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Should you bait scammers for fun to mess with them?

You can’t be fooled, and you think keeping a scammer on the line is saving someone else, so should you keep messing with them? Turns out that could be a risk, too.

Scammers could well be the plague of internet-era junk mail conversationalists in our generation, but depending on if they call, you might also find them to be something of a bit of fun. A time waster, if you will.

Sure, they’re out to waste your time and your money, stealing chunks of each, but sometimes you might just get the idea to mess with them and waste their time. After all, you can’t be fooled, or can you?

The risk in trying to trick

There’s always a risk you could fall into the abyss of fraud, which is really what a scammer is looking for. The idea that a single detail could just make you blink twice, and think that what the scammer is suggesting is real.

Conversing with said scammer is one way to risk falling into that hole, and it’s something that is getting increasingly difficult to see the lines with.

“I think when it comes to scams, as they get more elaborate, it’s getting harder to detect,” said Tyler McGee, Head of Sales for McAfee in the Asia Pacific Region in an interview recently.

There are clearly still signs, such as a level of urgency, something scammers use with enough regularity to let you know it’s a convincing technique in their playbook. A wrong cost that desperately needs to be cancelled or a detail that puts you at risk, scammers will use anything they can to convince you that they’re the real deal, and that their legitimacy sells the package.

Sending you a message or asking you to call them back increases that feeling of legitimacy, because the scam feels less like a cold call and more like you doing something proactive to go on the defensive, but engaging in either can be problematic.

“For sure, you run a risk,” said McGee. “They’re asking you to move quickly, which stops you from thinking if this is real or is this fake.”

Having a regular chat to waste a scammer’s time puts you at risk of being fed these details, these little notes of urgency, that could make you more likely to fall for the scam than if you had just decided to hang up or not bother calling in the first place.

Once you’re in, don’t expect it to stop

One other good reason might just prevent you from trying to waste the time of scammers, and it’s handy if you value your time, or even your privacy.

Specifically, once you’ve made or accepted a call and started that conversation, you might want to expect more calls from scammers, simply because your details have been added to a list.

While scam calls are almost always a certainty in this day and age, actually connecting and conversing with a scammer can mark you down on a list, informing others that you are potentially more likely to connect than other victims.

“Once your details are in the dark web, they’re never going to leave,” said McGee. “They will be resold multiple times. This is a numbers game for them.”

A numbers game with big outcomes

And that numbers game has led to big returns for scammers in recent years.

The year 2023 is only halfway through, and the ACCC’s Scamwatch has already clocked up over $240 million in losses, giving you an idea of just how lucrative scams are for criminals. There’s big money in deception, and people won’t stop vying for a piece of your money.

Unfortunately, thinking you’re ahead of it all could just lead to a loss, and while they might be small in number, they can add up to numbers that make a big impact.

“Traditionally when we look at scammers, they’ve targeted the old ager group,” said McGee, telling Pickr that scammers see them as targets because they’re often less tech savvy and have more wealth. “They’ve been seen as bigger fish.”

“What we’re seeing now is coming into much younger age groups who see themselves as smarter and more scam aware,” he noted.

According to McAfee’s McGee, they’re getting caught for small amounts that eventually add up. One scam could net as little as $200, but if that same scam tricks 100,000 into giving that amount, that’s $200,000 lost from a generation that thinks it’s more switched on to scam losses.

And once you’ve been fooled, you are unfortunately in that system, ready to be baited once more.

Don’t engage

Sometimes it’s all too easy to have fun with what is clearly a scam.

The amount of lists this journalist is on makes him more likely to pick up a scam call and blurt out “does this actually work on anyone?”, only to have the other end hang up immediately.

But clearly not engaging is the better form of engagement. It minimises risk, and makes it less likely that you’ll ever fall for a scam, even by accident. And anyone can fall for a scam, even if you think you can’t.

Scams are getting more complex by the day, with scammers going to such lengths to fake voices of loved one in a virtual kidnapping scam. While that’s clearly one of the more complex scams happening, it’s an example of a complicated style that could have more luck in tricking you, much more than say your standard fake Amazon call, or even the PayPal invoices that look legit and yet aren’t.

That could mean your best bet is to just not waste your time and move on from any scam attempt. You’re probably not going to waste as much scammer time as you think, and you might just get fooled in the process.

Don’t risk it: don’t engage and move on.

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