When I was taking Hamlet's avatar around for his virtual makeover, I happened to get an IM from a nice sounding lady who was in a bit of a pickle. You see, she'd recently come back to SL after a nasty relationship, and things had changed a lot since she'd been active. After sharing her moving story, she shyly asked for some L$, telling me that my (Hamlet's) avatar was the nicest she'd ever seen.
Wait a second, slow down. Hamlet's unchanged, 2-year old shoeless lump of an avatar?Does that seem fishy to anyone else?
If that story didn't sound familiar to you, allow me to introduce you to one of the most common scams plaguing Second Life's most popular shops:
Flatterbots like to hang out in high-traffic shops, spamming customers with a story that rarely strays from the script. Take a moment to familiarize yourself with what the first flatterbot I came across that day told me:
Flatterbot1: YOU PUSHED ME!
Flatterbot1: I'm just jokin SL is super wonky and rezzing slow :(
Flatterbot1: wow your avatar looks so cool, what skin are you wearing?
Flatterbot1: I wish I made shapes as good as that, did you make it yourself?
Flatterbot1: I just got back to SL from a long break, omfg everything is so different
Flatterbot1: have you been in SL for a long time?
Flatterbot1: being back here after so long I don't remember anything about the sliders at all, I keep making a chubby round face lol
Flatterbot1: .. mesh is so crazy! and the new skins, I don't even know many of the creators anymore. Who makes the best skins now?
Flatterbot1: I quit because this guy I was seeing from SL asked me to stop playing :(( and I listened because I am stupid :(
Flatterbot1: he said there were too many guys in here and he got jealous.I should have thought it was weird that he was so insecure...
Flatterbot1: meanwhile, he would come on here and give girls his phone number, which I didn't find out until one of them messaged me and I got the offline in my email.
Flatterbot1: I was seeing him IRL and everything like once a month, usually I paid for the plane tickets - meanwhile he was calling girls from SL telling them he loved them.
Flatterbot1: have you ever dated anyone in SL?
Flatterbot1: sorry to treat you like you are my therapist or something :( guess I just needed to talk about it
Flatterbot1: then right after that because I was so angry, I wanted to message the girls and tell them how I felt, but I couldn't bring myself to do it
Flatterbot1: but here I am back again, starting over as a newb. Everything that I had in my inventory was so out of date anyway
Flatterbot1: your avatar is really nice though truly, one of the best ones I have seen since I have been back, you should be proud of it, you did an amazing job
Flatterbot1: mind if I ask a favor :X
Flatterbot1: I know I just randomly imed you and it's so rude of me to ask but do you think there is any way you could help me a little bit with getting started again? Maybe like 300l so I can get a hair or something
Flatterbot1: I want to reinvent myself in SL, no dating unless the guy is just like so amazing that I can't resist it
Flatterbot1: thank you so much!!!
I didn't reply or give her any money, she just ran through her script from start to finish, even after I'd left the area. Now compare the speech above with this snippet from the second flatterbot I dealt with that day:
Flatterbot2: don't you be pushin me!
Flatterbot2: I'm just kidding but we can be bumper car avatars!
Flatterbot2: holy crap you have an amazing avatar!
Flatterbot2: I am art retarded, I never make good avatars! Did you make yours?
Flatterbot2: I just got back to SL from a long break, omfg everything is so different
Flatterbot2: you look like you have been in SL for a long time, have you?
Flatterbot2: being back here after so long I don't remember anything about the sliders at all, I keep making a chubby round face lol
Sound familiar? Though they usually look like regular avatar and have names no different than anyone else's (I changed them for the purposes of this post), there's a pretty clear pattern to identify them by. First she teases you for bumping into her, then she compliments you, then she shares her sympathetic story before driving it home with a compliment and the innocent request for L$. But there's a little more to these bots than just an unimaginative story being repeated ad nauseam. Flatterbots aren't true bots... They may be automating their IMs to beg, but there are still people at the keyboards too... But they'll hardly win your sympathy with their original words.-- they're just as rude and unpleasant as you might expect. This morning I popped over to a store with a heavy bot presence and while I received the same tired story from today's bot-du-jour, she was simultaneously arguing with a customer in local chat who had presumably called her out:
Flatterbot3: I can just tell by what you say that SL is all you have
Flatterbot3: that is reserved for fat people who are quite invested in a subreality
Flatterbot3: because they can't make stuff happen irl
What a charmer. Doesn't that just make you want to give her L$200?
So what can we do about it? It's important to know that store owners are usually aware of they have a Flatterbot infestation. They can ban them until they're blue in the face but the next bot is only an alt away, so there's only so much they can do. That doesn't mean that you shouldn't send the owner of a shop the name of a pestering bot that's harassing their customers; they'll likely still want to ban them, but the most important thing is to make sure that you, your friends, and other customers are familiar with the scam and know to ignore it.
The saddest part of this to me is that helping new players makeover their avatars can be incredibly fun and rewarding and a great way to make friends, but these bullshit bots are ruining it for everyone and jading altruistic fashionistas. If you really like to help people in SL, the lesson to take away from this is not to stop sharing with and giving to others, but to change the way you do it. Get to know someone, offer to buy them something specific off the SL Marketplace, never pay out any L$ unless you really know who it's going to.