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Meet the SF Scam-Buster Using a NSFW Moniker to Bust Grifters

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As online scammers continue to swindle victims out of millions every year, one San Francisco man has made it his personal mission to mess with them, often using a NSFW (not safe for work) moniker.

“I’ve had a persona since 2008 named ‘Footlong Cox,’” Reinier Nissen said, chuckling.

Nissen says he’s been tracking down and toying with all kinds of scammers since the late aughts. He claims to have shut down hundreds of scam phone numbers, dozens of dubious email addresses, suspicious social media profiles and even a handful of scammer’s bank accounts.

The Standard viewed correspondence between Nissen, the alleged scammers, various banks and telecommunications companies that backed up his claims of scam-busting.

Some of Nissen’s most bizarre interactions involve romance scammers, a group that’s proliferating locally, according to multiple San Francisco NextDoor users. (A spokesperson for the platform said that “scams of any kind are not tolerated” and that only 0.34% of content was reported as harmful in 2021.)

Nissen’s tactics involve convincing scammers he’s an easy mark and then stringing them along over reams of emails and texts, keeping them busy while he shops their details to the authorities.  

“It’s a lot of playing the part, acting gullible,” Nissen said.

Reinier Nissen, co-owner of Straight Up Technologies, shows a conversation he had with an alleged scammer. Nissen entertains calls from scammers in an attempt to shut them down. | Benjamin Fanjoy/The Standard

‘I want to mess with these people’

Nissen was first motivated to interfere with scammers after reading about a man who was ripped-off to the tune of $300,000 in an elaborate 2003 fraud revolving around a fictional stockpile of dyed cash that needed to be chemically cleaned—for a fee.

The victim was so invested in the criminals’ tale he refused to believe he was being scammed, calling the criminals friends.

“I just thought, ‘Man, I want to mess with these people, string them along, to stop them from getting someone gullible,’” Nissen said. “The more I can waste their time, the more they can’t go after someone else.”

More than $18 billion has been lost to scammers since 2017 according to the FBI.

A common tactic for scammers is the “wrong number” message, said Nissen. Once the targeted person engages, the scammer will quickly turn to flattery, drawing victims in.

Reinier Nissen takes a call with a scammer pretending to be with a veteran medical settlement on Nov. 18, 2022. | Video by Benjamin Fanjoy & Jesse Rogala

“They’ll say, ‘Oh, is this Bill? Are we going to Toronto next week?,’ and then they’ll ask for a pic, and no matter what you send they’ll say, ‘Oh, you’re so handsome,’” said Nissen, a tech executive at San Francisco-based Straight Up Technologies, which provides Internet networks for large events.

Romance scams can happen through any form of communication, including email, text and social media.

The Scam

Steve Koslikowski was contacted recently on NextDoor by what he believes are two scammers posing as young women—each saying they were looking for a romantic partner.

The 64-year-old San Francisco resident was immediately suspicious of the overly flattering behavior displayed by the two strangers.

“They’re obvious,” Koslikowski said. “They see you in such a wonderful way.”

He grew more suspicious upon noticing that the two womens’ lists of NextDoor connections were almost entirely older men. 

One of the alleged scammers claimed they grew up in San Francisco. Koslikowski said he asked where she went to school and rather than respond to the question, the contact sent him pictures of a young woman. Koslikowski then messaged the person who sent the photos saying, “You’re hiding something,” and the scammer stopped responding.

See Also

While Koslikowski was immediately suspicious, most victims of romance scams in the Bay Area are over 60—that age group suffered combined losses of $18 million in 2021, according to San Francisco’s FBI office.

Federal Trade Commission data shows nationwide, those aged 60 to 69 lost almost $120 million to flirtatious frauds in 2021. Americans aged 30 to 39 lost roughly $58 million in comparison.

San Francisco police said they don’t have any information on such scams locally.

“We do not have any information about romance scams. We do not have any data, anecdotal or otherwise, that would indicate any rise or fall in these incidents,” SFPD Sgt. Adam Lobsinger wrote in an email.

Co-owner of Straight Up Technologies Reinier Nissen poses for a portrait at the business’s warehouse in San Francisco on Friday, Nov. 18, 2022. Nissen entertains calls from scammers in an attempt to shut them down. | Benjamin Fanjoy/The Standard

Even as scams persist and evolve, frustrating scammers remains Nissen’s favorite pastime.

“One of these guys emailed me once saying, ‘Why did you waste my time?’ And I replied, ‘Because you’re a scammer,’” Nissen said.

How To Protect Yourself

The FBI and FTC say the primary identifiers of a scam artist are an inability to meet in person and a request for funds either in the form of gift cards or cryptocurrency. 

NextDoor advises you to never send money to anyone you have not met in person and to watch out in particular for messages with misspellings and typos.

The FTC has a guide for dealing with scammers and what to do if you think you’ve been scammed here.

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