noveltyaccount
Related. I listed something for sale on Craigslist recently and got a bunch of messages right away that asked obvious questions that were in the listing. One suggested that his wife pick it up, and can I take Zelle? Went silent when I said cash only.

But the most interesting scammer said: "for my safety, can I send you a 6-digit number, and you confirm it, so I know the listing is not fake?" I say yes, unsure what the scam was going to be, but sure it was a scam. Moments later I got an SMS from Google Voice asking me to verify my phone number. Mofo tried to steal my number, presumably to use it to scam other people. I was pissed and impressed.

chefandy
For a while I grew quite fond of wasting phone scammers time. I’d pick up, talk suuuuuuper slowly— like Emo Phillips speed at one syllable every one or two seconds— interrupt with irrelevant questions or anecdotes, and overall just see how long I could keep them on the phone without giving them any information. The best strategy I found was telling them that, yes indeed I did remember owing the IRS or whoever money and I could pay them however and insisting that first they needed to take down my new email address… I’d just start spelling random words incredibly slowly, say I messed up and start over, ask if they needed my checking account number to keep them engaged and then start spelling my email address again. They prey on intellectually disabled folks so pantomiming a stereotypical version of that wastes a ton of time while keeping their interest. Got boring after a while but I got pretty good at it.
avalys
Wow, how interesting. I started getting these a few months ago, right after starting a new job in a somewhat high-profile area. I have been getting 1-2 per month but found them quite unusual because none of them ever progressed to an actual scam - just a few messages back and forth about the fabricated "wrong number" situation and then each thread would stop, seemingly earnestly.

Since there was no obvious scam, I've been wondering what the motivation for these was, and actually started worrying about whether someone might be trying to compromise my phone via some yet-undisclosed SMS exploit - why else would there be a systematic effort to get me to spend time exchanging a few pointless messages around the "wrong number" pretext that otherwise went nowhere?

I tried calling the senders by phone and found they were all Google Voice numbers, which eliminated the possibility that some actual rich guy had innocuously ended up with a number similar to mine.

I asked a few friends and no one else was experiencing the same thing. Glad to hear it's not just me.

d--b
This always reminds me of some dudes in France who decided to counter attack the scammers. They basically steer the conversation off-script to something more tempting to the scammers, and then make them do stupid things. Like "I am sorry there is nothing I can do for you, but while you're here, we're looking for some partnership to develop a new NGO in Benin". And then it turns out the NGO is called the "Sauerkraut brotherhood", and in order to get the funds, you need to join the brotherhood, and send videos of you and your family singing an anthem praising sauerkraut while being dressed up in "traditional clothes". These threads could go for months.

http://didoune.fr/blog/2012/03/08/les-croque-escrocs-et-la-c...

ctoth
Terrified to consider what happens when these scammers get hold of large language models here in a year or so. Rather than fading into the background as this article posits, I expect people to have models finetuned on convincing them to make purchases/send money. Probably trained by being pitted against other models which have been trained on the mark's social media feeds. Train the scambot to perfectly push your buttons by having it practice against your own style of thought as embodied by your social corpus.
Animats
In this case, the victim deposited the money into a fake crypto platform that told him his investments were performing well, presumably to entice him to deposit even more. Of course, once he tried to withdraw the money, he found he was unable to.

That sounds just like the "binary option" business which used to be run out of Israel. The Times of Israel blew that apart with "The Wolves of Tel Aviv" investigation series.[1] The binary option companies would hire new immigrants to Israel and put them in a call center to cold call and sell binary options sold by fake brokerages. The companies wanted people who spoke a foreign language so they could sell in that language. Scamming people outside Israel was legal in Israel at the time.

When, after years of scams, the State of Israel finally made that illegal, some of the binary options scammers moved into crypto. (Others moved to Bulgaria, where binary options were legal until a crackdown in 2021.) But the pattern is the same. Cold-contact, make friends, get people to invest in a fake brokerage, provide fake statements showing a win, refuse withdrawals.

[1] https://www.timesofisrael.com/the-wolves-of-tel-aviv-israels...

muststopmyths
I got one of these, almost convincing enough except she said she lived in SF. I asked where in SF and she said Alcatraz. I almost wanted to keep the conversation going just to hear more about her life on the island
johnklos
Simple: it's time to stop using phone numbers.

I use Apple's Messages. If someone spams me, I report them. They're blocked and have to go through the extra work of setting up a new account to try again.

Compare this with, say, Google. Gmail lets spammers / scammers have limitless accounts and they don't do shit when an account is reported for spam. You can block and report Gmail spammers all day long and you'll get nowhere.

WhatsApp apparently still uses phone numbers, and they're owned by a company that wants engagement at ANY price. Are any of us really so dumb that we think they're going to do the right thing?

Wariith
I have received the exact scam on whatsapp. What the hell??

They claimed to be a banker (following the exact format from the exmaples in the blog) and I genuinely thought that they were a real person but even after I told them that they are texting the wrong number they kept forcing the conversation so I blocked them. A couple of months later they texted from another number but a different name but they continued the conversation from where we last left off.

Crazy reading the article now. I would have been devastated if I fell for it. I am usually very good at spotting scams.

cdelsolar
I basically just send them all a big copy-pasta full of banned Chinese terms like 6/4, Free Tibet, Tiananmen Square, Winnie the Pooh, etc; they often leave me alone after that or act confused
sdfhdhjdw3
I swear, the moment I read "acquaintance is fate" I thought: This person is Chinese.
jonfromsf
These are "pig butchering scams" run out of China. https://www.rrstar.com/story/business/2022/04/30/new-pig-but...

They befriend lonely people (usually men) and slowly draw them into a crypto scam. It's a long con, takes a few months.

teeray
I love trolling these scammers by being the right number they never expected. One time I had one looking for a price list on precious materials. I sent them prices for Adamantium, Tiberium, and Xen crystal. The confusion was fantastic.
musesum
South African YouTuber with Chinese wife, and thus knows the language, plays along: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CZ_flb9tGuc
RajT88
I had one of these exchanges recently which I had some fun with, because it was so weird, and they made a point to use a photo of a beautiful woman:

Lady: Doctor Lucy? My puppy is very slow and does not eat dog food, can you make an appointment for me?

Me: Unfortunately I do not treat puppies. Only adult dogs, adolescent foxes, and elderly coyotes.

Lady: Sorry, I added the wrong person, I just checked the number and I saved the wrong number for Dr. Lucy.

I left it at that. I wonder if I should try and bait the scammer. I do love messing with scammers. After the last message I was thinking maybe it was legitimately a wrong number.

spbaar
I've been a bit unemployed and bored so I've responded to a few of these to see what the angle is. There are also a bunch on telegram. Strangely, most do not push hard at all and drop off. They may mention crypto in passing but thats it. One time a scammer said hey can you help me an make an account for this crpyto scam website. When i said i did they said great and nothing else.
jesterpm
These, and the spoofed number phone calls where the other side just hangs up when you answer. For the phone calls, I just assumed that someone was trying to build a database of phone numbers that do or do not answer for some other/future purpose...
jccalhoun
Last year I got a ton of emails supposedly from different people all talking about a "Becca" that I was allegedly in a relationship with. Some would accuse me of cheating on this person, others would say she was cheating on me. I remember one was about how she had cleaned up her life and was working at Arbys.

Like the ones in this story, none of them ever had links or asked me for anything. I never interacted with them. They were kind of interesting at first but after a while I blocked the emails.

I can only guess that this kind of long game scam is what was happening.

someweirdperson
I've got an idea how to improve the scams. Instead of trying to communicate with the victim directly, create a group chat of fake accounts, with the victim added. The fake accounts can share information, and because this is information is shared between subjects obviously trusting eachother, the victim is very likely to believe it.

The effort is higher (multiple accounts needed), but for some high-value targets might be an alternative to other scams.

Does this kind of scam exist yet? Can I file a patent, and sue scammers applying it?

walrus01
I am ordinarily loathe to link to reddit, but

https://reddit.com/r/scams

has a wealth of information and examples of these

dinvlad
Mine arrive mostly to Whatsapp, but there's no technical way to auto-block unknown numbers. I feel like such a simple control would solve the problem in majority of such cases.
tomc1985
It's an attempt at the 'pig-butchering' scam, they act friendly to get you hooked and then claim to teach you how to trade bitcoin. From what I remember reading it was a popular fraud in mainland China but they are branching out internationally because locals are getting wise to it and it is not widely known worldwide.

In my experience and in the other descriptions I've read, it is always a woman business owner from Asia, acts somewhat friendly and flirty, will talk about life with you in a very superficial way for a while in order to build a relationship. After a while they hit you with... a crypto scam or something? Like teaching you how to trade bitcoin but using some shady weird exchange that makes off with your money when you fund your account.

https://myclevertrust.com/post/34/2021-07-06-sha-zhu-pan-the...

https://www.reddit.com/r/Scams/comments/na8oax/asian_guygirl...

tjbiddle
Sooo happy that someone did the research and write-up on this. I get a handful of these every week and I've been dying of curiosity. Tried stringing them along but could never figure out the end-game.

Now - can someone answer why I get 10 calls a day with no one on the other end? Either I pick-up and it's empty and the call ends a few seconds later, or they leave a 7 second voicemail of nothing.

gautamdivgi
The article talks of WhatsApp, but I have received these weird messages via iMessage on my iPhone as well. I'm not sure if that's because I have a really old iPhone (iPhone 6). I generally block these numbers.

It would be good if iMessage could create a "fraud/spam" marking for a message/contact similar to what email has today. WhatsApp seems to have a "report" button. fwiw - I have received more weird texts on iMessage and very little on WhatsApp.

I've also noticed that these scammers may have access to data from other sources as well. I'm moving at the moment and out of the blue receive a call asking me if I have a house to sell. I just said no and cut the call. But there is most likely a massive data gathering operation behind the scenes as well.

microtherion
the victim deposited the money into a fake crypto platform that told him his investments were performing well, presumably to entice him to deposit even more. Of course, once he tried to withdraw the money, he found he was unable to.

And how exactly does this differ from a REAL crypto platform?

al_borland
Thank you!

I've been wondering what the scam was. I've gotten 3 of these so far. I've received actual wrong number texts in the past, so I want to let the person know they got the wrong number and aren't getting ghosted by their friend. But they just keep texting back, which is really weird.

With the first one I didn't know what was going on the person said they just moved to the country, which is plausible, so I didn't want to be a jerk, but when she asked for my name I stopped replying. When the 2nd one came with with the same pattern it was clear there was some kind of scam going on, but I couldn't for the life of me figure out what it could be, as they weren't asking for anything.

mcswell
I get phone calls like this, asking for some non-existent person. When I tell them there's no such person, they say "I'm from the police benevolent association..." I hang up at that point.
GnarfGnarf
For a collection of brilliant, witty, hysterically funny reverse scams, check out http://www.scamorama.com/

Like the scammer who was persuaded to greet a planeload of passengers debarking from a Helsinki flight, with a big sign that said "I will blow you" in Finnish (https://www.scamorama.com/smurf.html)

theogravity
I've had two friends that fell to a pig butchering scam, and lost thousands. One was from a dating app (maybe romance scam than pig butchering?), another was via a foreign student in an online class the friend was taking. In both cases, fake / scam crypto sites were involved.

The only way to help with this is education - maybe we need a course on online scams that kids need to take to graduate, along with personal finance.

spc476
Two weeks ago I received an email saying I had funds in Bitcoin and I could cash out, with login details for a website account [1]. I knew this must be a scam, but for the life of me, I couldn't figure out the angle. Now I'm thinking it's a similar type of scam.

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CZ_flb9tGuc

u801e
I've seen messages in Facebook comment threads where the usual approach is using short phrases like "Hi", "How are you", "I really love your posts" and some of them end with asking for a friend request (so they don't have to initiate one).

It may be a way to add a degree of positive reputation to those compromised accounts like another commenter suggested.

Waterluvian
A recent scam attempt that made me nervous about potentially being compromised:

Someone sent me a very official looking “your payment for $370 in textbooks has been approved. Here’s your reciept.”

The thing is, it came from an official PayPal email address.

In reality it was a request for money using PayPal’s official system. They just filled the title and body with text to make it resemble a receipt.

rwmj
I don't use WhatsApp (or any FB sites), but is Facebook not able to control this? Or do they make money from it somehow?
luxurytent
Not directly mentioned in this article, but the strategies shown here were exactly the ones used by the Tindler Swindler, which has a surprisingly enjoyable documentary (https://www.imdb.com/title/tt14992922/)
oldstrangers
I've gotten a few of these. I like to agree that you're the person they're trying to reach. Both times you can tell the person on the other end doesn't really have a script for that. I usually get a "oh I made a mistake" with no follow up.
_tom_
What I find mildly interesting is that different people get a different mix of scams. I only get "extended warrantee" scams. I've never seen these "wrong number" texts.

Other people get a completely different mix. I wonder how these get determined.

bee_rider
Ah, about 20 years ago I think a relative responded to a, I think it was, an "I'm here at the airport, don't see you anywhere" kind of email. This was before spam filters got good, so that email address was basically kaput.
water8
The lowest of the low are the people that take advantage of people in a bad situation
EchoReflection
I've (sadly) wasted so much of my life chatting with these people.
lxe
Love these. I keep talking to them for days. Really pissed a few of them off.
fortran77
I still have friends and relatives who respond with “sorry! I think you have the wrong number” despite my warning turn just to delete the message and forget it. People just want to be “helpful”
homero
I fell for this! I got drawn into a conversation but I guess they didn't know what they were doing and they stopped responding. I was still suspicious and would've never sent money.
libpcap
As explained in lengthy detail by SerpentZA: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CZ_flb9tGuc
djbusby
These are a ping test. Scammers will ping a number with garbage. Live lines get kept. Could be used to pre-filter a purchased list - so the real delivery isn't wasted on dead ends.
ElijahLynn
Well researched for sure, good read as I had some of these recently too and am glad now to understand more about it.

What I do want to highlight is the deeper "why", and that is "why" are these people doing this? There must be a fundamental survival mechanism here, in a larger chain. These people may not have opportunities, the ones holding others captive. What kind of environment is needed to create this type of behavior? Surely we must address that at the core of it all. I think it comes down to basic resources, and this is where I think the vision of Jacque Fresco and The Venus Project can come into play. Which is to create a resource-based economy and evolve as a civilization to taking care of one another, it is a form of democratic socialism, which I think can solve this type of issue, and help us all be more integrated and happier.

shrubble
Useful site: unlec.com . You can look up the detailed information about a number. Includes information from the phone companies and an estimation of the fraud risk.
rickreynoldssf
If you get a text (not What's App) reply with "Do you know what happened in Tiananmen Square in 1989? Ask Winnie The Pooh, A Free Tibet or Uyghurs". That'll trigger a few Chinese monitors, or at least scare the scammers into thinking so.
sva_
So... are these actual people typing these, automated written messages, or have people finally started using language models for scams?
avipars
I think it's a bad attempt at phishing.
Fargoan
I edited the famous Goatse photo and added a raccoon peeking it's head out. I send that to scammers
_nalply
I am sure that there are people already trying to use GPT-3 or LamDA to automate scamming.
thewileyone
I got one giving condolences for someone I don't know. Seriously, WTF.
maartn
It’s LaMDA finding friends
tintor
This would be a great way to monetize GPT-3!

(this is a joke)

candace20
billsmithaustin
sr.ht