PRESS 1 FOR REVENGE
This Twitch Streamer Is Avenging His Grandmother by Prank Calling Scam Artists
Kitboga has made 3,577 daring calls that get back at scammers preying on old ladies—like Edna, the character based on his late grandmother he now pretends to be.
Kitboga has become a rising Twitch star by livestreaming himself for hours at a time. But unlike most streamers on the platform, he's not playing video games.
Instead, the software engineer spends hours streaming himself wasting the time of would-be scammers.
Kitboga has become one of the most popular "scambaiters" on the internet and has saved potentially thousands of people from falling victim to tech support scams in the process by raising awareness about different types of fraud via his Twitch channel.
And his viral fame never would’ve happened—if not for his grandmother.
Scambaiting is essentially when internet do-gooders bait scammers into wasting hours of their time or disclosing information that could later get them prosecuted in the interest of the public good. Kitboga got his start "scambaiting" about 9 months ago.
His grandmother, who has since passed away, suffered from dementia in her final years. When Kitboga paid her a visit, he was shocked at the ways she was being taken advantage of.
The elderly woman was receiving multiple phone bills for phone lines she didn't use. Landscapers were ripping her off. She was paying a woman hundreds of dollars a week to come to her house and rid a computer she hardly used of theoretical "viruses."
Kitboga was livid when he realized all the ways she had been scammed. As a millennial who had spent most of his career working in tech, he was terrified that an actual tech support scammer might gain access to her computer, where she stored things like her bank account password on her desktop.
Soon after, scrolling through YouTube, he came across his first scambaiting video.
In the video, a scammer fruitlessly talks himself in circles as the pre-recorded voice of an elderly man as phrases like "I can't hear you" and “can you speak up?" plays on loop for nearly an hour.
Kitboga was fascinated by the way the scammer repeatedly attempted to take advantage of this theoretical old man.
"After that, I spent the whole day diving into the world of tech support scams," he said.
What he realized, was that scamming the elderly, in particular, is an all too common practice.
Last year alone, victims lost over $120 million to tech support scams, according to the FCC. Although the government does provide a portal where scam victims can seek help, the majority recover only a small percentage of the money they lost.
Most tech support scams begin with a fake security alert popping up on the screen of a user's computer.
"A fake error message will pop up on your computer, like, you have a malicious porn spyware on your computer, or you're infected with the 'Zeus' virus," Kitboga said. "They look real if you're not savvy enough, and people worry."
The alert instructs them to call a toll-free number to be connected with "tech support" who will resolve their problem.
When a user calls, the scammer asks for access to their computer to perform a "scan." If the scammer is truly nefarious, they may try to extract bank account information, but most will simply try to trick users into buying fake security software for an exorbitant price.
In addition to the tech support scam, Kitboga has encountered fake IRS scammers threatening jail time if users don’t pay a thousands of dollars to the “government.”
"Then there are folks who say they're the government giving out grants and all you have to do to obtain one is give us an iTunes gift card,” said Kitboga. “It's the worst thing, but people fall for this stuff.”
When Kitboga first became enamored with scambaiting, he would come home from work or spend time on idle Tuesdays calling up scammers from a private phone line and simply wasting their time as revenge.
But last summer, a friend suggested he start streaming his calls on Twitch. Kitboga had streamed other stuff on the platform in the past and thought it sounded like a fun idea.
"At first I had maybe had three friends watching," he said. "Then some random other people showed up because they were curious. Before you know it, there were 20 people. Then it got on some subreddit and there was 100 more, and it kept growing."
He has since racked up hundreds of thousands of views and hundreds of hours of watch time. He broadcasts three days a week for four to five hours at a time. He’s made over 3,570 total calls. His channel recently passed the 1,000-subscriber mark, which means over a thousand people pay at least $5 a month to support his streams.
While most gamers on Twitch do take some time to set up their streams, Kitboga spends about an hour setting up each of his broadcasts, including a 20 minute live streamed lead in that helps build excitement and momentum.
"I have four monitors to set up [and] logs to get situated," he said. "A lot of folks used to ask me to just start the stream even though I'm not ready and it turned into this joke. I have a 20-minute intro now that's clips and songs to keep people entertained.”
Some of his fans have made remixes of his calls with scammers.
"For 20 minutes as I'm getting ready, there are also a thousand people are going crazy in the chat. It gets me excited and I feel like I'm not alone,” he said.
Once connected, Kitboga uses a virtual machine on a private network, fake credit card information and a different throw away phone number for each call.
"It's not the safest hobby in the world," he said, adding that those who might seek to replicate his work should do a lot of research on computers before getting started.
Kitboga realized quickly that most scammers wouldn't waste time trying to fool the real him, so he assumes a false identity. They would catch to his youth from his voice and assume he would be more difficult to trick.
So Kitboga began scambaiting under an alter ego: an elderly woman named Edna, based on his own grandmother.
He uses software to transform his voice into that of an old woman and regales scammers with tales from his grandmother's real life.
"I tell stories that she told me. I rant to the scammers about how I had to walk uphill both ways to school, or wear bread bags as shoes. It's just the things she would say in a silly way," he said.
As Edna, Kitboga is able to lure scammers far more effectively and waste an exponential amount more time than he would as a young-sounding, tech savvy guy.
"They really want to scam Edna," Kitboga said. "It's so easy to get them to connect to the computer, it's sort of sad."
He'll generally try to keep scammers on the line as long as possible to prevent them from spending their day duping other, real people.
One thing he won't do, however, is take revenge.
Kitboga said the primary reason he produces his streams is to raise awareness and help educate people about the ways that they're being taken advantage of. In this way, he thinks wasting the scammers time to produce content is inherently worth it.
"I try hard not to assume that the person on the other line is a terrible person," he said. Most scammers are low level workers, often in India, who are just trying to make a living themselves.
"I try to talk to them and treat them like a human being with feelings," said Kitboga. "I say 'I think you're caught up in something that maybe you shouldn't be and it's going to catch up to you at some point.'"
While there are certainly some bad apples, Kitboga said that unlike other scambaiters, he doesn't believe two wrongs make a right.
"I'm not doing anything like hacking their computers or trying to upload viruses," he said. "Some folks get upset, like, 'Why wouldn't you be like Robin Hood and take from them?' First of all, that's illegal, so I couldn't stream it on Twitch. Second of all, I do what I can. I've been trying to take the high road and reporting it when I can."
But he said there are times when he has become truly disgusted by some scammers behavior. At one point, he told a scammer trying to connect to his webcam that he, theoretically an 80-year-old woman named Edna, wasn't "decent." The scammer immediately attempted to connect to the webcam and view her naked body.
"That got me upset because I know this happens to real people," Kitboga said.
"Sometimes it gets really emotional. Sometimes scammers start swearing," he said. "Having the Twitch chat cheering me on helps a lot. It's nice to look over there and feel like I have a whole community behind me."
Kitboga said that since beginning his Twitch endeavor he's been contacted by countless people who have been victims of real scams and support what he's doing, which he says is enormously validating.
As his channel grows, he hopes to have guests on to participate and further engage his community. Twitch offers fans a way to "tip" their favorite broadcasters for a job well done and Kitboga said he's begun pulling in a significant amount of money, nearly all of which he reinvests in his endeavor.
"I think of it sort of like a part time job," he said.
He said he puts his profits toward things like upgrading his computer equipment and servers. Recently he also purchased a ton of phone numbers so he can begin scambaiting from real numbers. He has also started working with a small team of volunteers who support his efforts.
Kitboga said he’s eager to meet industry contacts and would be grateful for some help—even from the government.
"I don't want to sound like a jerk, but if someone from the FCC or whatever is reading this. I'd love to chat with them," he said.