Nigerian scammers slide into DMs, so Ars trolls them

Super-sketchy social media request.

Enlarge / The heartbreak of being blocked by a romance scammer. The joy of burning an account used in a criminal operation.

I’ve got a history with Internet scammers. I’ve spent hours on the phone with tech support scammers, and I’ve hunted down bot networks spreading fake news. But for some reason, I’ve lately become a magnet for an entirely different sort of scammer—a kind that uses social media platforms to run large-scale wire-fraud scams and other confidence games. Based on anecdotal evidence, Twitter has become their favorite platform for luring in suckers.

Recently, Twitter’s security team has been tracking a large amount of fraudulent activity coming out of Africa, including “romance schemes”—wherein the fraudster uses an emotional appeal of friendship or promised romance to lure a victim into a scam. Thousands of accounts involved in the ongoing campaign have been suspended. But that has hardly put a dent in the efforts of scammers, who move on to set up new accounts and run new scams. And there are dozens of other fraud games being played out on Twitter and other platforms.

I’ve been gathering anecdotal data from a number of such accounts as they’ve attempted to prepare me for a lure. They follow a fairly easy-to-spot pattern for anyone who has tracked identity scams. But the scale of these efforts goes far beyond what you’d expect from what are (to those in the know) recognizable cons. This suggests that there’s a high level of sophistication to this latest wave of fakers.

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