The Mind Behind the Scam
To many in SL, the scenario is frustratingly familiar.
You TP to a new location, usually a shop, and immediately your IM box is flashing. A woman, having complimented you on your wonderful avatar, is spinning a yarn that has it all: anger, betrayal, heartbreak, jealousy and Linden poverty. Eventually, you must choose between putting your hand in your pocket and helping this poor waif get back on her feet, or brushing yourself down and walking on.
Of course, there is no woman. You’ve been speaking to a bot that churns out a scripted sob story. And if you did put your hand in your pocket, you’ve just been scammed.
These bots have become the plague of SL. Signs have been put up warning about them, notices flash up in local chat exhorting the public to be aware of their wiles, and whole blogs have been started, dedicated to tracking down these bots and the person or persons controlling them.
Now, Every Second Man brings you an exclusive interview with the person that claims to be behind this entire operation. Speaking to ESM using the bot Nanyea, an insight is provided both into the workings of the scam and mindset behind it.
B: Thank you agreeing to this interview, Nanyea. I’m sure you know the first question that everyone will want answer: how much do you earn?
N: I make roughly $40,000L per day.
B: No way!
N: Way. And consistently for three months. Everybody is exploiting everyone here.
B: You know people are going to find this figure hard to believe, don’t you?
N: I suppose they would have to ask themselves why I would be wasting so much energy on this if the return wasn’t there.
B: You might just enjoy the thrill of it.
N: I would use this to be much more malicious if I enjoyed the thrill of it, like handing out stores of full perm items just to watch the economy fall.
B: How many bots do you have operating?
N: 10-15 at a time.
B: Do you monitor each conversation?
N: No. That’s not even possible; I message far too many people for that. Sometimes I catch a glimpse of people shouting at me or something.
B: What’s the usual reaction when someone realises they’re being chatted up by a bot?
N: “Fuck off”
B: That’s it? There’s no curiosity or anything?
N: No, not generally. I don’t think people realise on their own. Most of the time it’s pointed out to them by another player. They usually just want to abandon the conversation due to what they might have revealed to me. I’ve been doing this for three months. It’s pretty hard not to be informed now. There are signs about me in every store. It’s OK though. I have a new idea in the works. It’s just taking some time for me to do the analytics on it.
B: Do all your bots use the same patter?
N: Yes. I’ve been quite lazy about that; they all currently use the same sob story.
B: Have you ever conducted more personal engagements? So actually getting to know someone and maybe courting them a little bit somehow?
N: Oh God no. As in building friendships or romantic involvements? No. I do very little.
B: Who are your best marks? Lonely men?
N: I don’t have any particular marks. I just go to high traffic areas and let it run its course. I can’t discern between men and women. There aren’t as many men here. I think it’s more likely to be women who can relate to my story of being taken advantage of in SL. And I do have that story – it’s not bullshit. I pulled it from my RL. I’m just not jaded like I was; SL lost its lustre a long time ago. If I were going to target men specifically, I don’t think they would want to hear a sob story. I doubt it’s that alluring to someone that just wants cartoon sex.
B: How do you live with yourself?
N: I’m like a bum on the street; most people are pretty sure that he has a home and they give him a dollar knowing he’s probably not going to buy a hamburger with it. It’s just panhandling in SL. Once, when I was in Seattle, I saw a girl with a fishing pole and a sign dangling from it. It said ‘Fishin’ for Change!’ I thought it was creative and I gave her a dollar.
B: There’s a clear difference in both of your examples though. There’s no deception in the girl’s approach. Even with the ‘bum’, the giver knows to whom he is giving money, and there is almost definitely some disadvantage in this person’s life, regardless of whether or not he ultimately spends the money on scotch or food.
N: That’s debateable. A lot of the content in SL is provided by deception, so it’s not really the same world. RL and SL don’t follow the same standard.
B: How did you get started in this?
N: Initially I was commissioned by a creator (that I shan’t name) to advertise their store. When I ran a test using the begging bot, I made $120,000L in one day, so instead of providing that to the creator that hired me, I just kept it for myself. I decided when it had run its course, it would be done. I haven’t changed the dialogue and I haven’t gotten sneakier, though I could do all of those things.
B: You’ve been going three months. Any plans to retire?
N: For sure.
B: You said earlier that you were working on something new.
N: Ha! I was just being an ass. Sometimes my ego gets in the way.
B: I do sense quite an ego in you. You’re clever, and I wonder if perhaps you feel a little unappreciated.
N: I don’t think I’m better than anyone else. Lots of people send me hate messages and I just retort with snide comments. I take a lot of shit from all angles. The copybot community doesn’t approve of me; the general public doesn’t approve of me. There are whole forums dedicated to my removal, so I get defensive, because I don’t think I exploit this nearly as much as I could. The forums and blogs that are writing about me – it’s all garbage. They’re playing detective and trying to link avatars to me, but none of it is true, which sucks for the people they are calling to take the rap for me. I don’t have a main avatar that I’m protecting. My avatar was banned the first time around for not paying my tier fees. After that, I began exploiting SL because I didn’t care anymore. All of my accounts became expendable.
B: I saw that someone has attempted to link you through a chain of copybotted hair.
N: Yes. It’s all garbage. The person that writes that blog has a bunch of random avatars posted in her attempt to play sleuth. Instead of going to those people and asking them directly, she just started posting pictures of these avatars. They’re not tied together at all. My bot receives a lot of copybotted stuff from random people. A lot of the time people will copybot something in another person’s name anyway. It’s hard to really be sure who the copybotter was. Anyway, those avatars listed don’t belong to me; I don’t have a main avatar. When I attempted to refute the claim, it was dismissed. Of course it looks like I am trying to hide something, but all of those avatars seem to have had time and money spent on them, and it sucks for them to catch the backlash. I just kill my bots when I’m done with them and move on to the next set.
B: Are you concerned about RL legal consequences for your actions?
N: I’m not familiar with the legalities of what I do. I suppose if someone wanted to bother to take me to the civil court they could. What I do isn’t illegal; I offer nothing in return. No exchange is made. To scam you, I would have to tell you that I am offering you something for monetary compensation; I don’t ask for anything.
B: What about a criminal prosecution? In Britain, what you’re doing is illegal.
N: That’s ridiculous. Panhandling would be fun to try and prosecute.
B: So you’re not concerned at all?
N: The short answer is no. I’m not concerned about any RL backlash or recourse for begging for spare change on the internet. There are far more malicious things out there.
B: There’s a big perception that LL does nothing about this type of thing. Is that true in your case?
N: How can they be asked to hall monitor everyone? They provided a platform for people to come and sell each other intangible trash that they don’t need. How does LL even determine who is the true creator of what? By who uploaded it first? There’s plenty of crap in SL being sold that was stolen from many different platforms.
B: But I’m talking about you and the operation that you have going on. Has LL come after you in way?
N: For what? For begging? For being annoying?
B: So there’s been no contact?
B: Do you ‘play’ SL at all in a normal sense?
N: Not anymore. I haven’t in many years, since 2009. My original avi is from 2007.
B: Do you ever talk about what you do with others inworld?
N: People ask me sometimes and if I see it I’ll admit the truth. I’ve spoken to several creators. Most of them are most annoyed that their IMs are flooded with crap about me, rather than being annoyed about what I’m actually doing. I feel bad about that I guess; that the public is messaging sim owners like 1000 times a day. It’s been a while, however, since I chatted to someone on the internet for more than five minutes.
B: Do you like having someone to talk to?
N: Sure. It makes it less mundane.
B: Tell me about your RL self.
N: Ask me specifically.
B: Are you a guy? Where are you from? Do you have kids? Are you married? Do you work?
N: I am not a guy. I’m from the US, and yes to the rest.
B: How old are you?
B: Nanyea, thank you very much for agreeing to be interview by Every Second Man.
N: You’re welcome Blaise.
|It would seem that the information campaign is working in raising awareness of this scam