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YouTube Star Kitboga Fights Fraud With Humor

Kitboga has turned scam baiting into performance art, delighting his 3.3 million followers

spinner image YouTube star Kitboga delights his 3.3 million followers with his many characters and laughs at the expense of online scammers.
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YouTube star Kitboga has turned scam baiting into performance art, delighting his 3.3 million followers with his many characters and laughs at the expense of online criminals. It started out as pure curiosity, and a way to avenge his grandparents who'd been victims of scams, but along the way, he's helped return money and hijacked accounts to victims, and he's taught a lot of viewers how online scams work. Bob sits down with Kitboga for a humorous and enlightening conversation.

spinner image infographic quote that reads: "If I spent 10 minutes on the phone, that's 10 minutes they're not talking to someone's grandma. If I can make entertaining, funny content, people will watch, and then they're learning about scams."
Full Transcript

(MUSIC INTRO)

[00:00:01] Bob: This week on The Perfect Scam.

[00:00:05] Kitboga: I try to just change my voice and do different accents and things just to sort of switch it up, or you know it started out of almost necessity because if I called the same place a few times with my voice, they would know who I was. And they'd just hang up, right? Well, if I called back and I tried to talk with little bit different accent or, or whatever, now then they might put up with me, and then I realized, oh, I can, if I can make my voice sound old, maybe I could shift it a little bit higher and now I'm, you know, now I sound like a different character.

(MUSIC SEGUE)

[00:00:47] Bob: Welcome back to The Perfect Scam. I’m your host, Bob Sullivan. It started out as pure curiosity, and a way to avenge his grandparents who'd both been victims of scams. It turned into a YouTube channel with 3.3 million subscribers and tens of millions of laughs, all at the expense of online criminals trying to steal from vulnerable people. He's turned scam baiting into performance art, but along the way, a man who calls himself Kitboga, has become much more than a viral celebrity. He's wasted years’ worth of criminals' time. He's helped return money and hijacked accounts to victims, and he's taught a lot of viewers how online scams really work. So, let's meet him, let's laugh with him a bit, and then let's learn what he has to teach us.

[00:01:46] Kitboga: My name is Kitboga. And I spend a lot of my time investigating scammers and I try to play the perfect victim so I can waste their time and, and collect information about what they're doing.

[00:02:01] Bob: In this clip from his show, Kitboga has a criminal on the edge of his seat thinking he's only a click or two away from transferring all the money out of a victim's bank account, but one of those frustrating password reset screens stands in the way.

[00:02:18] Kitboga: Three different scammers, my bank with millions of dollars in it, and see if they'll put up with the password game. These guys will usually do just about anything to rip someone off, so it'll be good to get a little revenge while we waste their time and collect some of their information.

(clip)

[00:02:31] Scammer: Make sure you put the correct online password you use to log into your bank, okay?

[00:02:35] Kitboga: If, if it was Apple1234, now that's easy.

[00:02:39] Kitboga: The three scammers I'm talking to today think everything's going according to plan, but after I show them my balance, I'm going to tell them my password's expired or I'm locked out.

[00:02:47] Kitboga: Oh shoot. Oh God not again, not again.

[00:02:49] Scammer: It’s the same for everyone.

[00:02:51] Kitboga:. For your security, God, I, I this happened to me once before.

[00:02:55] Kitboga: This isn't a normal bank though. They're playing the password game.

[00:02:58] Scammer: You need to set your, you need to...

[00:02:59] Kitboga: Hold on a minute.

[00:03:00] Scammer: You need to reset your password. No worries.

[00:03:02] Kitboga: Yellow...

[00:03:05] Bob: And resetting the password goes even worse for the criminal than it normally does for you and me.

(clip)

[00:03:13] Kitboga: Guess I bet, I bet a robot can't guess that password. You've got to be smart.

[00:03:17] Kitboga: Your password must include a two-letter symbol from the Periodic Table. What the heck is that?

[00:03:22] Scammer: It should be Na.

[00:03:25] Kitboga: That's...

[00:03:25] Scammer: Na.

[00:03:26] Kitboga: That's uh, was does that stand...

[00:03:27] Scammer: Uppercase N, go for uppercase N, then lowercase a.

[00:03:32] Kitboga: It... your password must include the current phase of the moon as an emoji.

[00:03:38] Scammer: Moon as an emoji. Where they can get the emoji, ma’am?

[00:03:42] Kitboga: That is a good question, your guess is as good as mine.

[00:03:45] Kitboga: Oh, look. So it's autocompleting.

[00:03:48] Bob: This is a fairly crazy way to spend your time. How did you get here?

[00:03:52] Kitboga: Yes, there are some days where we, myself and the team, look at each other and say, is this really what we do for a job? But it started off small. It's just something I was passionate about. I heard about tech support scams probably 7 years ago. And my grandmother had, had dementia, my grandfather had Alzheimer's, and they had been taken advantage of quite a bit, so when I learned about tech support scams as a millennial who was a software engineer at the time, I, I'm thinking to myself, if I didn't know tech support scams existed, surely my grandparents wouldn't, and surely my parents wouldn't. And that was this kind of spark of maybe I could do something about it. Maybe I could investigate or tell people about it. And I think it took me about 5 minutes to get on the phone with a tech support scammer; it wasn't very hard to find one. And they asked if they could get on my computer, at which point I hung up and I, I wasn't prepared for that. But I, I ran over to my wife and told her all about these scams and it was just, yeah, this spark, something that I had to do something about.

[00:05:06] Bob: So he started by setting up a computer specially designed to protect him from the criminals he'd be talking with and let me stop at this point and say we do not recommend you try this at home. Kitboga is a professional, and now has a whole staff. So he then starts calling criminals, pretending to participate in whatever scam they want, and wasting their time.

[00:05:30] Kitboga: I set up a virtual computer, virtual machine, and I knew a little bit about how to do that from my tech background. Figured out how to call scammers without using my actual phone number. That I knew, okay, well I can't call them with my phone and my real name and my actual address. And all the, I, I kind of knew I had to obfuscate some of that. But I also was just talking to my friends about it a lot. I was just, you know, when you have a hobby or something you're really interested in, that, that tends to be what you're conversing with everyone about. And that, and that's sort of where all this was born because one day they said, I don't know if they really said, okay, shut up, stop talking about it. But they, they said, "Okay, stream it. Put it on Twitch.TV so we can watch instead of just telling us all these stories. We want to, we want to like see it."

[00:06:25] Bob: His friends want to watch, so he starts streaming these sessions live where few people can tune into to watch his shenanigans.

[00:06:34] Kitboga: And I, so I think what happened is one of them put it on Reddit somewhere, and they shared this clip. And I didn't know. And then I would usually stream maybe once a week on like a Sunday night or when I had some free time. And I went back, you know, the next Sunday night or something to, to stream, and I told a couple of my friends, "Hey, I'm going to go live." And there were like 20 or 30 people there all of the sudden. And that was, I ran out to the car and my wife had some aviator sunglasses, and I put them on because I, like I don't want people to see me. I don't people to know who I am. Why are people here? Like it was a very unexpected moment where like why are there all these people watching me? And it kind of grew from there. Like oh, okay. People actually are interested in watching this, and yeah, that's kind of the history of now this is my job.

[00:07:32] Bob: From a few friends to millions of YouTube subscribers. But some things haven't changed since he got started about 6 years ago.

[00:07:44] Bob: The disguise has not become much more sophisticated though, it seems.

[00:07:46] Kitboga: (chuckles) No, not really. Sometimes I put a wig on just for fun. But, uh... yeah.

[00:07:55] Bob: But the uh, the glasses are your uh, are, are your, that gets you in character I suppose, right?

[00:07:59] Kitboga: Yeah.

[00:08:01] Bob: And he doesn't disclose his real identity.

[00:08:06] Bob: Now where does the name Kitboga come from if you can tell me?

[00:08:08] Kitboga: It's just an old, I used to play a game called Age of Empires, and there was a, a civilization, the Mongols, like the Mongolian, and, and they, one day I was playing, and if you've ever played this game, a really bad strategy would be to send catapults one at a time to, to your base, and that's what that computer player did. And its name was Kitboga. I think I misread it. I think it's actually with like a Q or you know it's like a mistranslation between, I feel bad I don't know the original language to English, so I think Kitboga in some form is a Mongolian warlord. I did not know. I just thought it was funny, and it sort of accidentally became my brand now.

[00:08:57] Bob: And while his grandparents inspired his vigilante streak, the more performative aspects of his calls are inspired by his father.

[00:09:07] Kitboga: Not that I'm necessarily condoning or supporting this, but the, back in the day I remember we would get sales calls, and my dad would just put it on speaker phone and all my siblings, and I would, like we'd just sit in the living room and basically make prank calls, right, to... a lot of the sales.

[00:09:25] Bob: Aha. It was in your blood.

[00:09:27] Kitboga: Yes. Yeah, my dad would be yelling to me, uh, give me that knife, in the background. And we would, it was just to try to make chaos for the, for the sales calls. But I, it was sort of like that. Well, okay I could stream it live, and now my friends can, can hear it, like it's on speaker phone. And, and that's sort of how I thought of it early on was me and some friends sitting in the living room talking to a scammer, but then eventually it, I, I think what happened is one day I had been playing guitar and having the scammer sing the Boot Scoot Boogie, that country song with me.

 (clip)

[00:10:09] Scammer: I'm sorry, you wonder if I do any what?

[00:10:12] Kitboga: Do, do you sing at all, Patrick?

[00:10:14] Scammer: Oh yes, I do. I do.

[00:10:16] Kitboga: But what kind of, what kind of stuff do you all like to sing, Patrick?

[00:10:19] Scammer: Oh well, I can, sir to be very honest, I am a music lover, okay? And uh, I listen to any kind of music and I sing any kind of music.

[00:10:32] Bob: And that gave a spark of an idea to Kitboga to take his routine to the next level. On camera he pulls out a guitar.

 (clip)

[00:10:42] Kitboga: Okay, you like, you like a country music at all?

[00:10:45] Scammer: Right, yes. John Denver, and everyone, yeah.

[00:10:51] Kitboga: Okay, yeah, I'll tell you what...

[00:10:53] Scammer: I've got to say, every kind of genre.

[00:10:56] Kitboga: Yeah, I'll tell you what, one of my favorite songs ever by far is the Boot Scoot Boogie, ever heard that one?

[00:11:04] Scammer: Sorry, which one you said?

[00:11:06] Kitboga: It's called the Boot Scootin' Boogie. You heard that one?

[00:11:09] Scammer: I, I apologize, sir, I don't...

[00:11:10] Kitboga: It's like (singing) "Hell toe, do-si-do, come on, baby, let's go boot scootin'." Have you heard that one?

[00:11:20] Scammer: Oh you're playing guitar.

[00:11:22] Kitboga: Yeah, I, you know, that's something I do quite a bit. I, you know it's like, (singing) "Oh Cadillac, Black Jack, baby meet me out back, we're gonna boogie." I just, I, I'm sorry, I'll tell you what Patrick, you know whenever I find a music lover, I just, I gotta, you know, share in that. It's a, it's a passion of mine too. You know that, now, now is that song...

[00:11:44] Scammer: You're an amazing singer, sir.

[00:11:48] Kitboga: Yeah, yeah you wanna, you wanna sing along maybe just for a minute while we run this scan, maybe we go uh, at the very end is my favorite...

[00:11:56] Scammer: Click on yes, sir.

[00:11:57] Kitboga: Yeah, yeah, my favorite part right here, at the end, the chorus, it goes uh, "Get there, turn around, boogie town, boot scootin' boogie."

[00:12:10] Scammer: Right, uh sir, can you click on yes on the computer?

[00:12:13] Bob: And yes, eventually Kitboga gets to do his duet.

(clip)

[00:12:19] Kitboga: Okay, yeah, look, it looks like maybe uh, is, is this what you wanted? You wanted to just run, run a scan or something?

[00:12:27] Scammer: That's right, right now it is currently running a scan and removing any sort of malicious file that would be there on the computer. Don't worry, okay?

[00:12:35] Kitboga: All right. Yeah, I mean it looked like it's going to take a minute. Maybe we could try to uh, sing that chorus one more time. What do you think, Patrick?

[00:12:43] Scammer: Sure, but I don't know the lyric, sir. You, you go ahead and sing.

[00:12:47] Kitboga: Yeah, well, yeah well on the last, the very last part is says, oh get down, turn around, go to town, boot scootin' boogie. You got that? Get down, turn around...

[00:13:03] Scammer: Get down, turn around...

[00:13:04] Kitboga: Yep, go to town. Boot scoot boogie.

[00:13:08] Scammer: Get down, turn around, go to town.

[00:13:10] Kitboga: Boot scootin' boogie. So it's like a (sing) "get down turn around, go to town, boot scootin' boogie."

[00:13:21] Scammer: (sings together) "Get down, turn around, go to town, boot scootin' boogie." (laughter)

[00:13:29] Kitboga: All right, yeah, like that. Now I'm going to add the guitar this time. Okay? So we're going to go...

[00:13:33] Scammer: Sure.

[00:13:35] Kitboga: Here we go, here we go. (sings with scammer) "Get down, turn around, go to town, boot scootin's boogie? boogie!"

[00:13:48] Scammer: Ha-ha. This is nice, sir.

[00:13:51] Kitboga: Patrick I, yeah, you have a beaut--, pretty good voice.

[00:13:53] Bob: That clip is from 2017. Kitboga’s production and his sense of humor and his staff have only grown since then. And his audience has grown right along with him.

[00:14:05] Kitboga: Yeah, so we've had livestreams that I would say there's some--, probably somewhere between like 7 to 10 thousand people who watch live. But the, but then it counts to maybe like 100,000 people throughout the day because you know some people only watch for an hour or something. But then on YouTube, the views are just in the millions where some of these videos have 8, 10, 13 billion, million views, and then when you add them all up together, it's hundreds of millions of views. So.

[00:14:40] Bob: You were a software guy when you started this, and now hundreds of millions, millions of people have seen hundreds of millions of, of your forms of art. How does that feel?

[00:14:50] Kitboga: It's um, sometimes it's very surreal. It's like a, I still feel like just a random guy, you know, like I, I never really set out to be some popular internet person.

[00:15:05] Bob: Well, persons. The number of fake voices Kitboga uses actually entire personalities is rather staggering.

[00:15:14] Kitboga: Yeah, yeah I mean I, I try to just change my voice and do different accents and things just to sort of switch it up, or you know it started out of almost necessity because I would call the same call center, usually I did this at night and there would be only one or two places open. Lots of them are open during the day in the US because they're, you know, banks are open in the US and during the day, not at 11 pm or something. And if I called the same place a few times with my voice, they would know who I was. And they'd just hang up, right? Well, if I called back and I tried to talk with little bit different accent or, or whatever, now then they might put up with me, and then I realized, oh, I can, if I can make my voice sound old, maybe I could shift it a little bit higher and now I'm, you know, now I sound like a different character and I could, I just learned different ways to do accents and voice. Yeah, um, so this is the "original Edna sound. It would be something like this. And I, she's just a dear old, and you see, I make the phone sound older as well." She's kind of an amalgamation of my grandma, my stories that my parents told me about their great grandparents or things I remember that, that they would talk about. So it's sort of all of my family stories sometimes get merged into it, so and I think that really helps add like to the whole thing. My, my grandparents were using a, you know, literal answering machine if, for those of you who remember what answering machines are and older phones. So that's what I think of. "I'm her granddaughter, uh, Nevaeh, which is heaven spelled backwards um, sometimes comes into the mix." "There's a guy named, I normally call him Tony, I guess, but he, he ends up getting into all kinds of sticky situations, uh and," and "then the, the counterpart, Berniece Andes, which if you say it quickly sounds like," Bernie Sanders. But "Berniece, you know, she I say is somewhere between Long Island and Boston, because I have no idea what this accent is, but" she, I don't know, it's, it's funny, because they, these characters have like lore to them. So she technically is a, she's a doctor. Well she says she's a doctor anyway. "I had a theoretical degree," is, is what she says. So sort of each character as time goes on, they pick up for whatever reason, things that we thought were funny that sort of sticks with them. So Richard Andrews, "This, this, this voice, my older male character, he ends up kind of being the guy who, who comes up with weird business ideas, and thinks he's, he's confidently incorrect about everything." And, and sometimes that leads to then even like romantic type scams, or, or like weird times where the scammers will flirt with me or we find romance scammers are like into one character and not the other or whatever. So there's, yeah, it's, it's a whole world.

[00:18:48] Bob: That was fantastic, by the way. You should uh, you could just do a show of that, um, especially your ability to switch in and out of them very quickly is remarkable.

[00:18:55] Kitboga: I appreciate it. I, so there, I don't know if I could do it on the fly without, may--, I'd, I'd almost have to have like a prompt or a story, but I've, I’ve gotten over the years too.

[00:19:07] Bob: Why does Kitboga have all these well-developed characters?

[00:19:12] Kitboga: Really, just to, well I guess it's two-fold. One, I find it entertaining or interesting to just come up with stories and, and tropes and see if the scammers will listen to them. I could extend the time. So for example, if I spend 15 minutes, or an hour, or 10 hours on the phone with a scammer, that's an hour that they weren't talking to a potential victim. They're talking to me. So sometimes I got to, I got to talk. I got to fill time, so I'll tell stories. The other thing about it is I think it makes my character more believable. So if I, if I call scammers with my actual voice like this, and I just talk about my act--, my daily life, they will hang up on me pretty quick, because I sound like a, I don't know, I tend to sound like a tech savvy guy, I think. But if I, if I can play it off like I am not so tech savvy and maybe I, I am a bit, I don't know, um, oftentimes the scammers will say to me, you remind me of my grandmother. And that's kind of a, a cue that I know I’ve done a good job. And I know that I've uh, at least they think that I'm uh... who they're targeting.

[00:20:30] Bob: Well they, they smell blood.

[00:20:32] Kitboga: Yeah. Yeah.

[00:20:34] Bob: And your bait has been taken.

[00:20:36] Kitboga: Exactly, yeah.

[00:20:38] Bob: Hmm.

[00:20:40] Bob: And, if you think of the whole thing as a theatrical performance, well the scam caller is a character too, even if they have no idea.

[00:20:50] Kitboga: Normally I have like the, the scammer will sometimes interject as well, and so there's like this, you know in improv, people have probably heard of the like yes/and type thing of improv.

[00:21:02] Bob: Yes.

[00:21:03] Kitboga: So well the scammers don't, they don't usually yes/and, because they don't know that it's improv, but then having them you know in--, insert something usually just gives me...

[00:21:16] Bob: Some more material.

[00:21:17] Kitboga: A spark of an idea. Yeah, it's something to go off of, even if they're mad. Well I can just feed off of their anger and be like, okay, I'll just keep doing this, 'cause they're, 'cause they're mad.

[00:21:26] Bob: In this video, Kitboga buys gift cards, but then lets the scammer watch as he accidentally redeems the cards into his character's account rather than sending them to the criminal who is pretty mad.

(clip)

[00:21:42] Kitboga: Well this is some--, this is absurd, you know, honest, I don't understand something like this. Ah...

[00:21:50] Scammer: Ma'am, you are giving for your own. I won't get it. I won't get it! I won't get it!

[00:22:00] Kitboga: What do you mean?

[00:22:01] Scammer: Ma'am, what are you doing? What are you doing???

[00:22:05] Kitboga: I'm adding this to your cash.

[00:22:06] Scammer: No! NOOOO! No (beep) no! Do not redeem that!!!! Do not redeem that! Do not redeem that!

[00:22:18] Bob: What's the longest phone call you've had?

[00:22:21] Kitboga: If I were to just sit in one spot and talk, it's probably something like 5 or 6 hours, because I usually would stream for that length of time, and you know you, you get tired and it's a long time to sit on a phone call.

[00:22:36] Bob: Yeah, you've got to go the bathroom, I mean right?

[00:22:38] Kitboga: Right, yep, yeah, exactly. But over the course of multiple days or, or weeks, we've had times where they've spent 30, 40, the current record is somewhere around 52 hours of phone conversations. So you know it, it adds up.

[00:23:00] Bob: Including, what do you say, can we try this again tomorrow? I mean, is that how it goes?

[00:23:05] Kitboga: Basically, yeah.

[00:23:07] Bob: It's almost unthinkable that a criminal would spend hours and hours on the phone with someone like Kitboga. Why does this technique work so well?

[00:23:18] Kitboga: I'm playing the perfect victim. They say something like, let's go buy some gift cards at, at Target. And then I buy the gift cards and I, I come back. Of course, I extend this through all kinds of improv ideas. That whole thing that could have taken an hour let's say, I've made it take four hours. But I come back, at the end of the day, they want their gift cards because on the back they can get that code, and then resell the gift cards. Well they tell me to scratch the gift card and I scratch way too hard, and I'm making, you know, sounds that sound like I got an angle grinder, I'm just really going, going at it. And I send them a picture of now I've just completely destroyed this Target card. And they get angry, but they would usually still see me as a good target because I went to the store and bought the card, but they almost got the money. And so then I'll say, well, it's getting late. I'm getting tired. I, I have choir, church choir practice, whatever excuse, and they'll say, well I'll, I'll call you tomorrow. And it, sometimes it's just goes on for weeks, and it's just different mishaps and different problems that, that happen every day. So yeah.

[00:24:32] Bob: But they always think they're just one, one instant away from, from finally getting money from you.

[00:24:40] Kitboga: I think so, yeah.

[00:24:41] Bob: Yeah, and what I think is interesting about that, is that, that's of course the technique that they use on victims so often.

[00:24:46] Kitboga: Exactly.

[00:24:47] Bob: Some of the stall tactics he employs involve a lot of creativity.

[00:24:53] Kitboga: One story is they told me to go to Lowe's and buy gift cards, and then I went into the store and I made some sounds like I was shopping, and I had my cart out and I was, I was putting things in the, in the cart, and then the scammer says, "What are you doing?" I'm like, "Well, I couldn't find the gift cards, but I know you said to buy $3000 worth of stuff, so I'm, I'm putting things in my cart. I'm putting, you know," and he's starting to get angry because he wants gift cards, not lumber, right? And I'm telling him, like, "Lumber prices are really getting high. So it's, it's what..." and then "I talked to a sales associate, and they tell, they, they said they've got a good sale on tubs, and I can get a couple tubs in the back of my truck for $3000." And I'm, and I say, "Yes!" And the scammer's screaming because he's like, "No, buy gift cards, not, not tubs." And that's an example of like, okay, what an absurd situation. Why, why would I think it's appropriate to buy tubs instead of a gift card, but if I can play it right, I know that, you know, I know the line. If I, if he thinks I'm buying something, if he thinks my character believes, well I was just supposed to spend $3000 at Lowe's, not specifically buy the gift cards for $3000, then I, then I might be able to put him through a little bit of a, a crazy story.

[00:26:15] Bob: Speaking of crazy stories, if you've ever been frustrated by an extended auto warranty call, this one might hit you hard.

(clip)

[00:26:29] Scammer: Good afternoon, am I speaking with Denver?

[00:26:32] Kitboga: I'm sorry, who is this?

[00:26:33] Scammer: This is the main processing center for your Ford F150. How're you doing today, Mr. Lewis?

[00:26:37] Kitboga: I'm doing well, how are you?

[00:26:39] Scammer: I'm doing okay for a Wednesday, sir.

[00:26:42] Scammer: Your new policy's going to come, I have your email address. It's havethebestgoat@gmail.com. Is that correct?

[00:26:48] Kitboga: That's correct.

[00:26:50] Kitboga: That's me, minding my own business when I got a call about my Ford truck's extended warranty running out, which is odd, because I don't have a Ford truck. "But apparently my grandpa character does." 'Cause they knew my fake address, fake email, and pretty much everything else about the character.

(clip)

[00:27:06] Scammer: Okay, I lost you for a second. I have to apologize sir. So I have Denver F Lewis and then what is, are you still in Chicago, Illinois?

[00:27:15] Kitboga: 60652, baby.

[00:27:17] Kitboga: I'm just going to play along with it, except every single lie they spew is going to be recorded and, in the end, I'm going to give him a taste of his own medicine.

(clip)

[00:27:25] Scammer: Well sir, I'm trying to do my job and I've been on the phone with you for 2½ hours trying to help you, sir. But then you keep going off on tangents and...

[00:27:32] Kitboga: I haven't gone off on a single tangent.

[00:27:34] Scammer: You just flipped on me, asking me how I know your mother, and why I'm talking about your mother. I wasn't talking about your mother. I said anybody and God's mother could send an email to someone that means no...

[00:27:47] Kitboga: Well if everyone and God's mother can send me an email, send me the email please. Just send me the email and we can be done with this.

[00:27:54] Scammer: Mr. Lewis, I'm not giving you the policy sir. I'm going to go ahead and I'm going to disqualify the vehicle, sir.

[00:28:00] Kitboga (woman's voice): Why are you yelling so much, sweetheart?

[00:28:02] Kitboga: It's ‘cause this guy, it's hard to explain.

[00:28:06] Kitboga (woman's voice): What did you need about the car?

[00:28:10] Kitboga: Uh, the VIN, right? V-I-N. The VIN.

[00:28:15] Scammer: The VIN number. Yes.

[00:28:17] Kitboga (woman's voice): Okay, hold on.

[00:28:18] Kitboga: Yeah, for the, for the Ford, for the F150.

[00:28:22] Kitboga (woman's voice): We don't, we don't have a Ford, sweetheart.

[00:28:26] Kitboga: What are you talking about?

[00:28:28] Kitboga (woman's voice): We sold it. We have a Prius.

[00:28:31] Scammer: Oh my gosh. Uh... (sighs)

[00:28:33] Kitboga: I think I made a... (hang up) Mr. Campbell?

[00:28:44] Bob: Okay, so all this wasting time sure does feel good in a schadenfreude sort of way, but that's not all there is to Kitboga.

[00:28:54] Bob: So the goal of all of this is to, to keep this person occupied, this one person, or whatever, maybe there's a couple. So that they're not actually stealing money from somebody else. Is, is, is there another goal, a larger goal, are there other things you try to accomplish with these, with all of these incidents?

[00:29:11] Kitboga: Yeah, yeah, a great question. And, and I definitely started off with that goal in mind. It was a sort of that spark of, oh wow, if I spent 10 minutes on the phone, that's 10 minutes they're not talking to someone's grandma, and I still, you know, practice that. I still think that's value--, valuable. But there, over time I've learned, well, if I can make entertaining, funny content, like funny stories, people will watch, and then they're learning about these scams. And they'll share it with their family, and I have people who say, "Oh we get together at, you know, Thanksgiving and I, and I'm showing my, the whole family one of, one of your videos, and now the whole family learns about how these scams work, right?" And, and I, and then I find out that that's prevented people from getting scammed, and then even more so, I've realized they will give me really valuable information, them, being the scammers. They'll give me bank accounts, bitcoin wallet addresses, company names of companies here in the US that they use to launder money through, and all of that can be then reported to people here in the US who can actually investigate and, and get those things shut down. When I first started that wasn't what I thought I'd be doing, but it's, it's exciting.

[00:30:35] Bob: Do you work with law enforcement? Do you have, do you know of any stories of people getting, getting arrested or facing legal consequences because of what you do?

[00:30:42] Kitboga: Yeah, I use--, I think that usually we pass information over to the right places, but I don't, I usually don't talk about what does or doesn't happen, and oftentimes I don't find out what does or doesn't happen.

[00:30:58] Bob: I'm going to guess the first time you called Gigantic Bank of.. and said "I have this account that's fraudulent." It wasn't like they answered this phone and fixed it, right? So I mean it...

[00:31:06] Kitboga: No. No, it was actually, that's funny you bring that up. It, it had to have been quite difficult in the beginning. Well what, what do you tell, or I'm, "Hi, I'm Kitboga, and I have a scammer who gave me one of your accounts." And usually the first thing the rep would say, is, "Okay, well do you have an account with us?" And I'd say, "No, I don't. I'm..." And they're like, "Well then why are you calling," kind of thing? And eventually, usually if I could get to someone who worked in the fraud department, I could explain things, but now as time has gone on, I just have different contacts and it's easier to get to direct, or get, get right to the people that need to get it instead of trying to explain it every time.

[00:31:48] Bob: And over time, Kitboga's relentlessness and those contacts have been able to enact real change.

[00:31:57] Kitboga: So I think last year we collected something like 200, it was over 200 bank accounts, US bank accounts that the scammers were using to launder money through or one way or another, exploit and, and were able to like communicate with the banks and bank fraud professionals to either get those bank accounts back to victims, or shut down the ones that are, and investigate the ones that are being use for fraud. Well we heard plenty of stories where that led to uh, companies, like sort of shell or companies here in the US that were working with the scammers being invest--, investigated. And then there was even, I knew what was exciting too was they said something like, I don't know, 80% of the bank accounts were victims who had no clue that their, that their accounts were being used to like launder money. And so we heard tons and tons of those sorts of stories where the banks were able to communicate with those people, get their accounts back, explain what was going on. So that, that's really exciting too. And then more recently we've been working with Kraken, one of the major crypto exchanges, and working with their fraud team related to bitcoin wallets, so I think we've collected something like 400 or 500 bitcoin wallets in the past year and they've been able to get those like shutdown or frozen and work with different crypto exchanges and I'm hope, I'm hoping it can even get to the point where we're able to try to recover some of that for people.

[00:33:35] Bob: That's great. And so this is so much more than uh some yucks or with some friends, right?

[00:33:41] Kitboga: Yes, it's not just, it's not just a little bit of Sun--, Sunday night Kit calls a scammer for an hour. But it's exciting. It's, it's, I'm, I'm glad to be doing this. It's like the, I tell people it's the adventure of my, my life so far, and I really, really have poured my life into it and I, I certainly don't regret it.

[00:34:04] Bob: can you tell me the funniest thing that's happened to you during this set of shows?

[00:34:09] Kitboga: There's so many things that have happened, and it's hard for me to, you know, rank them, but one in particular that I think of a lot is a time where I, I, you know I can sure make my voice sound older, right, and, and I'm telling this scammer that, that I'm hooking up a bunch of microwaves in my kitchen to make the forl--, the world's first macrowave if I daisy chain, you know, 12 or 15 microwaves together. And I, and I rig it so it runs with the doors off and I make it like a seance circle where they're all facing the middle. And I could like super heat, like make a nuclear reactor. So I'm, and I'm making this story up and his phone is like cutting in and out and popping and really crackly. And so then I start playing that back to him, and making my voice get really distorted on the call. So any time I walked in the kitchen, my voice would break up and glitch and like pitch shift and make crazy sounds. And the scammer believed it, so he's, he, every time I would walk in the kitchen, he'd be like, "Don't go in the kitchen, you don't, you're going to get hurt," you know, "Don't, don't go in there. There's radiation. There," and he like genuinely believed that this was, was real life.

(clip)

[00:35:32] Scammer: Got a lot of echo, a lot of noise, but...

[00:35:36] Kitboga (woman's voice): Oh, well yeah, he has a whole bunch of microwaves all daisy-chained together, and he's, he's trying to create a black hole for science, I guess.

[00:35:46] Scammer: Oh. Oh that is, that is fascinating. Well it...

[00:35:50] Kitboga (woman's voice): You know, I don't want to interrupt his hobbies. When he retired, he went through a little bit of a, a, a... you know, a couple years there where he wasn't really sure what to do with himself. And then he watched this video about microwaves, particularly ones that were made in the '70s, and he has been buying them every chance he gets. He's, he's glowing now with this new opportunity. And um, my basement is full of microwaves.

[00:36:24] Scammer: Well, uh, Miss Williams, I would suggest to you to uh maintain a distance of those things, 'cause microwaves are not really good for your health. Maintain your dis--, distance a little, uh cover yourself before you are near the microwaves so that they don't affect your brain, and they don't affect your heart and your brain.

[00:36:41] Kitboga (woman's voice): Right, well, I think, I think he's hoping to create the world's first macrowave or something.

[00:36:49] Scammer: I don't, not... (fades out)

[00:36:53] Bob: Why is this so entertaining to people, do you think?

[00:36:58] Kitboga: Good question. Because sometimes I don't know if I know. I am not a trained comedian. I, I would, two things come to mind. One, I, I think everyone, this has touched almost everyone. It's sad to say. Almost everyone that I've met in some way, shape, or form has been affected by a scam, whether it's themselves or a family member. You don't have to look very far to find, or you get the calls all day long. So it's a very relatable thing and it's a very frustrating and annoying, sometimes even worse thing. And then the other element, it ends up, it's almost like NASCAR, maybe you're a huge NASCAR fan, I, myself, grew up um, a really close friend of mine, their family would get together and watch the races and I, I swear they were only there for the crashes, is, is I'm surprised...

[00:37:52] Bob: No one would ever admit this, but it's absolutely true. You want to see the crashes.

[00:37:56] Kitboga: Yeah, and it sounds terrible, but that's, I swear that's what they did and you know whenever the crash happens, everyone's freaking out and going crazy and glued to the TV. They've got their popcorn bowls and I think that's what some of this becomes too is okay, we're on this call with scammers, but how absurd can this be, and like when's the crash going to happen? Is it, is the scammer going to get really, really angry to the point where they're just screaming and or, or is, or is Kit going to do something so absurd like say that I accidently bought bitcoin car wash tickets instead of a bitcoin, you know... whatever. And, and then this, like what's going to happen now? Is it, is it going to crash or is it going to, but lastly, I would, I would say, I personally really like more kind of, I don't know if it's awkward or like slapstick type comedy where there's like a, like a big inside joke where the scammers think this is real, like right? Everyone listening and they're, and watching knows I'm not actually, I'm, I'm not actually an old man named Richard Andrews who thinks he's inventing crow coin, the world's first crow-themed bitcoin. But, but the scammer does. And so when I'm asking them to do certain things and sing songs or whatever it is, they think it's real life. And I think that adds an extra level of comedy or, or funny stuff.

[00:39:32] Bob: Well, and there's this cosmic element to it that if the scammer just googles your name, they would see what they're in the middle of, right? So the world is on this joke; this one person isn't.

[00:39:46] Kitboga: Yeah, yeah that's an interesting way to put it.

[00:39:49] Bob: Humor of course often has a deeper point, and it turns out to be a great teacher.

[00:39:56] Kitboga: I used to so some like public service announcement type videos or, or here's the top 10 scams to look out for. And they didn't really get used and people didn't really share them. But if I do a call like that where I've got three family members huddled around the laptop that's, that's broken, and I come up with absurd funny stories, people watch and share the videos. I don't know if it's like the merge of entertainment and education. Yeah, that, that's something that I didn't realize right away, but over time has been quite valuable.

[00:40:30] Bob: While he does have a lot of fun working on these videos, Kitboga says he never forgets that these things really are serious.

[00:40:39] Kitboga: A friend of mine, their mother-in-law, they, they called one night and said, "Kit, I'm here with my friend. She's at the bank. She was about to wire $40,000 to, to someone." And, because as much as I have on like kind of, in some ways we're kind of like joking around with the scammers. You know, I'm, I'm telling them I'm buying tubs, it's, it's hilarious. We're having a good time. But then there's these moments where you, you go, this is like real and it's, it's devastating. And so this woman, close friend of ours is like, she was about to wire $40,000 and thankfully the bank teller said something was suspicious, and, and so that, what a hero.

[00:41:25] Bob: Does Kitboga ever get scared? Maybe at first, a little, but...

[00:41:31] Kitboga: I later realized that uh you know this, most of the scammers I've been talking to are, how, how would I put it? They--, certainly their bosses might be more organized and, and pretty scary individuals, but some of the scammers that I'm talking to on the phone, they're not really tech savvy. They're not, it's not like a mafia movie where this guy is going to come, you know, bust my kneecaps or something, which is how I thought of it initially. So I, I, I'm, I'm not as concerned about that. Though I do maintain privacy and like I don't like say my real name; surprise, surprise, it's not Kitboga, but that's my username or persona. I really don't talk about like where I live and give certain information, because I would prefer to keep those things private. One, the online world scammers are not, are, it can be scary. There are some, some bad actors out there, let's say, that, that stalk or harass. Some of them have, have, have tried to do this already who are not scammers, and I met... I also do make some scammers angry. So even though I don't think they're going to come necessarily uh, you know, like a mob video, I don't know. And I, and if I make enough of them angry, and I make their bosses angry, well now I might have some issues. So I try to be careful.

[00:43:01] Bob: Sure, and there's ways they can hurt you that you might not even imagine and you know, and...

[00:43:04] Kitboga: Sure.

[00:43:05] Bob: And again, this is why we strongly recommend against trying anything like this, listener. You really could get hurt or hurt someone else.

[00:43:16] Bob: This is your, your fulltime life now, right?

[00:43:18] Kitboga: Yeah. Yeah, and it's...

[00:43:20] Bob: When did you make the leap from, I'm not going to be doing my day job anymore?

[00:43:24] Kitboga: Probab--, maybe somewhere in 2018. 2019? I was able to do some like consulting or, or like side stuff for a while so I could have multiple income streams and then yeah probably 2018 was like the, sometime in there was... I remember my wife, actually just thinking, I remember one of my close friends who, who actually is, who is actually now working with me with Kit stuff, I, I had said, "You know, it'll probably be like a year." I remember very specifically I remember saying to him, "This is a once in a life type... time opportunity. I, I don't know what's going to happen, but right now there are people who want to watch this, and it's helping people, and I'm able to support my family with it, so I gotta try." You know, like I would look back and be bummed that I didn't take the chance to see what happened. Yeah, and that was 2018, and I said, "It'll probably be a year or so." And now it's 2023, and I imagine I'll just keep going for the foreseeable future so.

[00:44:33] Bob: In fact, Kitboga and his team are hard at work trying to scale up the work.

(clip)

[00:44:43] Kitboga: If I want to do something to fight back, there is not enough time in the day for me to just talk to all of them myself. So my team and I built a trap that would keep them occupied, even while I sleep.

[00:44:53] Welcome to Easy Send automated system. Our award-winning platform is set up to allow anyone with a code to easily withdraw and manage funds.

[00:45:02] Kitboga: The concept’s pretty simple. I give a scammer a fake bitcoin gift card, or a receipt, and they think it's going to be easy to redeem. In their mind, it's a board game with no obstacles or challenges, and free bitcoin in the end. They've already won. In reality, my team and I had designed a series of challenges and obstacles that make this literally impossible.

(clip)

[00:45:23] Just one last thing. How would you rate your experience today?

[00:45:27] Scammer: (screams) AHHHH!!!!

[00:45:30] Kitboga: That guy has spent over 5 days playing.

(clip)  

[00:45:32] Kitboga: I was not expecting that.

[00:45:34] Kitboga: That's five times 24. We're talking real life days.

[00:45:41] Bob: With all this experience talking to scam criminals, wasting their time, what advice does Kitboga have about the way they work and about how people can protect themselves?

[00:45:52] Kitboga: Yeah, I can think of a, a few things. And something I've said for a long time is that every scam, whether it is you are winning the money or you owe money, right, like whether it's good or bad, whether they're going off of fear or something good, there's a, always a sense of urgency; you can't hang up. You have to listen. You have to act right now. So I, I often try to remind people that, that usually doesn't exist in the real world. If you can, if you ever find yourself in a stressful situation like that where you're on the phone with someone and they’re, they're like, do not hang up. You know you have to, and they're demanding things, remember that you can, you can always reach out to law enforcement or a lawyer or a family member or tell someone, you know, okay, well give me the case number or give me the account number and I'll call back later. I always tell people too, to be really careful about allowing someone to connect to your computer. It's something where perhaps if you need support, it, it should be initiated by you, not the other way around. But one of the most dangerous things that I'm sure just about any scam baiter you've talked to, has probably brought this up; the second a scammer connects to your computer it, it can get really devastating really fast, access to your financial accounts, your, your personal files, pictures, whatever documents you have. So certainly, not allowing someone to do that is like a really major priority. And then what I always talk about education as well, like just trying to stay up to date with things. So those are the sorts of, that's the kind of advice that I've, I've given for years.

[00:47:44] Bob: But, he says, relying on education isn't enough. So he's working on software that can help too.

[00:47:52] Kitboga: So I'm honest though, there has been in the back of my mind, I think of my grandparents and I think of my grandma, and I think if I told her those things it would be really difficult for how, how can she keep up with these scams? So, we actually uh, and this is kind of like a, something we've been working on all year; we actually designed and built some, some software that we're, we're launching where it essentially monitors for these remote connections and these different type of scams that happen and just stops them before it even starts. So this software I put on my mom's computer, and if someone's trying to remotely connect and install UltraViewer or these things that the scammers do, it gives her an alert at the bottom right of her computer. Says, "If you're on the phone with someone, they're trying to tell you to install this, hang up right away. It's a scam." It blocks her from installing this software and it texts me and says, "Kit, something's going on with mom. You need to step in and help." And I'm really excited about that because I believe it can, can help and, and there's been so many times where again, I think my advice is good advice, but there are also so many situations where you can't, you're in a stressful spot, you really think that you're talking to Microsoft on the phone, and so you go along with it and, and you're not, like that's how those scams work. So to tell somebody step back, take a breath, you know call, call your, the police, well you're probably not going to do that in a stressful situation. So having some software that looks out for all the things I've learned over the past 6, 7 years. So if I'm talking about this for too long, I'm just, I'm just really excited about it because it, it's like the next evolution of like all these things that I've learned and, and being able to help people.

[00:49:58] Bob: Yeah, I mean all the behavioral research agrees with everything that you're saying. You can't really give people advice and expect them to follow it 99.99% of the time. The idea of a sort of anti-virus software but for scams is, is super interesting. But to me even more interesting is that text message that you mentioned because of course the criminal will adapt and say, "Oh that popup you see, that always happens. You know, this is an exception to that software." But if, if by then you’re already calling mom, that helps a ton.

[00:50:28] Kitboga: Yeah, that's a, that's a big reason why I think that's an essential part of the tool, because I have seen good scammers do that and, and now, would I say that that's normal? Not necessarily. I think the, the average scammer that I talk to won’t know how to recover it, and if, if they can't connect to your computer, they just kind of, error, does not compute. They don't know what to do with their script, and they'll, then they get mad and they hang up. But I have talked to good scammers who just like you said, they will tell you, "Oh, I put that there because I work with Microsoft and I wanted to protect you. Uh, now, now turn your computer off and let's head to the bank," right. So if I, my family members, my siblings and I get that text that says, "Mom just tried to download UltraViewer, um, that, one of my siblings lives really close to my mom, and I'm, I'm saying, "Get in your car, and you know, don't stop calling her, and physically go to her house," right, because I know how devastating this stuff can be.

[00:51:30] Bob: This might be a weird last question, but now do you ever think about the criminals, the scammers?

[00:51:36] Kitboga: Yeah, I, I mean what comes to mind when you bring that up is I, I've; so sometimes I get, I get angry with them, but I, I do tend to think of them like, like humans who have made really bad choices and I, I have had some conversations with scammers who whether they were truthful or not, I, I, I may not know, but have, have said like, "I, I don't like doing this. And I, I'm just having trouble leaving. I don't know how to get out." Kind of once you get in, some of these scam organizations will, you know, they'll get you set up, they'll get you the tech you need, the laptop, the headset, and now you're almost like indebted to the boss, right, 'cause you, they gave you all this stuff. "Well, you haven't scammed anyone yet. And I gave you $1000 worth of equipment. Even if you want to leave, there, there's like this issue now." So I have had some conversations, more heart to heart and, and thought, man, this just sucks all around. That it, as much as this guy's a, a criminal who I believe should, right, that there should be some justice here, there, it's not okay, I'm not justifying what they're doing in any way. There, there also have been some moments where I'm like, man, it's just really sad that, that this person got to the point in their life, whatever it was, whether it was because it was really, really bad in their life, or they just thought they'd make a bunch of extra money which I do think is the majority of the cases, but some of them, it's not the easiest thing in the world to, to leave. And they get, they're fear--, fearful of their own life. Some scammers have wanted to pass information to me that they think might be valuable to help investigate these, you know like criminal organizations, but they're, they're afraid because if, if anyone ever found out that they're the one who gave the information, they're, I mean they're thinking like, I, my life could be at, at risk, right? So it's tough. It's, it's a bummer.

[00:53:47] Bob: Yeah, so we, we just did an episode um, I think it just released last week, but where we, well a BBC reporter interviewed a, a human trafficking victim.

[00:53:55] Kitboga: Oh, wow. Okay. Yeah, and so like I've actually, I've been trying to cover some romance related scams and, and do some of that, but in the back of my mind, I have been like I, I know some of those interviews or read some of those stories, and I think oh my gosh, what if I'm chatting with, like what if that's who I'm talking to? It's not, I'm not, right, like that's the person that's exchanging text messages with me, not, not a dude who's pretending to be Microsoft, you know, in his apartment building. Right, it's a... sometimes it's tough because I, I want to create some, some content around those scams to help educate people, but in the back of my mind, you're like, ooh, this is a little bit more complicated.

[00:54:43] Bob: Like many things in life, it's a bit more complicated than it might look at first blush, but our primary advice here is simple. Just don't talk to online criminals. When you get a call you don't expect, just hang up. Don't engage in any way. That's the best way to protect yourself and your loved ones.

(MUSIC SEGUE)

[00:55:09] Bob: If you have been targeted by a scam or fraud, you are not alone. Call the AARP Fraud Watch Network Helpline at 877-908-3360. Their trained fraud specialists can provide you with free support and guidance on what to do next. Our email address at The Perfect Scam is: theperfectscampodcast@aarp.org, and we want to hear from you. If you've been the victim of a scam or you know someone who has, and you'd like us to tell their story, write to us or just send us some feedback. That address again is: theperfectscampodcast@aarp.org. Thank you to our team of scambusters; Associate Producer, Annalea Embree; Researcher, Sarah Binney; Executive Producer, Julie Getz; and our Audio Engineer and Sound Designer, Julio Gonzalez. Be sure to find us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts. For AARP's The Perfect Scam, I'm Bob Sullivan.

(MUSIC OUTRO)

END OF TRANSCRIPT

The Perfect ScamSM is a project of the AARP Fraud Watch Network, which equips consumers like you with the knowledge to give you power over scams.

 

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