Week one was a tale as old as time. Instead of an alarm clock, I’m woken up by a swat team dragging my face against the floor. When I wake up again I’m in prison being interrogated by Special Agent Malone, who doesn’t like it when you call him Malone. We talked about my life leading up to that day and what made me decide to scam email scammers. The email “scam” was one where I baited Nigerian scammers into making asses of themselves while trying to rob me. We call this 419 baiting or scambaiting. Seeing Korea vets lose their savings to fake charities and fake kids put me over the edge. It started my current disaster.
In week two, this week, I met Special Agent Fitzgerald. Him and Malone teamed up to be Bad Cop, Bad Cop. Malone claimed I had impersonated an FBI agent in an email scam. On Friday I found out that impersonating an FBI agent was the least of my problems: I was arrested on terrorism charges, including recruiting child soldiers and running a theocratic militia. It wasn’t a very good week.
The Week’s Entries
Monday – August 7th
Big changes in life are rarely sudden. Mine were. From my 3:00 a.m. prison booking to my decision to scam the scammers, the changes were instant and shocking.
Malone knew everything about my arrest. He was staring at me when they threw me off the bed and my face broke my fall. There was no point in revisiting that change with him.
The other change started at a party Picante catered. Some of the employees had questionable immigration statuses so my boss Maria asked me to go to the local VFW to set up tables and serve food at their Memorial Day gettogether we were catering.
Most were Vietnam Veterans. A few served in Korea. They were all fascinating to talk to though their stories were often depressing. They returned from hell to be heckled and spit on by their peers, and forgotten and forsaken by the politicians sent them there. Lots of them fought homelessness and substance abuse over the years but were greeted with jeers when they sought help.
My blood was already boiling when I met Sergeant Soriano.
He had come back from Korea and built a comfortable life for himself as the owner of a construction company in nearby Oro Valley. Things were going well for him until he got a frantic email from his granddaughter. She was robbed during a semester in England. Sgt. Soriano sent her $8,000 to cover a new computer, new school supplies, rent, food, spending money, and a ticket home at the end of the semester. Three days later she called to wish him a happy birthday. She didn’t understand his panic. She had never been robbed. She still had her phone, books, wallet. Everything. Sgt. Soriano called his bank, Western Union, and the FBI to try to stop the payment but it was too late. The only thing they could tell him was that his daughter’s email had been hacked and his payment had gone to a Western Union branch in Moscow. Half his retirement account was gone. The money he had set away for his mortgage, food, and health expenses. Gone.
Someone who called himself Mac had a similar experience. He wired money to a charity providing housing for Ghanian orphans, only to find out later that the charity had existed only on paper. His money was gone.
Others spoke up. Their money had been scattered across the world through a variety of scams. The locations varied, from Atlanta to Antalya and everywhere in between. The payments varied too, but Western Union was the most common. There were two constants though. They were all email scams, and none of the scammers were ready for me.
“I spent eight years in the Marine Corps,” Malone told me. Then he stopped. He looked like he had just left a funeral.
Tuesday – August 8th
Malone has the personality of a rock.
“Should we get back to where we started?” I asked him.
He covered his face with his hands.
I think that means yes.
After hearing all of the stories about retirees getting scammed out of their money I decided to do something about it. I had wasted the telephone scammers time already. The telemarketers stopped calling me. How hard could the internet scammers be?
I spent the morning reading about scam baiting. These people found internet scammers and baited them into wasting their time. Sometimes that meant dealing with endless delays, while sometimes it meant writing books by hand.
The simple schemes were easy enough. Baiters would reply to scam emails promising money. But there was a catch. There always was. That’s where the fun came in. Basic ideas had scammers sending photos of themselves pledging loyalty to imaginary churches.
“This is where you came in?” an exasperated Malone asked me.
“No Malone, I—“
“Try that again.” What a prick.
I started over, making sure to call him Special Agent Malone instead of talking to him like a normal person.
“I didn’t come in here. I came in months later. This was what brought me in.”
I went over individual cases with him. One baiter had scammers send in photos of themselves and their “congregations” with fish on their heads, promising them that if the scammers in Liberia pledged loyalty to his church then his church would offer money for the Liberian branch to recruit new members. Death threats often came in when the scammers figured out they were being jerked around. I found this amusing. Malone didn’t.
The baiters moved on once they saw how easy the fish photos were. The baiters stuck with the religious theme and had scammers paint their chests with church logos, then paint billboards with the logos and some even got tattoos. The tattoos that scammers got to pledge their loyalty made Malone uneasy.
“Did they need a permanent reminder?”
“A permanent reminder of the costs of their greed? The same greed that robs gullible grandparents daily? Yes, yes they do need the reminder.”
Malone wasn’t impressed by my answer. I ignored his glare and got back to the story. I told him that the story was vital to understand everything that happened. His eyes told me he felt otherwise.
The church jokes had got stale the baiters moved on to more elaborate jokes. They pretended to work for software firms and asked the scammers for help in exchange for money. The scammers were all too willing to help. The baiters explained the situation: A programming firm is working on a project where it needs handwritten text to test a computer program for its ability to read handwriting. The firm pays $100 for every page written, but needs a minimum of one hundred pages and the pages must come from a source the software is already familiar with.
The scammers were more than willing to help.
Once they agreed, the baiter explained the projects details. The scammers were to write one hundred pages of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, with headings, chapter titles, page numbers, indentations, and paragraph breaks identical to those in the book. The firm would pay $100 for each page, plus a $2,000 bonus if the entire book was completed.
A week later, they had a handwritten copy Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, all 249 pages of it.
Malone didn’t want to hear the cases. I wanted to talk about them, but his stare told me we were done for the day.
I opened up to the other prisoners that night instead. A lot of people were curious about the “cocky, quiet” prisoner at the end of the row. My cellmate said he thought I was there for meth until word of my arrest was passed around. I got a lot more respect after everyone found out it took a swat team to arrest me. A traffic officer could have arrested me just as easily but I didn’t want anyone knowing that. My reputation was way better with the swat team arrest than it would have been if they knew I was just a computer geek.
The other prisoners were much more entertained than Malone. They laughed just as hard as I had when I first read the stories. Everybody enjoyed them. Except for one dude. There was a black guy with a thick accent who speaks proper English and rarely leaves his cell. He always looked nervous before but now he just stared at me. If it were someone else I might worry more, but he’s not and I’m not.
Wednesday — August 9th
It wasn’t just Malone today. When Malone introduced me to Special Agent Fitzgerald and smiled at me I knew things were about to change. Fitz is the biggest, blackest guy in Arizona. If Malone hated the stories I couldn’t imagine what Fitz would think of baiting African scammers into humiliating themselves. He probably wouldn’t think it is as funny as I think it is. I was more straightforward today.
Malone, Fitz and I went over my computer activity. We talked about the dozen email addresses I had made, the websites I made for fake businesses, and my side hobby of doctoring documents and pictures. A week ago I didn’t want to tell Malone about all of this, but when Fitz brought in my computer and showed me all of the evidence they had pulled off it I changed my mind. I still wasn’t comfortable talking about it but once Fitz showed me the dossier the NSA did on me we got down to business.
“It says here you impersonated the FBI chiefs in Miami and Phoenix, plus a Scotland Yard official in London. Is it true?”
I told him it wasn’t. Technically, I had never impersonated an FBI chief or any government official. Fitz didn’t care for technicalities.
“You told several people you were Alfonso Rivera, did you not?”
He had me there. Alfonso Rivera was the FBI chief in Phoenix. I never said I worked for the FBI though, just that my name was Alfonso Rivera. There are thousands of Alfonso Riveras.
“When you told people you were Alfonso Rivera you also gave them the tip number for the Phoenix FBI office Mr. Rivera is in charge of, did you not?”
I did. This was going downhill quickly. I repeated that I had never said or implied that I was a government agent or had any connection to the FBI but Fitz just gave me the stink eye.
“You said your name was Alfonso Rivera and gave the FBI field office Mr. Rivera is in charge of as your contact number. Remind me how this isn’t impersonating a government official?”
“Enough,” Malone told me as I explained that I actually wanted the scammers to call the FBI field office and ask for the station chief to talk about their money laundering.
“If I pretended to be in the FBI it would have ruined the bait. They couldn’t think that I was in the FBI or Scotland yard or they would have called and told the FBI about their scam. Don’t you see?”
They didn’t see.
Malone and Fitz told me we would talk more after lunch but they never came back.
Thursday — August 10th
I waited three hours in the interview room yesterday afternoon before the guards let me out. Malone and Fitz were punishing me. I think.
Once I got out I shared more stories with the other inmates. They weren’t as impressed today. My cellmate had found my journal and passed it around and I didn’t get it back until this afternoon. My journal is boring though. I don’t want to put the good stuff in until after Malone asks me about it—I’m not sure how much he knows and I sure as hell don’t want him to find out more than he needs to know. I’m Mike Scott and Alfonso Rivera as far as he’s concerned.
Fitz went over my statements on Rivera again and made sure I knew that impersonating a government official was a serious crime. I didn’t like where it was going so I asked for my lawyer. Tulowizki was a public defender, fresh out of law school at New Mexico State University. He was about as useless as tits on a boar. I didn’t need his advice though. I just needed Fitz and Malone out of my face. That, and to know exactly what evidence they had. Tulo helped with the first request and did nothing with the second. The prosecutors and DHS were tight-lipped about what they knew but would get us their evidence with “ample time” to prepare for the trial. I don’t want ample time. I want the charges dropped. Tulo wasn’t optimistic about that. He was able to bring in newspaper articles for me though.
From the Arizona Republic: “Local Student Believed to Have Recruited Child Soldiers”
From Fox News: “Arizona Man Arrested on Terrorism Charges, Denied Bail”
From the New York Times: “FBI Source Claims Raid Militia Leader Captured in Raid”
I avoided the other inmates today. I needed time to think. I was less optimistic about avoiding a trial after I saw the headlines.
Maybe my joke had gone too far.
Friday— August 11th
Malone wasted no time today. His first words: “I heard your lawyer brought you the articles about you yesterday. You ready to talk?”
I was. We got down to business. I told him everything I knew, which was most everything.
I was Mike Scott. I was also Pam B. Easley, Dwight “Shrewd” Farmer, and James Halpert. They existed only online, but the Lord’s Resistance Army didn’t know that. After an LRA member reached out to me the NSA started tapping all of my emails. They knew all the whats, but they didn’t know the whys. Today we talked about the whys.
I never intended to recruit anyone to the LRA. Especially child soldiers.
“Did you ever stop to think about what you were doing?” Fitz asked me. “Recruiting child into a genocidal militia is frowned upon in western society.”
When he put it that way I sounded like a real dick.
“It was a standard church bait plus a safari. Nothing more,” I told him. There was nothing standard about it. I wanted to be the first to combine the two. But “nothing more” sounded better. I spent the next hours explaining the “nothing more.”
It all started when I got an email from Emmanuel Okafor. Emmanuel’s father was a successful businessman in Kenya, but when tribal violence broke out in 2008 he fled his homeland and found himself separated from his money. He bribed his way across the border into Uganda to stay with distant family but found that he couldn’t transfer his fortune due to banking laws against transferring sums of more than $10,000 dollars into Uganda. Emmanuel needed my help.
Emmanuel wanted to wire me $25,000,000 from Kenya so that I could transfer it to his family living in the United States. Since they were residents and not citizens, they could not own a business large enough to transfer that much money into the country. For my trouble, Emmanuel would let me keep ten percent. It was a tale as old as time.
There was no rich father of course. There was no need to transfer money. The IP address the email was sent came from Nigeria. They might fool the guys I met at the VFW with this, but I had Emmanuel right where I wanted him.
Emmanuel Okafor about to meet Mike Scott. He had no idea what was coming.
Malone told the guard to bring lunch for everyone. It would be a long afternoon.
Mike Scott told Emmanuel that he could not help transfer money due to his Christian principles. He wanted to know though, was Emmanuel a man of faith? That’s when things got weird.
I don’t feel like handwriting three months’ worth of emails in this journal so I’ll attach the email chain between Mike Scott and Emmanuel, a man who I had never heard of before.