Consumer affairs vigilantes

For some reason, I have come across a number of instances of consumer affairs vigilantism lately. In fact, the other day I have heard of some good examples of consumer affairs vigilantism to try on those guys who call you at dinner time to persuade you to change phone plans:

  1. Say, “Can you just hang on a minute?” and put the phone down. Don’t pick it back up again. OR
  2. When they start to ask you personal details (name, address), give it right back to them and start asking them personal questions.

However, I think the Internet has opened up a whole new world of consumer affairs vigilantism. For example, there is a whole site called “419 Eater” which is devoted to catching out (or “scambaiting”) perpetrators of the Nigerian 4-1-9 scam. You know the scam, where you get an unsolicited e-mail purporting to be from an African government official asking to transfer millions of dollars funds into your personal bank account! The “scambaiters” purport to reply to the scammers and get them to comply with ridiculous requests which result in their humiliation.

But the most impressive consumer affairs vigilante I have come across is “Lap Top Guy”, a Londoner who alleges that he was sold a defective laptop on eBay by one Amir Tofangsazan. How do I know about this? Well, “Lap Top Guy” alleges that managed to get the computer working and discovered that the seller had not deleted the material on the hard drive. So he set up a blog on which he placed the following, allegedly from the hard drive of the laptop:

  • Photos of the defective laptop
  • Amir’s CV
  • Photos of Amir, family and friends
  • Numerous photos of women’s legs taken by a camera phone on the Tube
  • Various foot fetish porn and other porn which had been left on the hard drive

Amir is now so infamous he has an entry devoted to him in Wikipedia. If you want to have a look at the blog site, note that the porn has been edited but is still reasonably full on, so be warned if you follow this link.

Although from one perspective this is all quite funny (and one tends to think “Serves you right!”) there is a serious side. I have some qualms about making this post, as it raises serious questions of privacy. In the olden days, wrongdoers were put in the stocks and had rotten fruit thrown at them. I think that there would be an outcry if we decided to reinstitute this as punishment. But in some ways, this is even worse than that – worldwide humiliation and notoriety at the click of a mouse – for alleged conduct which is not the act of a seasoned vicious criminal. In fact, the sad thing about these accused scammers is that they seem rather stupid.

But one wonders how Internet privacy can be policed and, if so, whether it would be appropriate to do so?

The important thing to remember is that writing is a powerful thing. The ancient Irish were worried about putting things in writing for this very reason (apart from the fact it was so hard to write anything in Ogham that it would take hours). Cyberspace makes communication instant and worldwide. You have to be careful about what you type…something for this Legal Eagle to remember as she types away at her blog!

This line of thought also reminds me of the two infamous e-mail exchanges which made their way into everyone’s inboxes, including my inbox. Topically, both exchanges emanated from law firms. (What does this say about law firms? A question for another day…) In case you missed these exchanges, they were as follows:

  • Ketchup trousers exchange: the Baker & McKenzie Senior Associate who e-mailed his secretary to ask her to reimburse him for the £4 for the dry cleaning of his trousers after she splashed ketchup on them;
  • Ham sandwich exchange: the e-mail exchange between secretaries at Allens Arthur Robinson about the whereabouts of a missing ham sandwich.

All very amusing…but it seems that these incidents had devestating ramifications for the individuals involved (the Senior Associate resigned, and the sandwich secretaries were sacked).

What do people think? Is it fair to publicly humiliate eBay fraudsters, 419 scammers or even just incautious e-mailers?

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Filed under consumer affairs, e-mail, law, society

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