I don’t know about you guys, but it sure is fun to watch these YouTube videos of scammers getting pwned. I’ve come across them in the past, but today I’ve been on a binge. And not the type of binge that lasts six days and leaves you full of shame and regret, though I guess there is some shame and regret involved after seven hours of sitting up in bed and telling yourself Just one more video. Anyway, I stumbled upon a YouTube channel this morning and have been watching a charismatic young man prank and confront internet scammers for the last several hours. I didn’t stay in bed, I in fact was fairly productive this morning, but I’ve had these videos playing and I’ve been listening and sneaking glances at the screen when the conversation gets especially interesting. I never knew how much I loved this genre of non-fiction entertainment!
The premise of these videos is as follows, there is a talented young man who sets up a sequestered safe-space on his computer and calls these scammers and gives them access to his virtual desktop, livestreaming the whole thing for the amusement of his audience. He plays along with the scam and gets them to go as far as he can, then he usually bulk deletes files on their computer or simply confronts them on their grift. I’m not necessarily proud of the fact that I’ve sunk most of the day into these videos, but I’m not explicitly ashamed of it either. In fact, I feel rather ambivalent about these videos. Of course there is the obvious entertainment value of silly voices and of being in on a prank. And it’s even better that we are able to come along with this guy as he pranks these scammers we all hate and often damages their enterprise by deleting gigabytes of their personal files. Then there’s a hint of schadenfreude in there, like a lemon-twist garnish on the pwnage cocktail glass. Eventually we start to relish in the shared catharsis that comes from this young man single handedly getting back at these scammers and predators. Shit, my own grandma was cleaned out by a scammer years ago, it wasn’t an online scam, it was a Prosperity Gospel scam back in the mid-nineties, but it still feels good to watch these grifters get dunked on.
The first few videos I watched on this channel were oddly mesmerizing. As I said above, I’ve seen a few of these videos before, but I’ve never sat down to consume them so hungrily. I think I know why I was so enraptured, I stated some of the reasons previously, but I wasn’t prepared for what happened next. I hate to sound like a snowflake, but during the third video I realized I was feeling a bit indignant. Not to say that I take issue with these scammers being called on their scams and having their hustles hustled, but I noticed a few things that made me a bit uncomfortable, and then my thought-train got going and rolling down those oh so snowy tracks.
Many scammers get involved in the industry because they believe that they have no other options. Believe it or not, there are millions of people in the world, billions even, who are born, who live, who struggle and suffer and die without ever having a realistic shot at a comfortable life. I watched a Vice video a while ago about scammers in Ghana. It was good, typical of many Vice videos, they looked into an intriguing and somewhat obscure issue that affects not just those of us here in the Global North, and is far more complex and convoluted than one might imagine. Most of us will probably recognize an allusion to the Nigerian Prince emails, and some of us have probably encountered some type of fraud or scam attempt in the wild, but the depth of the global fraud industry is striking. Trillions of dollars are stolen every year by unscrupulous actors. In some parts of the world, scam and fraud are the only lucrative career path for the huddled masses. I am not going to jump on my malicious-crimes apologist shit here, but I do understand these people are dealing with certain material conditions, and I myself have made poor choices out of perceived desperation.
As I continued watching these videos it became increasingly difficult to take this guy seriously. I mean, he seemed genuine and earnest, like he believes he is really making a difference in the world, but he just rubs me a bit the wrong way. It could be just the fact that he censored everything racier than the word asshole, I don’t like moral superiority, but I think it’s a bit more than that. The first thing that really jumped out at me was the fact that all of his scammer-victims seemed to be from India. They all hobble their way through thickly accented English, and often lapse into Hindi as they confer with their compatriots on the other end of the phone-line. This specific channel is run by a guy who seems to think it’s funny to make jokes about the way these people speak. He also really likes to bring up their national origins as often as he can; he makes a point to put iNdiAn sCaMmEr in his video’s titles and descriptions, and creates absurd cartoons and subtitles that draw attention to the broken English of his marks. I get it man, they’re Indian, but you don’t have to keep harping on it as if it’s an insult or an inherently bad thing. This dude seemed to get some weird sense of gratification out of dunking on the Silly Indian Scammers.
Now, I’m not an illegalist, but I’m not entirely opposed to the philosophy either, especially in the context of Propaganda of the Deed, but I do not equate personal theft with political action. I find it both appropriate and annoying that this guy seems to have a preoccupation with LARPing as a high-tech true-blue law enforcement agent taking down the dangerous criminals, and I find it unsurprising that his preferred criminals happen to have brown skin. But those criminals are in fact dangerous, preying on the less astute and technically aware among us, pilfering untold sums of money from unsuspecting and undeserving victims around the world. This guy, and all of these scam-baiters, really are doing good things in the world, they’re protecting unwitting citizens, most often seniors and the impaired and infirm; and I believe these guys have even contributed to the breaking up of several international scam rings. The thing that gets me about this specific guy is the apparent casual racism. It also bothers me that this guy is mirthfully going after the evil scammers, in their humid, dusty overseas boiler rooms, but seems so eager to support exploitative capitalism and good old fashioned American Exceptionalism Values, all while shilling his own brand.
There are dangerous criminals in the world who manipulate, exploit, extort and abuse people every day. There are dangerous criminals who are themselves victims of other dangerous criminals, and that’s a point that is often conveniently forgotten or blatantly disregarded when we have these conversations. Brutal and exploitative capitalism and imperialism have created a global framework for black markets of all shapes and sizes. The fact that the Fat nations of North America and Europe have balkanized, colonized and utilized the rest of the world to achieve heroic levels of capitalistic exploitation seems to be something that citizens of these Fat nations take pride and comfort in, while they themselves are being exploited right along with the developing-world blacks and browns, if only to a lesser extent. This guy’s audience seems all too willing to watch this charismatic young affluent all American sweetheart take down the scary sounding hacker/scammer/boogeyman on the internet, but it troubles me that they would be the first people to run to the defense of the establishment; while these scammers extract millions of dollars from unsuspecting victims every year, the establishment extracts trillions in the same amount of time.
Again, I like the fact that this guy, that these guys, are spending their time protecting defenseless citizens from predators. And I find the videos oddly entertaining. And I’ve even seen this guy and his buddies reach out and actually help people recoup their losses and get their lives back on track. It really bothers me, though, that there seems to be a sizable audience who are interested in stopping fraud, but refuse to acknowledge the root cause, the material conditions that create and account for these markets in the first place. These scammers are doing harm, yes, but the fact that they’re being treated like the main villains of the plot is absurd. These people would not turn to fraud in the numbers which they do if there were viable industries that offered them enough opportunity to live. And if we’re gonna pretend that they just do it because they’re assholes, why don’t you go after the schmucks on Wall Street and in the boardrooms and stock exchanges who deal with orders of magnitude more exploitation and cause exponentially more human damage? I’m pretty sure those folks are all assholes, too. I’m not saying “Hack The Planet!” though I would have definitely been on Cereal Killer’s team. I am saying, however, that it’s absurd to entertain yourself by going after petty criminals, to celebrate scoring internet points on them and play out your power fantasies and CSI LARPs to pretend like you’re doing anything to actually address the problem — you’re just dragging people down that are already lower than you to begin with. If we’re going to start crowdsourcing justice, which is simultaneously both slightly dystopian and frighteningly hopeful, let’s start going after the ones who are doing real harm to us all.
Keep up the good work, internet scam-baiters, you seem to be actually making a difference in the world. But I beg you, read some Marx and Bakunin and Kropotkin and Proudhon, join the fight on the side of the truly exploited! Right now you’re only helping the establishment maintain the status quo by allowing these criminals to setup new enterprises shortly after you’ve busted them with no real-world consequences because hey, you’re not actually in law enforcement, and providing appeasing entertainment that the real criminals use to keep the proletariat satiated and unwilling to rise up. Also, chill the fuck out with the racism shit, I personally know white scammers who grew up in the same cities and towns as you guys, you should pwn some of them for a change, at the very least for the optics.