The Yoiul event is running at full steam now. I’ve found a couple of quiet systems where no one else is running the Rogue Drone Nests, and I’ve managed to fill my Raven’s cargo hold nearly to bursting with cerebral accelerators and Glacial Drift skins. There’s only one thing left to do.
I have to go to Jita
Obi-Wan Kenobi’s warning, “You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy,” might as well have been written about Jita’s trade channel. Most of the time I don’t even bother opening the chat window, but I’ve found myself drawn lately to the fast-moving barrage of scams, people accusing other people of scams, contract offers that might or might not be scams. Are there any honest people in Jita? And who are the suckers that repeatedly fall for all this stuff?
More broadly, I can’t stop asking myself: Why is the topic of scamming in EVE so fascinating? I think there are two main answers. First, scamming is something foreign to most of our everyday lives. You don’t often encounter someone on the street offering to sell you a fake Rolex. Logging onto EVE and coming face-to-face with dozens or hundreds of people who all want to scam you – well, that’s just not something we have experience doing, so it’s not something we’re mentally prepared to face. Thus it grabs us. We want to focus our attention on it until we can make sense of it.
Second, scamming has the visceral appeal of anything that’s taboo. Just like 13-year-olds who have found their first dirty magazine, we feel the forbidden allure of scamming. We want ISK. Those people are making ISK – quickly and easily, by the look of things. How do they do it? Can it really be that simple? We know it’s wrong to scam people – basic human decency and the Golden Rule tell us as much – but yet…
The types of scams are as unique as the people who run them. There are cargo courier contracts that offer lucrative pay to stations you can’t access. There are ISK-doubling games. There are people just plain begging for cash. Over the course of several days in Jita, I spoke with a variety of pilots who run scams, asking questions and listening to them talk.
Looking Under the Hood
One of the most common scams is the “Stolen Corp Loot” or “Quitting EVE Firesale” scam, such as this one: “Quitting EVE Firesale 9.1 Billions Worth Over 13+ Billions! FREE ISK!” These contracts contain blueprint copies, which are worth next to nothing. However, right-clicking on them in the contract and selecting “View Market Details” will show the price for a blueprint original, which can be extremely valuable. An inexperienced player who does a cursory amount of research will think he’s getting an incredible deal on blueprint originals. The second part of the scam comes from the price: although the text says the contract can be had for 9.1 billion, it is actually priced at 910 million, making a player assume the seller has made a mistake and is offering the contract for ten percent of its true value. The trap is sprung; the buyer mashes the “Accept” button before anyone else can snag the amazing offer, and nearly a billion ISK neatly deposits itself into the scammer’s wallet.
I’ve always wanted to know: why do these contracts always contain the same blueprint copies? There’s almost always an Astrahus and a Raitaru, and usually an Archon and a Megathron. “It’s all very cheap faction and deadspace stuff,” said a scammer we’ll call Hiro. (Most of them asked to remain anonymous – although for business reasons, not for fear of being found out.) Those BPCs are easy to find, but more than that, they’re copies of BPOs that are very expensive, said another scammer we’ll call Putin. A Dominix BPO alone goes for more than 1.7 billion in Jita as of this writing. It’s easy to see why a firesale looks like a really great deal to a player who’s not experienced enough to know better.
Another scammer, Sy, had a different explanation for why all the scams contain the same blueprints: “It’s all bots,” he said dismissively. Scam-bots? Sy wasn’t able to say why he’s so sure they’re bots, but I attempted to start a conversation with a scammer named Emily Nakamoto, a 21-day-old account flogging a “CORP LOOT 9.5B” offer, and the conversation request was instantly rejected. I attempted another conversation with Emily just now while writing, and got the same result: less than half a second between clicking “Start Conversation” and getting the rejection request. That by itself doesn’t prove Emily is a bot, but it does make one wonder.
Does the scam really work, though? “How often do you actually make sales?” I asked Sy. There was a bit of silence, followed by, “Sorry, can you pay me 6b for info?” If I had six billion ISK to throw around, I told him, I’d buy a bunch of blueprints and start my own scam. “4b?” I told him I don’t have a budget for information gathering, but I’d understand if he didn’t want to answer any questions. “Sorry, 2b maybe for this sensitive info?” He wasn’t the only one who balked at this question; Hiro, as well, politely declined to answer that question, citing the sensitivity of his business model. Putin simply stopped talking to me when I asked how frequently he made sales. I understand the danger of this question; you don’t want to admit that you’re making all kinds of cash, because other people will steal your scams, or alternately you don’t want to feel like an idiot by admitting out loud that you don’t make that much money after all.
Those corp loot / firesale scams work because of players either not knowing enough about the game or just not looking closely at what they buy. Another variant of the “not looking closely” scam is run by Vivian Audrea – the one scammer who not only agreed to let me use her real name, but requested that I do so. Vivian sells a few “Ocular Filter – Standard” contracts for 16 million ISK, about 20% less than the Jita price, then pretends she’s selling them in real time. “3, 2, 1,” she’ll post in chat, followed by a link to a contract that’s already been bought. It looks like the filters are simply selling quickly because they’re priced so low. Then comes the kicker: “3, 2, 1,” and a link to a contract priced at 160 million ISK. Having just seen the previous offers appear to be snapped up so quickly, people pounce without looking at the price, and Vivian makes a killing.
Unlike the other scammers, Vivian was not at all bashful about her income. “Words cannot answer your question very well, so let me show you some data,” she said, before a 160-million-ISK contract she had just sold. Then another. Then another. Then another. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. She had made over half a billion ISK in less than an hour from…well, from no work at all. “That’s incredible,” I told her honestly when I had finished laughing. “Bro, you should also become a scammer,” she urged me. “I can feel your passion.”
I’m too much of a carebear to scam people, I told her. I’d feel bad about it. She hit right back: “You don’t need to feel bad, because you’re taking advantage of people’s greed, not their kindness.” What a fascinating perspective, I thought. In principle, is there really any difference between the scammer who posts a corp loot or firesale scam and the player who buys it thinking they’re ripping off the seller? I mentioned the Golden Rule earlier, the idea of treating others the way you want to be treated. If you’re open to the idea of ripping off a seller who’s made a mistake, if you would be willing to do that to somebody else, then you must logically be okay with people ripping you off as well. It can’t go one way and not the other. It can’t be okay when you do it and not when it’s done to you.
This is in rather sharp contrast to Hiro’s attitude: “The first scam I sold, I felt really bad…the second a bit less bad and after the third I just thought the people who fall for it will never fall for a scam again. And they kinda deserve it. ISK lost, lesson learned…” At least Hiro was somewhat apologetic; Vivian spiked the football on her victims. “Basically, it just means I’m smarter than them,” she gloated.
Hiro’s own scam was interesting in its own right, almost a variation of Vivian’s. He posted a contract offer titled “Large Skill Injector 670m,” a great price if the item were actually as described. Clicking on the contract, though, reveals a 670m price for…a single Mjolnir Rage XL Torpedo. “It’s blue, pointy, and resembles an injector,” Hiro explained. “The name is kind of long-ish, so it makes it more confusing for people who do not read very well.” Since the words “Large Skill Injector” show up at the top of the contract, a player who’s in a hurry could easily miss the name of the torpedo in the middle of the screen in their rush to click the “Accept” button. He also told me that he had the idea to sell expired cerebral accelerators from previous events as if they were still good, and he moved 31 of them in the first two days before other people caught on and started running the same scam. Hiro tried to be modest, but it appears he was actually the one who invented the “expired accelerator” scam. If nothing else, one has to admire his creativity.
I did not expect to find myself sorting scams into higher and lower levels of misanthropy. I think there’s something questionable about the corp loot scams, because they rely on a player not knowing the difference between a BPO and a BPC. They prey on ignorance. Vivian’s and Hiro’s schemes, however, only penalize people who aren’t careful. They could snag a five-year EVE veteran just as easily as a day-one newbie. At least Hiro is actually scamming: he promises a skill injector and delivers a different item. Vivian’s scheme is even milder still: she isn’t even really scamming people. She’s giving them the exact item she told them she was giving. They truly do end the transaction with an Ocular Filter – Standard; all she does is give them the opportunity to overpay. Is that on the same moral level as someone who posts a courier contract that can never be redeemed? I simply can’t see how.
There are so many more scammers out there that I didn’t get to talk to, and so many more scams that there aren’t time to write about. If it’s possible to make a quick buck in EVE, at the expense of someone else’s laziness or carelessness or ignorance, some enterprising pilot will find it. For the rest of us, who are simply looking to avoid being forcibly parted from our hard-earned ISK, all we can do is remember the same wisdom that people have used for centuries when faced with high-pressure sales tactics: if it seems too good to be true, it probably is; and if you’re not sure whether to buy, sleep on it and come back the next day. Every once in a while you may miss out on a killer deal. But there are dozens of scammers hanging out in Jita chat right now, waiting to scam anyone who’s too eager to make or save some ISK.
I got a message from Vivian a few minutes ago. Titled simply “FYI,” it had a link to yet another victim of her duplicity. It was P.T. Barnum who said, “There’s a sucker born every minute.” Apparently there are also people like Vivian Audrea, who have an incredible talent for finding them. “I just utilize people’s greed,” she reminded me.
In the end, I even got my answer about whether Sy makes any money off the scam. He’s still there in Jita, forlornly spamming “Quitting EVE Firesale 9.1 Billions Worth Over 13+ Billions! FREE ISK!” into the cosmic abyss. The Jita trade channel resounded with the echoes as he spammed it over. And over.