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Chatbots. They’re usually a waste of your time, so why not have them waste someone else’s instead? Better yet: why not have them waste an email scammer’s time.

That’s the premise behind Re:scam, an email chatbot operated by New Zealand cybersecurity firm Netsafe. Next time you get a dodgy email in your inbox, says Netsafe, forward it on to me@rescam.org, and a proxy email address will start replying to the scammer for you, doing its very utmost to waste their time. You can see a few sample dialogues in the video above, or check out a longer back-and-forth below.

It looks infuriatingly effective.


Using chatbots to give email scammers a taste of their own medicine isn’t that new. And although Netsafe has made a very fancy looking video promo for their bot, the technology behind it is relatively simple; relying more on pre-programmed conversational misdirects than sophisticated artificial intelligence.

Really, though, that’s all it takes. Another famous chatbot time-waster is “Lenny,” which is designed to waste telemarketers’ time, and does so without any AI or speech recognition component. Instead, Lenny uses just 16 pre-recorded snippets of dialogue, each of which is as vague and ambiguous as possible. Lenny simply waits until there’s a gap in the conversation, then plays one of its bits of dialogue, cycling through all 16 in various patterns.

The technique is surprisingly effective, as the video below shows. (You’ll feel sorry for the caller before long.)

But let’s just wait until the scammers have their own bots, too. That’ll be the future of cybersecurity: millions of bots battling back and forth behind-the-scenes, running interference for us. That is, until the bots stop fighting one another and decide to take on their common enemy instead. Let’s hope we can waste their time just a little longer.