Saturday, 22 December 2012

Exclusive Interview with the Flatterbot Scam Artist

   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. 


The Interview

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?

N:           No.

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?

N:           25-30.

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

28 comments:

  1. Simply an awesome read. Move over Woodward & Bernstein here comes BlaiseJoshua & Deep Throat IS Nixon.

    Kudos

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  2. LOL at this person's ego. Nothing more than a scammer on the street.

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  3. Fair play to her if people are that stupid

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  4. Fine reporting at its best - Hurra! for ESM :)

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  5. Great Scott, what a great scoop! Nice work, Blaise.

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  6. I'm actually quite tempted to try and talk to them, next time I see the bot. c:

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  7. "To scam you, I would have to tell you that I am offering you something for monetary compensation..."

    ......I wonder where he/she's getting that completely erroneous idea.

    Last time I checked, the federal wire fraud statute didn't have anything in it that said "Oh, P.S., you totally get off scot free if you didn't say the magic words." It just lays out the penalties for intentionally (you know, "having devised or intending to devise any scheme or artifice to defraud, or for obtaining money or property by means of false or fraudulent pretenses") using the internet for carrying out such a scheme.

    Yep.

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    1. I think you're right Vaki ... there's some very odd reasoning going on here. I'm not familiar with the laws in the US, but I'm pretty sure what she's doing would be illegal. In Britain (where I'm from), it would run foul of several laws, including obtaining money by deception.

      Delete
    2. "Vaki: [...]by means of false or fraudulent pretenses'"

      "N: [...] 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. [...]"

      It was claimed that the automated sob story wasn't entirely false or fraudulent in the purpose of obtaining money.

      I don't condone what's being done, but it just looks like she's tried to cover that base already in some fashion.

      Delete
  8. This only works because Linden Lab never reads any abuse reports.

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  9. Nice scoop. The thing about breaking the law in Britain in SL? I think it would cost more in default world funds to extradite this person than the crime is worth in L$. I'm pretty sure LL has lawyers familiar with international laws in this respect.

    It kind of boils down to the old line "there's a sucker born every minute". If you feel you must help someone, rather than offering your own L$, point the panhandler to a few default world organizations, like the Salvation Army, who are set up to deal with aid.

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    Replies
    1. Hi Joe. I wasn't citing British laws with any expectation that any legal action would actually be taken : o ) However, there has been some debate as to whether what she's doing is actually illegal, and my opinion is that it is.

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    2. It probably has to be illegal somewhere, and morally inept everywhere.

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  10. Thank You for Your investigating interview and pleeease let me flatter You some more and rely honestly on this indeed cool work!

    oki, oki, i'am europe - so not real good at 'flattering over the edge', but indeed i really like Your style and the hole story You made here.
    Thank You :)



    /me asks herself if this bots are build on Mr. Weizenbaums 'eliza'

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    Replies
    1. No, the bot isn't based on AIML or Eliza, it's an "autopilot" script.

      Strangely, autopilot is perfect for this type of bot; it's a scripted cold-call sales pitch with flattery, a "personal" story, and a request for help. Even if the bot comes across as self absorbed, many of us have gotten used to the one sided conversations in SL, and I assume many simple give the bot money so they don't feel obligated to listen to it further. Either way, it's much more coherent and literate than most of the random requests for sex and money in SL.

      I think instant messaging has exposed us to enough people who don't really care how another person responds to actually make the autopilot seem more typically human than bots who "listen".

      Delete
  11. I had sooooooo much fun pushing this bot towards the sea, the sim border. in addition to filing an AR. This was an obviously scripted bot, kept yakking with no response, and nonsense responses (try giving 'purple' for answers ... try it, it's a sure way to id a bot), with no operator brain present.

    it took some time to push the bot from the store landing area close to the sim border. interestingly enough, while my co-vigilante partner & I were chatting, the bot "woke up" and disappeared, without a word. guess she had run out of them. we can do something about these bots. they may be mindless, LL may not take AR's seriously, but they can be shoved away into a corner...preferably a 4-way server handoff corner.

    we could turn this into a sl game ... trap the bot! :)

    Meg Madrigal inworld

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  12. https://begslist.org/
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet_begging

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  13. Really good read and investigative work. Thank you for this insight! I'd been hearing about the bots but still almost got scammed just because I'm vain and thought well sure my avatar should be complimented. *chuckles*

    She has definitely caused quite the stir.

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  14. A sad idiot who is apparently trying to spoil other people game because she feels she failed her Second Life. She should get a real life.

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    1. A sad idiot? This sad idiot is making 40,000L a day. It is quite a bit of effort to go to, the payoff must be substantial. She has been doing it for months, so hardly an idiot. There are content creators and landlords in SL who do not do nearly so well. If one allows a panhandler one encounters on occasion to spoil one's SL, I think one is taking SL far too seriously. Close the chat window and move on.

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    2. the real idiots are those who believe that he's really making 40,000 per day....LOL. NO way

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    3. When I interviewed her, I thought that the money she was claiming to make would be a major point that people didn't believe. However, very few people have questioned the figure of $40,000L per day. It's true that this is someone that habitually lies in her whole operation, so a certain amount of caution is probably warranted with regards everything she says. However, I do think that the figure of $40,000 is quite possible. For example:

      She claims to run up to 15 bots a day. Each bot asks for $300L. For her to hit that target, each bot would only have to score, on average, nine hits per day (15 x 300 x 9). That's perfectly plausible.

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    4. For she making money, it doesn't stop to be a sad Idiot. A definition of Idiot savant is a person who actually looks funcional in the border lines. It may have a hint of genios in some stuff but in the majority of development of affectional and intelectual areas is screw.
      I personally thing this person (the one behind the 15,20,50... never mind how many avatars) is a person that is really screw emotional speaking. And it is sad to see; you can read all the bitterness of a thorn soul and mind, a sour hearth probably because she was "schemed" by some guy on SL and her life is probably not a little better on RL... It's a sad idiot, with a hint of geniality on development of schemes nothing further; other wise would be a person looking for overcome all the deceive and deception (that most of us have been through SL&RL some times) by doing something good with her talents not doing the world a worst place, an individual that look for EVERYONE else pay for what -probably- just a couple of guys or girls -or maybe more due this person really betrayed to be emotional worthless - did to her (or him who can reliant of what a person who commits her live to schemes say?) just an easy piece for depredators than looks reward by making everyone else pay. And even she does 80 000, yet will be sad indeed, cause money don't buy peace of mind.

      Delete
  15. Many years ago there was something like a -- banana? -- that would attach itself to you and follow you around. When it happened to me, I flew up into the air, then, as it tried to keep up with me, teleported home. It couldn't follow at that point. It would be nice if someone could create an object that you could give to this bot, that then engaged in conversation with it, and, at the same time, slowly pulled it up into the air and out of sight. It seems that, as long as it thought it was talking to an av of some kind, it would continue to try and engage. Counter it by being *more* annoying and *less* losable.

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  16. I hadn't realised it was a bot in the store. I just thought it was someone rather stupid with a story that didn't hang together. The store did not sell shapes, but I make them, so when she asked for money because she needed a new skin and shape etc, I gave her a new shape. 10 minutes later (well after I had wandered away and looked around the store) she was still standing in the same place in the same shape as before. Whether you know someone is a bot or not, let them exhaust themselves and offer to help in non monetary ways and their response will prove the point.

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  17. A friend of mine had an encounter with this begging bot, and she said that she asked the bot for Lindens before the bot could ask her, and the operator was actually paying attention and they had a genuine conversation. She said that the bot operator told her it was a shock regarding how many fall for the patter, and that the women who tend to fall for it are quite vapid. Personally, I have never encountered these bots. I am on the fence about it. This bot emotes, tells a story, is apparently engaging, and receives funds for it. As my friend pointed out, that is little different than what a dancer at a club does for tips, or what an escort does for rather large fees. I remember when shop owners would have so many bots to drive up traffic that real people could not tp to a sim ... bots have usually been used for less than "legitimate" reasons. As for the annoyance factor ... strangers panhandling, whether a bot or not is no more annoying than insipid group chat, and easy enough to end, simply close the chat window and go on one's way.

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  18. Oddly enough, I came across this article while researching this same scam. I've received the same tale listed above last week and again today, so it's still going strong even after over a year. *shakes head* As for legalities... If you are able to prove that a "homeless man" is begging for funds even though he has a home, then the police here in the state I reside in will arrest and prosecute him for fraud, other states are attempting to get this law passed as well. With the law spreading, perhaps the perpetrator of this scam should think about retiring.

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