Why people are trolling their spam texts
I did not respond, but many others who received similar texts have. Some even send hilarious messages to frustrate the spammers and spin wild stories. They are using snark to retaliate and sometimes posting screenshots of their conversations online.
Spam texts are on the rise. This is reflected in the increase in people who are using “scambaiting” to counter the phenomenon, says Jack Whittaker, a sociology PhD student at the University of Surrey. Experts say that responding to spam messages is counterproductive as it opens up a person to more spam texts.
Spam texts seeking to scam their recipients into giving up valuable information are not new. Email chain letters were used to send digital spam in the beginning. The most well-known example was for scams in Nigeria where a person pretending to be a prince of Nigeria requested the receiver’s assistance in depositing large amounts of money.
Once smartphones were more common, scammers moved to texting. And in 2022, spam texts are much more personal. They may mimic a misdirected message, such as addressing the receiver with the wrong name or using a generic line (“How’s the going?” or “I had fun tonight!”) to prompt a reply.
If you have received any of these messages recently, you are not alone. “There has been an amazing spike in spam texts,” J. Michael Skiba, a Colorado State University professor who specializes in cybercrime. Globally, 90 billion of them were sent last year, he says; in the US, 47 billion spam texts were sent from January to October 2021, up 55% from that same period in 2020. According to RoboKiller, a spam blocking firm, scam texts led to $86 million in losses in the US alone in 2020. Skiba states that people are being bombarded with these.
Skiba believes texting has many advantages over email. A note sent from a phone number raises suspicion less than one sent from an unknown email address. Also, texting is casual and makes grammar errors less obvious. Many people feel the urge to reply to a text. Skiba says, “It’s psychological trick in the sense that you know the text’s error, but it appeals deeply to your desire to help. The person on the other end is most likely working in a call centre with a group of scammers and hoping that you will say exactly what they want. A scammer can verify a phone number by getting one response. This response can cause a domino effect, which could lead to more spam texts being sent to your phone. Scammers want to verify your number in order to sell it to others. Getting your personal information is a nice bonus.
“I would 100% recommend not responding at all,” Skiba says.
But a scroll through Twitter, Reddit, Instagram, and TikTok shows that people aren’t taking that advice. Many are instead engaging with spammers and posting their conversations for all to see.
Gabriel Bosslet is an associate professor in medicine in Indianapolis. He decided to play with a spammer by sending out increasingly bizarre replies. He’s been doing this kind of thing since the early 2000s, when he started writing back to mysterious emails that were clearly Nigerian prince scams. Bosslet begins to troll, inventing bizarre stories and characters once it becomes clear that he is corresponding with a fraudster. He says, “None of it’s true.” “I just make it all up.”
Asked what his goal is in these conversations, Bosslet says it’s just to connect and interact with a stranger. He brings up the example of Wanda Dench, a grandmother who accidentally texted then-17-year-old Jamal Hinton an invitation to Thanksgiving dinner that has turned into a sweet annual tradition. He says, “I know that’s very odd, but that’s okay. I am open to any kind of interaction like this.”
Jason Tanamor is an author from Portland, Oregon. He has also started to text spammers back. He isn’t trying reform anyone, just like Bosslet. Tanamor said, “I just try and get them to say deez nuts’ because that makes me giggle.” He finds chatting up spammers to be fun. If he has the time, he tries to keep it going as long as possible.
Neither Bosslet nor Tanamor was aware that answering spam texts probably verified their number, allowing their spammers to sell it to other spammers–resulting in even more spam texts. They don’t care. They see messaging back with outrageous jokes as a form entertainment. Both expressed empathy for those on the other end of the phone.
But others take a more violent approach. Whittaker from the University of Surrey claims that some people have taken scambaiting further by joining online forums where they make elaborate hoaxes in order to trap the perpetrators. He warns that this can be dangerous. He says that scamming can also involve hacking into the computer of an offender as a form public entertainment. This is problematic as it could expose people’s private information and it’s illegal, despite what scammers may claim.
Whittaker cites Jim Browning, the alias of a YouTuber and software engineer who has used scambaiting to delete stolen files from call centers involved in spam texts. Others have also been exposed by Browning, who retaliated by making false crime reports to call out law enforcement and luring them into dangerous locations.
Scambaiting can be quite extreme,” Whittaker states. “Scammers also learn quickly to these tactics, so wasting an offender’s time .” can actually teach them to be more aware of their efforts to waste their time It’s a dilemma to people who play with a scammer. Even if it’s a rebellion against modern intrusions, it can be satisfying. However, it can be expensive in terms of the time required and the risk of triggering a flood of spam texts. This could put scambaiters at risk of financial or even personal ruin if they fall for them. The US Federal Trade Commission and consumer advocates tried to fight back with Do Not Call registryies and efforts stop spam text at the network ,, but spammers are constantly innovating their strategies to circumvent these laws. That can make it feel as though there’s only one way to handle the frustrating situation: with a joke about “deez nuts.”
I’m a journalist who specializes in investigative reporting and writing. I have written for the New York Times and other publications.