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Scambaiters Turn Tables on Nigerian E-Mail Scam Artists

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A Nigerian scammer sent this photo to a scambaiter.419eater.com

Revenge is sweet — and thanks to tattoo ink, sometimes permanent — for a growing legion of "scambaiters" who have taken it upon themselves to punish the thieves behind those Nigerian e-mail scams.

Posting their exploits online, scambaiters are turning the tables on the scam artists, conning the cons who have bilked unsuspecting people out of countless millions of dollars in a common scam referred to as the "419 scam" or advance-fee fraud.

Typically, scammers start an e-mail relationship and get their victims to send money to people who claim to be dying or who need help to free a fictitious dead man's money purportedly tied up in a foreign bank account.

Click here for photos.

The scambaiters play along, goading the scammers to jump through extraordinary hoops in hopes of getting their hands on their victims' cash.

One con artist gladly tattooed himself with a design that read "Bilked by Shiver" and sent the photographic evidence to Shiver Metimbers, the founder of 419eater.com, a Web site that documents the scambaiters' revenge.

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Ahmed Sadiq, of Lagos, Nigeria, first contacted Metimbers in 2005 asking for money for a trip to Mecca. After repeatedly trying to shake Sadiq, Metimbers sent him the e-mail address of "Father Bruce Corbin," the fictitious head of accounts for the equally fake Holy Church of The Tattooed Saint.

After Sadiq contacted Corbin, the fake father responded: "All members of our church (myself included) must bear the tattoo mark of our saint, Saint Bartholomew Shiver. This mark of faith is tattooed on to each individual member of our church."

Sadiq, believing he'd get an exorbitant sum from the church, went to great lengths to get the tattoo on his thigh, only to find himself being strung along for more than three months by the fake father and a string of other phony personas created by 419eater.com's founder.

Metimbers is the online moniker of a British man named Mike, who has spent the last five years turning the tables on unsuspecting Nigerian e-mail scammers.

"Scambaiting is frowned upon in legal circles," Metimbers told Wired in a 2006 interview.

But that hasn't stopped him and his crew from exacting revenge on the scammers.

Sadiq's story and those of other conned con artists are detailed on Metimbers' site, which has a gallery of photographs of would-be scammers holding self-effacing signage and tales of Nigerians who'll carve computer keyboards and cartoon characters in the pursuit of easy money.

The site offers a code of ethics for would-be scambaiters, noting that "we bait the scammers that come to us."

• Click here to visit the 419eater.com Web site.

• Click here to read the Wired magazine article.