Many have attempted it, and few have been successful: the reverse con.

For those who don’t know what that is, it is the act of taking what was intended to be an Internet Scam or Hoax  against you, and turning it around on the perpetrator. It is a difficult, risky business that I wouldn’t recommend for anyone. However, that doesn’t mean we can’t look at – and appreciate – a case where it worked.

The Powerbook

Way back in 2004 there was a lack of understanding from many people about the threats of cyber security. Email scams were just starting to really gain media attention, and usually at the expense of those who had fallen for them.

But one thing that was still extremely new was the Ebay scheme. This was someone attempting to con you into using an ‘escrow’ service on high ticket items. The website where payment was held was fake, and the scammer walked away with what you had “sold” them. Ebay itself was struggling to curb the problem, and are still fighting scammers today.

Jeff Harris was not so easily taken in. He received a message asking him to send an Apple Powerbook G4 he was selling for a friend using an escrow service. It would, the scammer claimed, hold the money for him until the unit arrived in London, where he would pay to have it shipped.

Knowing it was a bad deal immediately, Harris posted on the Something Awful forums about what was going on. He received a large number of replies and suggestions. One in particular caught his attention:

“Send a three ring binder with a hand drawn keyboard taped to the inside of the bottom flap, and a hand drawn screen taped to the inside of the top flap. Crayon preferred.”

Fake Powerbook

The Reverse Con

Having already reported the guy to Ebay, Harris agreed with the poster’s suggestion to create a fake Powerbook.

First, he agreed to use the escrow service and joined the fake site the con artist had sent. Then, he took a 3-ring binder, taped keyboard keys to the inside, scribbled a USB port and other items around the spine, and colored icons onto the “screen”. On the front he wrote the word “P-P-P-Powerbook!” under a drawing of the Apple logo.

Telling the scammer that he was ready to send the package, he was given a fake confirmation number for the payment and an address in London. What happened next was a series of elaborate and hilarious events.

  • Harris marked the custom’s report as the highest possible value so the scammer would have to pay hundreds to get the Powerbook from FedEx.
  • Members of the Something Awful forum living in London went to the address given and found it to be an internet cafe.
  • The scammer paid the taxes to release the package and picked up his P-P-P-Powerbook.

Harris emailed the man to say that the escrow service wasn’t working, but that he trusted him. The scammer, realizing he’d been had and lost several hundred British pounds in the process, attempted to email him a virus, which was easily avoided.

That is how you conduct the reverse con.



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