We’ve all seen the emails promising us millions of pounds in exchange for a couple hundred quid, or from that gorgeous eastern European girl looking to marry us if she could just afford her visa. I’ve forwarded numerous emails to spoof@paypal.com in the hope it’ll make a difference, because truth is, we all fall for it from time to time.

However, it’s increasingly becoming a bigger problem, which one company aims to change – with a twist.

Let’s start with some statistics.

Globally, cybercrime costs us $125.9billion in 2016.

That’s no small change, even in a world dominated by multi-billion deals. To put that into perspective, Facebook acquired WhatsApp for $19billion, which at the time was considered steep by anyone’s view. Cybercriminals made that much money in just 55 days that year.

The total cost of financial cybercrime per country is as follows, (2016):

USA: $20.3billion (USD)
Mexico: $5.5billion (USD)
UK: $2billion (USD)
Germany: $1.5billion (USD)
United Arab Emirates: $1.4billion (USD)
New Zealand: $257million (USD)

So how do we combat this and start putting money back in the pockets of the good?
Whilst New Zealand’s annual loss due to cybercrime is significantly less than the other
countries in the chart (though an insignificant amount it is not), one company has decided enough is enough.

Introducing the star of the show…

Netsafe, a New Zealand non-profit online safety organisation whose independent body is made up the Police, the Ministry of Education, telecomms organisations and IT industry partners. Now, they reckon that the scamming side of cybercrime costs us about $12billion a year as a planet. Whilst this may only be about 4.66% of the total cybercrime figure, considering this is completely preventative, that’s a big saving available.

Anyway, continuing their focus on online safety, the company has created a bot called
Re:scam. This focuses primarily on phishing and is designed to waste phishers’ time,
distracting them from us regular folk. (For more information on what phishing is and
how to protect yourself online, Netsafe have a page to help) Due to the bot’s artificial
intelligence upbringing, it has the power to be, and remain, believable to unsuspecting
recipients by learning from a variety of people from all over the world. As the programme engages in more fake conversations with scammers overseas, its vocabulary, intelligence and personality traits will grow. All you have to do to make use of the bot is to forward any dodgy looking emails to me@rescam.org. If they’re found to be fraudulent, Re:scam will pick up the conversation and continue it for as long as there are minutes in the day. Unless the scammer gets bored and stops of course.

In the last 24 hours, at the time of writing, the AI program had wasted 25 days worth of
scammers’ time, sending over 16,000 emails. This leaves less time for the trickster to prey on others.

Not only does it waste time, but it does it with a sense of humour. Some examples of
Re:scam’s communications include:

(When talking to a ‘single Russian lady’) – “I don’t want to Russian to things”.
(When talking to a ‘bank requiring funds’) – “Are you talking about real money? Because if so then you certainly have my attention.”
(When talking to an ‘official person’) – “It all seems quite a wee bit official like.”

As you can see, it uses language that suggests it is excited and on-board with anything it has to do. Scammers rely on people trusting what they read in order for them to come across as plausible as possible. This then gives off the impression they could have a catch and that they should spend time following it up. Unfortunately for them, they are being played at their own game. Well, not quite, Re:scam doesn’t actually phish for details unfortunately (Re:scam 2.0 perhaps Netsafe?).

[easy-tweet tweet=”to some a robot with multiple personalities sounds like the start of the apocalypse” hashtags=”ai, cybercrime, phising”]

Now, to some, a robot with multiple personalities sounds like the start of the apocalypse, but you can rest assured that this robot won’t be using its powers for anything but good.

At least… That’s what I’m hoping…. Netsafe?

So, there we have it. Give those swindlers a taste of their own medicine by sending them
down the rabbit hole whilst you enjoy the fishing that won’t harm you. If there’s one thing to remember from all of this, I think the bot itself sums it up nicely…

“Deleting a scam email protects you, but forwarding to me@rescam.org protects others.”

Aside:

For those of you that, like myself, deal in food rather than money, cybercriminals enjoyed 6,998,332,407 XXL Papa Johns pizzas at your expense in 2016. It’s time to put the ham back in our hands.

If you have any comments, or if you want to get in touch and talk tech (or food), follow me on Twitter.