THIS PAYMENT, AND IMMEDIATELY WE RECEIVE YOUR PAYMENT WILL SEND DOWN THEPREMILINARY PHOTOGRAHS TO YOU.

BEST REGARDS.

HENDIRX.



Now wait a minute! I specifically stated previously that we would only be paying the $75,000 AFTER we received the preliminary photographs! A strongly-worded response is clearly in order!



From: Michael Thomas
To: Williams Joe (aka HENDRIX)
Subject: Re: PREMILINARY PHOTOGRAHS IS READY FOR DELIVERY.


Dear Mr. Hendrix,

I am confused. You said that you have the preliminary photographs ready for me, but you did not attach them to the email?

Now you are asking me to send you money? You told me beforehand that the preliminary photographs be sent to me as email attachment BEFORE I would have to send you any money. I am not going to let you go back on your word. You told me that you would take preliminary rough photographs, send them to me for approval, and only then would I have to submit to you the $75,000 for the professional promotional material.

If you are going to suddenly demand money up front, then I will take my business and my $75,000 elsewhere.

Thanks,
Michael



At this point, I have little hope that Williams Joe will be anything more than a few messages bugging me for cash in my inbox. Soon after my inital complaint about his duplicity, however, I recieve his explanation for this strange turn of events.



From: Williams Joe
To: Michael Thomas
Subject: EVERYTHING IS IN ORDER.


DEAR MR. MIcHAEL,


I RECIEVE YOUR E-MAIL AND I REALLY UNDERSTAND YOU, LIKE I PROMISE YOU BEFORE THAT THE PRELIMINARY PHOTOGRAPHS WILL BE SENT TO YOU AS E-MAIL ATTACHMENT BEFORE YOU HAVE TO SEND ME THE MONEY BUT NOT THAT I WANT TO GO BACK ON MY WORD BUT THE PROBLEM IS THAT MY SYSTEM HERE IN MY OFFICE CAN NOT ATTACHED AND THE PROFESSIONAL PROMOTIONAL MATERIALS HAVE BEEN ORDER FOR.

I WILL LIKE TO ADVISE YOU THAT YOU SHOULD TRY AND MAKE THIS PAYMENT BEFORE THE DAY BECAUSE THE PROFESSIONAL WILL START WORKING ON IT IMMEDIATELY WE RECEIVE THE PAYMENT.

I WILL LIKE TO APOLOGISE FOR THE DISSAPOINTMENT OF NOT FULLFILLING THE PROMISE OF ATTACHING THE PRELIMINARY PHOTOGRAHPS LIKE I SAID BEFORE, IT IS BECAUSE OF MY SYSTEM HERE IN MY OFFICE CAN NOT ATTACHED.

I AM ASSURING YOU THAT EVERYTHING IS IN ORDER THERE IS NO PROBLEM AT ALL.


GET BACK TO ME AS SOON AS YOU ARE READY FOR THE PAYMENT.


BEST REGARDS.

HENDRIX.



Oh, I see. So we ordered from a company who PROMISED us a sample photo before any payments would be made, but they have to go back on their word because his office was never capable of providing what we were promised in the first place. That's acceptable -- NOT!

If HENDRIX's office system can not "ATTACHED", then he's going to find another means of fulfilling his obligation or I'm taking my business elsewhere.



From: Michael Thomas
To: Williams Joe
Subject: RE: EVERYTHING IS IN ORDER.

Dear Mr. Hendrix,

I am standing firm on this. I will not send money to you before I have a sample of what is to be given to me. You promised me from the beginning that before I sent you any money you would send me, as an email attachment, an early preliminary photograph based upon the description that I sent to you.

If you cannot fulfil that very simple, professional request, then I do not know why I would want to do business with you. If you are going to insist that I send you money before you even show me what I am to recieve, then I will simply take my business and my $75,000 elsewhere.

If you wish to do business like a professional, and fulfil the original promises that you made to me, then I will require that you submit to me the photographs that match the description that I have set forth no later than September 17. Otherwise, I will seek a more professional company that is not going to demand that I send them money before providing me with something as simple as a sample picture.

Just to make sure that you know what I want in the preliminary photograph, I will attach to you the email that I thought that I had sent earlier.

------ Begin Attached Message ------ [this is just the same text as with the second email that I sent out for the photo descriptions]



Okay, this was just a quick 'stop screwing with me' mail. I honestly didn't expect it to go any further, especially given previous experience along the same means.

So suddenly, I get this



From: williams joe
To: Michael Thomas
Subject: AM SENDING YOU A SAMPLE BY TOMORROW.


HELLO MICHAEL,

I RECIEVE YOUR MAIL THAT WE ARE TO SEND YOU A SAMPLE OF THE PRELIMINARY PHOTOGRAHP AND I PROMISE TO SEND IT BY TOMORROW.

BEST REGARDS
HENDRIX .



Woah! Could I have struck gold at last? I let my pet know that I have received his response and give him another good whiff of the cash



From: Michael Thomas
To: williams joe
Subject: Re: AM SENDING YOU A SAMPLE BY TOMORROW.

Dear Mr. Hendrix,

Thank you for informing me of this development. I have contacted my bank in perparation for making the money transfer as you have directed. As soon as I received the preliminary picture, I will authorize the transfer.

Currently I am planning to transfer the money into the account that you have directed. If there are any changes that you need to note, please let me know.

EMIRATE BANK INTERNATIONAL DUBAI.
BRANCH SWIFT CODE: EBILAEAD.
ACCOUNT NUMBER : 0022441717001.
BENEFICIARY: FAITH COMMERCIAL BROKER.

Thanks,
Michael



Okay, I admit, I have some skepticism. But sure enough, the next day, I have a new email with an attachment. Elation! Which quickly turned to frustration. Well, not really. I'd started without any real expectation of success, so I wasn't that let down by this pathetic attempt at a fake.



From: williams joe
To: Michael Thomas
Date: Wed, 15 Sep 2004 05:26:47 -0500 Subject: HERE IS THE SAMPLE OF THE PRELIMINARY PHOTOGRPH AS YOU REQUESTED.


HELLO MICHAEL,

SORRY FOR THE DELAY DUE TO SOME DEVELOPMENT IN OUR OFFICE THAT IS WHAT MAKE ME NOT TO SEND IT YESTERDAY.

AND AGAIN I WILL LIKE YOU TO SEND ME THE CONFIRMATION OF THE TRANSACTION IMMEDIATELY YOU ARE THROUGH WITH THE TRANSFER OF THE FUND INTO THE ACCOUNT GIVEN TO YOU.

SEE ATTACHED BELOW A COPY OF THE PRELIMINARY PHOTOGRAPH OF THE SAMPLE YOU REQUESTED FOR.

GET BACK TO ME AS SOON AS POSSIBLE YOU RECIEVE THIS MAIL.

BEST REGARDS.

HENDRIX.

[And what does he have to show for it? For what is he expecting a $75,000 payment? Nothing more than this atrocity]





So it's an obvious fake, and I suspect that I'm not going to get a real effort out of this boy (and since it's only 3 days before the deadline, I've little hope of scoring a successful entry), but I want him to know that even though I don't notice any problem with his emails coming from "Williams Joe" when he's supposed to be "HENDRIX", I'm not stupid. Which is why I accidentally addressed him as "Mr. Joe" in the email. Oops!



From: Michael Thomas
To: williams joe
Date: Wed, 15 Sep 2004 12:58:08 -0400
Subject: Re: HERE IS THE SAMPLE OF THE PRELIMINARY PHOTOGRPH AS YOU REQUESTED.


Dear Mr. Joe,

I believe that there has been a misunderstanding here. You very clearly stated when we first started doing business that you would organize an actual photo shoot -- that is, you would find a group of people and put them in a room and have a real sign and a real banner, and all of that.

The image that you have sent me is very clearly and old photograph where you have pasted text into it. That is not acceptable. I will not stand for ugly mock-ups, our deal was that you would have a real photograph taken matching my specifications.

If you wish to do business with me, and if you wish for me to actually send you the $75000, you will follow my instructions properly.

Thanks,
Michael



Again, expecting the scammer to twig and be gone. Nope. Persistent little bugger. Soon after my little slap, I get this



From: williams joe
To: Michael Thomas
Date: Wed, 15 Sep 2004 14:34:35 -0500
Subject: I PROMISE TO CORRECT THE MISTAKES.


HELLO MICHAEL,

I RECEIVE YOUR MAIL AND I REALLY NOW UNDERSTAND YOU BETTER.
BUT I WANT YOU TO CONSIDER SOMETHINGS WE HAVE GONE ALOT ON THIS WORK BY ODERING FOR PROFESSIONAL MATERIALS SO I PROMISE TO MAKE THE CHANGES THAT YOU ASK ME TO DO BUT YOU HAVE TO GIVE ME THE GRACE OF 2DAYS TO MAKE THIS CORRECTION.


BEST REGARDS.

HENDRIX.



Two days? The deadline for entries is on the 18th. I can give him two days, but not much more. So I give him what he wants and I even offer some leeway, but I make sure that he knows the rules. At this point, after he's been pestering me so long, getting a trophy isn't about entering a contest, it's a matter of honor.



From: Michael Thomas
To: williams joe
Date: Wed, 15 Sep 2004 17:01:05 -0400
Subject: Re: I PROMISE TO CORRECT THE MISTAKES.


Dear Mr. Hendrix,

As I have said, I am getting a bit exasperated with these dealings. My assistant looked at the picture that you sent and said that I should seek another company right away. However, I was told before contacting you that you are a reputable company, and so I am willing to give you another chance here.

You say that you need two days? Well, I need a preliminary image by September 18. That gives you a little bit more than two days.

I understand that perhaps the description for the photograph came to you a bit late because of technical problems. Okay. I can make some small allowance for that. I said that I wanted a minimum of ten people in the picture. If you are unable to gather ten people in such a short period of time, I will accept a photograph with fewer than ten people. I only ask that you manage to show a small crowd (the larger the better, but again I understand if you cannot find a large number of people to pose in such a short time), and that there is a clear sign or banner that reads "HAPPY BIRTHDAY 419EATER" and another sign or banner that reads "BURNING LADS SINCE 2003", and that the image be completely real. That is, you must have a photograph with real people and real signs, not a photograph of people where you paste in words to make it look like there are signs there. If I wanted that kind of a picture, I could make it myself on my computer.

If you can fulfil the photograph requirements, then I will go ahead and show my trust in your company and my trust that you can come up with the promotional posters that I desire with the full down payment of $75,000 to the bank account that you have specified. However, as I said before, I must have this by September 18, or I will have no choice but to make other arrangements.

Thanks,
Michael




I'm not really expecting much, if anything from this guy. He asked for money up front, then came up with an insultingly bad fake. I'm really just expecting to give this guy a good slapping after he fails me for the last time. I give him his two days, however, and I check my inbox on Thursday morning. I check it, expecting to be disappointed.



From: williams joe
To: Michael Thomas
Date: Fri, 17 Sep 2004 10:15:25 -0500
Subject: HERE IS THE CORRECTION OF THE PRELIMINARY PHOTOGRAPH SAMPLE.


HELLO MR. MICHAEL,


WE ARE HERE TO FULLFILL OUR PROMISE CONCERNING THE CORRECTION OF THE PRELIMINARY PHOTOGRAPH SAMPLE WHICH YOU REQUESTED FOR AT THE FIRST INSTANTCE AND WE HAVE COME TO CONCLUSION OF THE CORRECTION NOW.

I WANT YOU TO UNDERSTAND THAT THE PROJECT AS BEEN EXQUITED IMMEDIATELY SO WE ARE WAITING FOR YOUR HONOURABLE RESPOND TOWARDS THIS PROJECT.

I WILL LIKE YOU TO SEND ME A COPY OF CONFIRMATION IMMEDIATELY THE FINISH WITH THE TRANSFER OF THE PAYMENT.

SEE ATTACHEDS BELOW TWO COPIES OF THE PRELIMINARY PHOTOGRAPH SAMPLE.


GET BACK TO ME AS SOON AS YOU RECEIVE THIS MESSAGE.

BEST REGARDS.

HENDRIX.

[And what do I find attached? Not one, but TWO low-quality, low-resolution but REAL looking pictures!]





The shock of actually receiving anything real, much less so elaborate, almost made me forgive the incredibly low quality of the scan. Almost. After I put the pics up as my contest entry, I sent a little note back asking if he couldn't possibly send me something a little larger.



From: Michael Thomas
To: williams joe
Date: Fri, 17 Sep 2004 14:35:39 -0400
Subject: Re: HERE IS THE CORRECTION OF THE PRELIMINARY PHOTOGRAPH SAMPLE.


Dear Mr. Hendrix,

The pictures that you have sent look quite suitable, though my manager has one slight problem. Is it possible for you to send me a higher resolution scan of those same pictures? I know that the file sizes would be larger, but I do not mind that.

If I can get a higher quality scan of those same pictures before the end of the day today, I will have no trouble convincing my manager to authorize immedate payment to you. Otherwise, as they are, I will have to wait for the regional director to see them as well. I have absolutely no doubt that he will approve, but it means that I won't be able to get payment to you until Monday, and that will only slow things down for all of us.



So, will Mr. Hendrix come through, or have I gotten all that I can from him? Turns out, Mr. Hendrix is willing to do anything I ask for his money...



From: williams joe
To: Michael Thomas
Date: Fri, 17 Sep 2004 14:42:27 -0500
Subject: I WILL SEND YOU THE LARGER SIZE BY TOMOROW.


HELLO MR.MICHAEL,

I RECEIVE YOUR MESSAGE LATER TODAY BUT I WILL LIKE TO INFORM YOU THAT I HAVE BEEN FACING SOME PROBLEM TOWARDS THIS PROJECT I DON'T WANT YOU TO DISSPOINT AT ALL AND I ALSO WANT YOU TO KEEP TO YOUR WORDS.

CONCERNING THE LAGER SIZE WHICH YOU DEMANDED FOR I WILL MAKE SURE THAT I SEND IT BY TOMORROW MORNING JUST BELIEVE IN ME.

I WANT YOU TO TRY AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE TO MAKE THE TRANSFER OF THE PAYMENT AS EARLY AS POSSIBLE SO THAT WE CAN MAKE ORDER FOR THE PROFESSIONAL MATERIALS.


BEST REGARDS.


HENDRIX. --



So it looks like I'm to expect a nice new set of scans on the following day. Just to make sure that Mr. Hendrix knows that I'm serious about paying him the $75,000, I send him a little encouragement.



From: Michael Thomas
To: williams joe
Date: Fri, 17 Sep 2004 15:49:03 -0400
Subject: Re: I WILL SEND YOU THE LARGER SIZE BY TOMOROW.


Dear Mr. Hendrix,

I do apologize for this complication. If it were entirely up to me, I would have the money to you already. Unfortunately, my manager here is concerned about the appearance of the pictures because of the low scanning resolution. He is not very well-experienced with computers, so even though I have told him that the completed project will look just fine, he wants to see a better scan of the pictures that you have sent.

I have already contacted our bank regarding the money transfer to you. I just need my manager's approval to push it through and I can guarantee that once he sees a higher resolution scan of the pictures he will approve it.

Fortunately, our bank is open tomorrow, so I will be able to initiate the transfer tomorrow if you are unable to send them by then. However, their banking hours are shorter, so I urge you to try to get them as quickly as possible so that I can authorize the transfer before they close.

Thanks,
Michael



So now I wait and see if Mr. Jo...er, Mr. Hendrix comes through. And he does. Sort of. The scan is bigger, and more can be made out, but he still uses awful JPEG compression.



From: williams joe
To: Michael Thomas
Date: Sat, 18 Sep 2004 11:26:49 -0500
Subject: HERE IS THE LARGER SIZE OF THE PRENIMILARY PHOTOGRAPH.



HELLO MR. MICHAEL,


HERE IS THE LARGE SIZE OF THE PREMINILARY PHOTOGRAPH.

KINDLY SEND ME THE PAYMENT SLIPT CONFIRMATION IMMEDIATELY YOU MAKE THE PAYMENT.

SEE ATTACHEDS BELOW COPIES OF THE PHOTOGRAPH.

BEST REGARDS.

HENDRIX.

-- [The images are rather large, so I'll link to them rather than putting them up outright. The first one and the second one]



Success. Two big pictures.

From there I thought that I was done, and I'd planned on killing the bait, but then I realised that I had nothing to lose by making further requests. The bait is still ongoing, and time will tell what else I can get, but thus far I've gotten two new scans of both picture 1 and of picture 2 I'll make further updates as the bait progress, or when it dies, which might be soon if my next rather extreme suggestion results in a twigging.