Very few people fall for the Nigerian prince scam these days because it has been so well exposed. However, devious criminals keep looking for new ways to package their deception so it goes undetected. Today’s guest is Ben Taylor. Ben is the creator of the popular YouTube channel Pleasant Green. His videos exposing various internet scams have been watched tens of millions of times. His goal is to help get scammers out of their current role not only by exposing the scam but by helping some of them find ways of providing for their families without cheating people.“If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.” - Ben Taylor Click To Tweet
- [0:50] – Welcome to the show, Ben! He shares what he does through YouTube and his work to educate people.
- [1:50] – Scam baiting is when you seek out scammers to waste their time.
- [3:32] – Romance scams are extremely common right now.
- [4:40] – Tech support and Amazon refund scams are also common.
- [6:12] – The elderly are often targets, but people can also fall victim to a scam when they’re distracted.
- [7:42] – A lot of time scammers will ask you to verify your name or address. You should ask them to verify it.
- [9:01] – Scammers typically use a script and if you get them off their game, they will move on.
- [10:11] – There are countless call centers across the world.
- [11:09] – Ben has interacted with scammers. Some realize they’re doing something hurtful, but some justify it or think they deserve it more.
- [13:18] – Through his YouTube channel, Ben explains that if scammers are so clever and smart to scam people, they can use the internet for good work.
- [14:54] – Ben also looks into product purchasing scams.
- [15:56] – Facebook doesn’t crack down on product accuracy of ads.
- [18:02] – When shopping online, especially from sites that are not as popular or credible, use PayPal as they have some security built in.
- [20:00] – Reviews are important to look at closely.
- [22:06] – Ben shares some interactions he’s had with scammers and how he has asked them for help.
- [23:24] – On YouTube, Ben has hired some scammers he’s spoken with to help them realize that there are more honest ways to make money.
- [26:03] – Using the story of Joel who he helped develop a photography skill, Ben helps people flip the script and help their community.
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Ben, thanks for coming on the podcast today.
Thanks for having me.
Can you give the audience a little background about who you are and how you got started doing what you're doing?
I have a YouTube channel called Pleasant Green, and it is—I guess scambaiting is the term that is used. I make videos about internet scams, kind of how they work, what to watch out for, who's behind them. Sometimes I try to get to know these scammers a little bit and just try to help educate people and sometimes give scammers the opportunity to maybe do something better with their lives. It's been very fun and I’ve just got a bunch of different videos that cover all types of scams, and there are many.Sometimes I try to get to know these scammers and give them the opportunity to maybe do something better with their lives. -Ben Taylor Click To Tweet
Yeah, it baffles me that the longer I do the podcast, the more crazy scams that I run across and people just doing everything they can to separate other people from their money.
Yeah, it's crazy.
Let's talk a little bit about scambaiting in general and then we can dig into some of the specifics of scams and things that people should be watching out for to make sure they don't fall prey to them.
Well, scambaiting is a term that means that you seek out the scammers or you bait them. The idea is that you waste their time so they don't have the opportunity to go and scam other people. If you can waste their time, if you can frustrate them, then the idea is that it slows them down because you read the statistics, there are just so many people who fall for these types of things every year, most of them elderly, students, younger, or people of minority backgrounds. It's just so tragic when you see the fraud numbers and the types of people that fall for these types of scams. It just makes you mad.
The idea is to just waste their time and really just to create awareness for these scams. That's what I try to do. I've had a lot of people that email me and say, “Hey, I almost fell for the scam, but I googled it, your video popped up, and you helped me realize what was happening. I want to thank you for that.” I continue to make these videos as long as I run into the scams because my hope is that we're doing some good out there.
Yep, and I appreciate what you're doing. I'm sure those that watch it are like, “Oh, that's what that phone call was,” and are very glad that you're doing what you're doing.
Yeah, hope so.
Yes, I'm sure they are. What's the biggest scam—the scambaiting stuff—that you've seen going on recently? What's the target or the story that they're telling?
Oh, there's so many. You've got a lot of people—and this happens more than you think—but romance scams are just so common. These are scammers primarily from Nigeria, Ghana, Central Africa, who create fake accounts on dating sites and they lure in victims. There's a lot of people out there looking for love in the world, and so these scammers will create fake profiles. They will just socially engineer these people to give them money.
They'll groom them for weeks or months and then they'll say, “Hey, can you spare me some money?” And then these people will just send money to their romantic partners who they think they have a relationship with. But unknowingly they're sending it to these young 20-, 21-year-old scammers in Nigeria. This can go on for years. I've seen victims who just refuse to believe that they're living a lie and they'll just continue to support this person because they think that they're in love. They think they're in relationships. That's something that you see a whole lot of. It's way more common than you think.
Then you've got scams that originate out of India, which are predominantly tech support scams or Amazon refund scams. These are quite common. You'd be hard-pressed to find someone who hasn't received a phone call from Amazon saying that, “Hey, you made this charge for $900, and if you don't cancel it, it's going to be shipped to you.” You think, “Oh yes, of course, I have to cancel this. Tell me how to cancel it.”
Then it's a whole roundabout way of tricking you into sending money that you don't have because you think that you just got a refund. There are just so many. When you think you've seen it all, you run into one that you haven't seen before. All we can try to do is just stay on top of it and make people aware.
Yep, and that's the purpose of the podcast as well. Part of me wants to chuckle and say, “I don't understand how people fall for the tech support scams or the refund scams where, ‘OK, I need to log into your computer, I need to watch you log into your bank account.’” What do you think the reason is that people are going down that route? To me, just refund the transaction on the credit card. You have a way of doing that. Why do you have to log into my account?
As we see, most of it is elderly people; they’re just not educated. You listen to some of these, you hear somebody's stories, and there are these elderly people who just believe what they're told. They're not savvy enough to know that there's a simpler way to do this. When somebody calls and says they're from Amazon, they need you to go to a website, and you need to give them access to your computer for them to fix a problem, you trust them.
It's not just elderly people, sometimes it's people who are just very distracted. They're busy with one thing or another so they just say, “OK, whatever. You're the boss. Just do this. I trust you.” It could be just a perfect storm if you're distracted or maybe you have something else going on where you're trying to resolve a thing with Amazon. Maybe you've got a pending refund with Amazon and then it just so happens that the scammers call you and mention a refund. You might think, “Oh, this is bad.”
Jim Browning is a popular scambaiter and even he was tricked into deleting his channel because a scammer claimed to be from Google. This was a time when Jim Browning got a new phone. He was trying to migrate things over, and he just thought, “OK, this is one more thing I need to fix.” It can happen to anybody. If you're distracted, if you're not educated, or if you're just not in the right mindset, you could fall for these things. It's just important that you're aware, you're asking questions, and always just asking questions.
Ask lots of questions. When you say ask lots of questions, what questions should people be asking and what are the answers that we should be watching out for?
A lot of the time, these scammers will call you up and they'll say, “Can you verify your name and your address?” You'll say, “OK.” You should ask them to verify that information because a lot of times they don't have that. They're just cold-calling random people, and it's funny. If a scammer calls you up and says, “Hey, can you confirm your name and your address?” You could just say, “Joe Blow. I live on 21 Jump Street.” They'll say, “OK, I see your file here and there's a warrant out for your arrest.” There's not a warrant out for your arrest. They just need to get a name from you.
It's just important that you're asking where they're from. Sometimes you can ask what city they're in, you can ask the nature of the call, you can ask them to mention your account, ask them about the last couple of transactions on your Amazon account. Just ask these things to verify that these people are really with Amazon, the IRS, or whatever. The more questions that you ask, you can sense that these scammers will get flustered because they're the ones that should be asking questions, not answering questions.The more questions you ask, you can sense the scammers get flustered because they’re the ones that should be asking questions. -Ben Taylor Click To Tweet
I suppose anything that you do that adds friction to the process makes them just want to go on to the next person?
Yeah. They have a script that they follow most of the time. If you could knock them off their game, you'll be able to see that something's not right, and you're totally right—they will go on to the next person. They're there to find the gullible people, the uneducated people, and if they get a sense that you're hesitant or if you're educated, they're going to say, “I want to go try somewhere else.” They're fishing, and if they don't get a bite, they're going to reel it in, and they're going to cast somewhere else.
Do you have any kind of idea of how many of these call centers and how many people are working at these places?
It's impossible to know. I don't have figures with me now, but you read about the billions of dollars that's been lost to fraud. Nigerian scammers took $65 billion in COVID relief funding, I think is what was reported by the FBI last year. You see these numbers and you just have to imagine that there are just multiple call centers. You read the news in India and there are raids happening every day. Just call centers everywhere. If it's not a call center in a big building, it's a call center in someone's basement. It's just impossible to know, but there's certainly no shortage of it.
There's got to be thousands and thousands of these places with either a handful or even hundreds of people working at them.
You look at Nigeria and you've just got hundreds of thousands of young men who just share these secrets with each other and they work on their own or they work in small groups. It’s just the way of life.
I know you've engaged with a number of scammers on a personal level. Is it that there's a perception that, “Well, we're just scamming Americans who have so much money they don't know what to do with it.” Or do they actually see it as, “I'm actually hurting people”?
Some do and some don't. Most of them just learned to just convince themselves that they deserve it. They look at Americans or Canadians and think, “Well, their government's going to take care of them if they lose a couple of hundred dollars. My government won't do that for me. They’ll see me on the street,” and so they can justify it to themselves. There are many who, when you talk to them enough, they'll break. You'll peel these layers away from them. They have a conscience, and they know that what they're doing is wrong.
Then there are some scammers who have just convinced themselves that they deserve it more. You look at these scammers in Nigeria and they look at the history of the white man and how everything was taken from them. Their grandparents were robbed by the white man, and this is kind of their way of repaying or getting back.
It's different. There are different cultures and there are different mindsets. Most of the time, people are just saying, “This is my country. This is how I have to live. This is how I have to pay. This is how I put food on the table, and it's not going to hurt Americans to lose a couple of hundred or a couple of thousand dollars.”
There's a certain amount of sympathy you feel for people who are like, “Well, how else am I supposed to feed my family? How else am I supposed to have the means to just survive from day to day when unemployment is rampant and this is the only opportunity?”
Yeah, and you get the sense for that when you hear some of these stories. When you look at the lack of education and just the lack of things in these countries, you almost start to think, “Well, if I was in this situation, would I do anything differently?”
That's why, on my channel, I just try to help people understand that this is the year of 2021. If you are so clever and if you are so smart that you can use technology and the Internet to convince someone that you're an FBI agent or that you're an Amazon employee, surely you can figure out a way to create something of value that you can sell to others. You can get on Fiverr and you could code, you could do voiceover work. There are so many opportunities in this gig economy that you can do legitimate work.
I've worked with some groups in Nigeria that have these goals to just teach young men how to code, how to design apps, and just do really incredible work because the scamming, as much as it hurts Americans, it hurts the people in those countries even more. It hurts the country's reputation. It makes it hard for these people to go on Upwork or Fiverr and get a job because when the person sees that they're from Nigeria, they think, “Oh, well, I don't know if I want to do business with this person.”
It's really sad when you think about the effect that these scams are having on these people who just want to live good, productive, and meaningful lives.
Yeah, that's definitely a challenging aspect to it is getting caught up in the stereotype. I know you've also done buying products online and finding out things that are mis-advertised, misrepresented. What should people be watching out for those sorts of things? Where should you not be buying products and how do you spot that they're fakes?
You get on Facebook and you see these ads. These are companies, and a lot of the time, they're companies that may be operating in China and they're sourcing these very, very low-quality products.
I remember one—maybe a year ago—when The Mandalorian was very popular on Disney. Everybody wanted to buy a Mandalorian helmet. I saw this ad for this Mandalorian helmet that looked like this nice steel—a shiny metallic good-looking helmet that you'd expect to pay maybe a couple of hundred for and it was, I think, $20 or $30. I just thought, “Well, I have to know, what am I going to get?” It came back and it was just this cheap rubber mask.
You can't help but wonder how many people fall for these types of things? I don't know if Facebook isn't really cracking down on these things. If you want to advertise a product and it's not exactly what you advertise, then Facebook's really not going to do anything for you. It's just going to be between you and that company to sort it out.
I just think a lot of these companies are just banking on the fact that they can convince people to buy their product, and it's just kind of a cheap knockoff version of what they were expecting. They're not going to go through the whole rigmarole of returning because when I tried to return that item, they said, “OK, well you have to ship it back to China. You're going to have to pay for the shipping.” I'm like, “It's just not worth it.”
A lot of people, I think, just do it because they could get away with it. They can sell these products, they can make a couple of bucks. If the customer is not happy, it's not a big deal because these guys will just go change their company name. They'll change their website. It's hard to put bad reviews on these websites because it's just so easy for them to rebrand and then just go buy up a whole bunch of new ads and do the whole new thing again. It's not really a scam. It's just kind of a shady way of advertising.
I think, particularly, when we're recording this—this is before the holidays—but I think even wider with supply distributions, people are looking for—“I really do want that mask, that helmet. I know Target's out. I know Walmart's out. I know these legitimate suppliers are out. Let me find this other place.”
Yeah. You get what you pay for. You just have to realize that. You just have to realize that there's really no free lunch out there, but you're going to get what you pay for. If it's good quality, then you're going to have to wait a while, but there are just so many different drawbacks when you pay such a low price. Either it's quality or wait time. There's just not a lot of really good deals out there. If it's too good to be true, it probably is.You just have to realize that there's really no free lunch out there, but you're going to get what you pay for. -Ben Taylor Click To Tweet
Yep. Then I guess the normal advice of pay with a credit card, not a debit card, not a cell, or not a cash app.
I love to pay with PayPal because they're great. They can protect you. You can file complaints if it's not what you expected or if you didn't get the item that you were promised. There's a lot of things that you can do. There are features out there where you can generate virtual numbers to use as your credit card. Rather than actually giving your credit card number to a company, you can generate a virtual number and give that number to the company.
If a company wants to charge you, overcharge you, or charge you again for an upgrade, they won't be able to do that. I've had companies try to do that to me where I say, “I just want this package,” but then they end up charging you for the bigger package. Whenever you're looking at a shady website that has probably a good deal, you just want to make sure that you're using a payment source that you're confident will protect you.Whenever you’re looking at a shady website that has a good deal, make sure you’re using a payment source that will protect you. -Ben Taylor Click To Tweet
I guess it applies to just shady businesses in general of anything that looks too good to be true—run away.
Yeah. Again, reviews are your best friends. You can go to these websites, and if there's not a lot of good reviews, there are tools out there called Fakespot where you could plug in this website to their little app or their plugin, and then it'll review the reviews. It will use its AI to determine if this is a duplicate review, if it was the same person that wrote all of them, if it's just using lazy words, if it's not going into detail, or it's not verified.
A lot of these websites will generate these fake reviews to make you think that they're reputable companies, but you have to be careful of those too. Always look for reviews, and look at the quality of the reviews as well.
They're not just saying, “Great product. -Jim from Sacramento.”
Yeah, and there are these tools that will rank it and tell you if it's likely fraud or if it's quality. It was all on the same day, right? You want to look at the history of these reviews. If they've got a good track record of pleasing customers, then that's something that is good to know.
If all the reviews are five-star reviews, that's always a little bit suspicious because no matter how good your product is, someone's going to have a bad experience.
Yeah, and there are groups out there who will give you a free item if you go on and give a five-star review. Amazon doesn't allow this, but there are people who get around it. You want to be careful of those too. There are companies that are paying people to give five-star reviews. It's not the right way to judge the quality of the product.There are companies that are paying people to give 5-star reviews. It's not the right way to judge the quality of the product. -Ben Taylor Click To Tweet
I've definitely received products through Amazon that had a little slip of paper inside the product packaging that was basically, “Give us a five-star review on Amazon and we'll send you a $20 gift card or a $10 gift card.” I'm like, “Well, the product cost $10 and you're giving me a $10 gift card. That explains why there are 50,000 reviews.”
I was talking with someone else. If you think about how often you leave a review for a product, and most of us, it's not like every product we buy we're going to leave a review for. It’s maybe one out of 100, one out of 25. If something has 50,000 reviews, did they really sell five million of that product? If you kind of reverse the math.
If you think about it long enough, you'll know that something fishy is going on.
As we continue here, I know you've had some experiences where you've built some relationships with some scammers. How did those kinds of things play out, and do you think you've been able to connect with them and help them change their ways?
Yeah. Some scammers, I'll just be up front with them and I'll just say, “I know what you're doing. I know that you make this much a month. How about I pay you X amount and you come to work for me? I'm looking for information, or I want you to give me the ins and outs of this scam. I want you to give me insider information.”
Most of them won't believe me. They'll just think that I'm trying to scam them and they'll walk away, but some will just say, “Absolutely. I don't like doing this. If you've got a better way for me to make a living, I'm all ears.” I've got a couple of scammers that kind of work for me as informants. They give me insider information. They sneak me photos and videos of the call centers that give me information as to who's who in that world.
I've even run into people in Nigeria who just do this because they just don't know of a better way to feed their family. I've worked with them. I said, “What if you took pictures for me? What if you did voiceover work for me? What if you drew pictures? What is a talent or skill that you have that we could sell or we could market?” It's been fun to work with several individuals and help them develop their skills and figure out that there are better ways to make money than just scamming people. The real way that you build wealth and come out of poverty is by providing value to other people and not robbing other people.The real way that you build wealth and come out of poverty is by providing value to other people and not robbing other people. -Ben Taylor Click To Tweet
Did you do a series on that—on helping someone to become a photographer?
Yeah. One of my earlier videos is I had someone from Africa reach out to me and say that he wants me to send him my laptop or my iPad because he can resell it. I just thought I knew where this was going and I said, “No, I have a better idea, and if you listen to me, we're going to make this work. You're going to take pictures for me,” and he didn't really have a nice camera or anything. He just had a phone.
We started with a phone and the pictures were very grainy, they didn't look good, and so eventually I invested in a $30 camera. I bought this for him and he started taking pictures and they were better. He wasn't a naturally gifted photographer, so we had to practice. He practiced and practiced. Eventually, we had 20 or 30 photos that showed what life was like in this country and they were pretty good photos. It was a story that really touched people. Someone was willing to put aside begging and scamming and start to work on a scale, practice, and develop themselves as a person.
We put all these pictures together in a little book and I just put it online. I put it on Indiegogo and I said, “Let's raise some money and let's sell these books.” I thought I'd sell a dozen or so, but we ended up selling nearly a thousand of these books. Ultimately, we raised about $1000. Half of that money went to him and then the other half he decided to use for charity. He purchased school supplies for kids in his city. This was a story that has touched a lot of people.
From that point forward, I've always just tried to look at these people as human beings, people with skills, people with something to offer, if they put their mind to it. There are several people that I continue to work with to this day that I have friendships with that continue to just do better things than scamming.
That's a really neat success story of taking a scammer and turning him into a businessman. Do you still work with that particular person?
Yeah. His name is Joel and he's from Liberia. Photography isn't a skill that's in really high demand in these developing countries. Things that are in demand there—food, water, and shelter. We look for ways to use the money that we raised from that book to start other businesses. One of the things that we’re involved with now is using that money to create these sanitary pads for young girls because that's a huge problem in his country.
A lot of the girls will just skip school for a week out of the month because of their monthly period. We produce these little reusable pads made locally in that country. They're much more affordable than disposable pads that you can use once and throw away. This is just something—it’s this little business that we're trying to get going, but it's helped hundreds of girls be able to stay in school during this critical time of their life.
That's really what is needed in that country is for people to be educated. Women, especially to lead and lead out in government and business. That's our goal is just to make the country a better place.
That's awesome that you've been able to flip the script, pardon the pun. It really makes a positive difference in the scammer's life, as opposed to letting me just scream and yell at this person long enough, and hopefully, they'll hate their job so much that they'll go do something else.
Yeah. To me, it's about helping people realize that there's a better way to live. You control them and you can laugh at them online. That's good at bringing awareness, but I don't want them to call any more people. I want them to hang up the phone and walk away from that call center and say, “I can do better than this. There's a better way to make money. There’s a better way to contribute to life, and I'm going to do that.” I just hope that my videos show that there is that path that you don't have to be a scammer; you can be better.
That's awesome. How can people find you on YouTube and social media?
My YouTube channel is called Pleasant Green. You could just search for that or go to youtube.com/pleasantgreen. I try to spend some time on Twitter, @pleasantgreen, and then I have Instagram as well. I'll try to post updates about the videos that I'm working on and the people that I'm working with. We invite everybody to come along and join in on the fun.
Awesome. We'll make sure to link to all those in the show notes. Any parting advice on avoiding scams before we finish today?
I would just say ask lots of questions. Just always be on your toes and just realize that anybody really can fall for these types of things. Scammers are changing their methods every day when something stops working. Everybody was talking about that Nigerian Prince scam 10 years ago, about the person wanting to give his fortunes to you. That doesn't happen anymore because enough people became aware of it and now it's just kind of a funny thing that we laugh about.
Well, that's going to happen with these tech support scams and these Amazon scams and, soon enough, it's going to be something else. We just have to be on our toes. We have to be aware of these things. We always have to be educating ourselves and being aware because they're going to come up with new methods, and they are.
It's always a cat-and-mouse game. Ben, thank you so much for coming on the Easy Prey Podcast today.
Thanks for having me.