Whether through email or over the phone, most people have come into contact with a fraudster of some kind. As scams become more sophisticated, it’s increasingly more important for people to be able to identify a scammer and understand how they work. One man in the U.S., known as Pleasant Green on YouTube, is facing these fraudsters head on.
Back in 2014, Ben Taylor was contacted by a scammer in Nigeria and decided that instead of just ignoring him, he would “take revenge” by making his first YouTube video, documenting how he pranked the fraudster - by sending him animal poop.
“I thought it was kind of a clever thing, I didn’t expect it to ever grow into anything,” Taylor said. “I would just continue to upload these videos as I had these encounters and it seemed to be something that people were into.”
Although the Pleasant Green channel began as a bit of a joke, he continued to document any interactions he had with scammers, which resulted in Taylor receiving several messages from viewers thanking him for helping them to navigate their own scam experiences.
“They’ve said things like, I thought I was being scammed so I Googled it and I saw your video and I learned something - you kept me from getting scammed,” Taylor said. “I just thought that my channel was turning into something that was not only fun for me, but it was kind of a way to educate people and help them to not be scammed.”
Where these scams start
Although scammers can be from anywhere around the globe, most of the people that Taylor interacts with are in Africa, Nigeria, Liberia or India. It was through an interaction with a man named Joel in Liberia that really helped Taylor understand why scammers do what they do.
Taylor got a message from Joel in 2017 and decided to interact with him. In a Facebook message, Joel initially said he needed financial assistance. The scammer eventually asked Taylor to send electronics that he could sell in Liberia, offering to split the profits.
The Pleasant Green creator ended up giving Joel a business proposition. Taylor sent Joel a camera as a gift, with the intention of him taking pictures and sending them to Taylor in exchange for money. This turned into a booklet called “By D Grace of God,” a phrase Joel regularly used in communication with Taylor. The pair initially made a thousand dollars in sales - half of which went to Joel. But as Taylor started learning more about Liberia, he gave his portion of the profits to Joel to donate to charity. The ex-scammer ended up giving school supplies to kids in five local schools.
The project expanded and Taylor received additional funds to provide essential supplies for children in Liberia. Taylor even went to the country to meet Joel in person.
“It turned out that Joel is just a guy who’s on the other side of the world who is struggling, and the only way he knew how to provide for his family was to get online and beg people for money,” Taylor said. “That kind of changed my perspective, it kind of helped me understand that there’s a human side to this and people are scamming because they’re desperate.”
Taylor discovered that a lot of scammers in Nigeria, India and other parts of the world watched the video and he received hundreds of messages about how they participate in these frauds as “a last resort.” They see people in North America and they think they have so much more money and resources than they can imagine, that they don’t see it as a devastating act.
“I think we wouldn’t judge a person who was starving if they stole a loaf of bread to feed their family, that’s basically what they’re thinking,” Taylor said. “They don’t think it’s a big deal to rip off a middle-class American to feed their family.”
In a more recent video, the Pleasant Green creator interviewed a scammer in Nigeria who said he felt alright about scamming people in the U.S. because of the way white people harmed black people throughout history.
“They have this mindset that if you live in America and you’re white, that you have plenty of money to spare,” Taylor said.
“It’s sad that people think that it’s not a big deal but...they look at the government of Canada and they look at the government of the United States and they think that, oh the government will just take care of them if they are ripped off.”
The scam you need to be aware of
Although the Joel story turned out for the better, Taylor still recognizes that these scammers are really hurting people. This is why he continued to make videos, pulling back the curtain on different kinds of scams.
“At the same time, I realized that these internet scams are costing people their life savings and a lot of money,” Taylor said. “They’re hurting a lot of people and so every time that a scammer would reach out to me, I thought I would make a video about it because I found that it was educating people.”
According to Taylor, a big scam that is particularly concerning, even for law enforcement in Canada and the U.S., is mortgage closing fraud.
This is when a scammer hacks the account of real estate agents and mortgage brokers, impersonating the professionals and sending false money wiring instructions to their clients.
“They tell...homebuyers to wire their downpayment to an offshore bank account,” he said. “People who are buying homes think that they’re wiring their money...to their real estate or their mortgage lender...this is a scam that is just devastating families.”
According to Taylor, this is one of the most significant scams he has seen because it can really wreck individuals and families who are transferring such large amounts of money, some of them their life savings, to a fraudulent account.
How to protect yourself
Creating awareness of scams is necessary to help stop this from happening and put fraudsters out of work.
“I think that if we can start talking about it more and just becoming more familiar with how it works, then I think a lot of people will become educated and they won’t fall for these types of things,” Taylor said.
If you think you’re being scammed online, Taylor said it’s important to talk to the person on the phone. If they’re not willing to do that, consider it a “red flag.”
“They don’t want to talk to you because most of the time you’re going to sense their...foreign accent,” he said.
If someone is asking for any transfer of money, talk to your bank before you make any transaction, whether you’re sending or receiving funds.
“There’s basic, simple things that you should just take into consideration before you do anything with your money,” Taylor said.
With regards to trying to stop these scammers from engaging in this activity, Taylor said they need to understand that there are other ways to make money, more legitimate ways to make money.
“The gig economy like Fiverr.com and Upwork, provides opportunities for people in that country to freelance, and for all kinds of work that they couldn’t have done 10, 20 years ago,” Taylor said.
“By us becoming more educated and helping them see that there are legitimate ways to do work that you’ll hopefully see a reduce in scamming because these are really smart people.”