Wednesday, December 05, 2012

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Beware the Flatterbot, an Avatar Bot Programmed to Scam Second Life Users with Scripted Flirtation & Begging

Iris Ophelia's ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

When I was taking Hamlet's avatar Flatterbot Second Lifearound 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

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.

Mixed_reality_iris2010 Iris Ophelia (Janine Hawkins IRL) has been featured in the New York Times and has spoken about SL-based design at the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan and with pop culture/fashion maven Johanna Blakley.

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Mistletoe

That's rather interesting; I was reading on Tumblr just the other day about someone who had the exact same conversation with someone in a shop and how frustrated she was that this (evidently) bot asked her for Ls immediately after she'd said "As long as you don't ask me for money, it's cool."

Marianne McCann

Ya, I came across one of these at Wasabi Pills while doing FLF the other day. Pretty well-done scripted convo, though.

Angela Kwak

I ran into one 2 days ago at Wasabi Pills. The beginning is the same only she started to tell a story about how she left SL for a man that started to cheat on her with people he knew on Sl. After that story she started to ask for a favor 150 Linden Dollars.

Valentina Huxxely

Yep, This happened to me at Wasabi Pills as well only she started the convo by apologizing for bumping into ME. Then by the end of the annoyingly personal convo she asked me for 50L to upload some photos and then asked if we could be friends.

Now, I have to admit, this bot DID have me fooled at first, but just before I paid her to shut her up and move on, I happened notice that she was over 1000 meters away. How in the world could she have bumped into me from so far away, right? So I logged on my alt a few min later, went to the same store and sure enough I got the same exact message! Clever.... very verrrrry clever!

Pussycat Catnap

This is as obvious as the Nigerian banker thing though...

You have to wonder about people that fall for it.

A relation did reveal she was talking to a nice gentleman from Nigeria who had some financial issues he needed help with. She revealed it when she asked us how to transfer money overseas...

But she (coming from a different side of the family and being suburban) has also stopped us during a walk in the hood because she wanted to ask the nice looking guy who 'just wanted a buddy'. (No, not that kind of bud...)

And she once had an Indian Guru... Who eventually knocked up a couple young ladies who I guess got guru'd too intently...

Which was not long after we'd rescued her from a 'bible camp' that lived in a locked compound...

See where I'm going with this?

I'm not -that- jaded... I'm just not oblivious.

I just have to wonder... who falls for this stuff? Or rather, how do they fall for it?

I think it's established that SL's users are older. And I suspect less tech-savvy than the average modern person (the whole insistence on using the wrong terminology for digital art, for thinking a 10-year old video game is cutting edge, for clinging to UIs as tech advances, for clinging to old specs and outdated info as tech advances, and a number of other things imply such)...

But ya'll done can't just be off the farm now can ya? And even folks on the farm have more wits than this... :P

Arcadia Codesmith

Multiple beggars using variations on the same script implies some level of collusion and organization. It might bear further investigation.

Pussycat Catnap

Or sometimes, when a con works, others quickly adopt it.

tito devinna

you know i believe in the kindness of strangers and all that rot, but seriously people 2 types of players ask for L in sl. beggars/scammers, and escorts. rather than give to the beggars why not just surprise an obvious real noob and slip them some L unsolicited.

Kate Miranda

2 words "ban" and "mute"

Pappy Enoch, Bot-Hunter

Them-there bots am a-givin' beggars a bad name.

I reckons ol' Painless, my chain saw, would make short work o' them rascals.

Turn on the damage, shop owners! I are fo' hire and I aims to cut 'em up! Clothes on special (ladies clothes half off!) and bot-killin' would be quite the draw where I do come from.

Dreamin22 Nitely

Wow, great article, Iris. Happened to me too when exploring the other night at LAQ. I took pity on the person and ended up giving them some Linden. Thinking back on the situation, I should have offered to buy then gift a specific something they needed vs. just handing out the funds. Same way I handle panhandlers asking for money. Live and learn.

Hitomi Tiponi

Clearely it is effective sometimes ....and also could explain why we had a rash of requests in groups a month or two back for people to sell their old unwanted alts (strictly against LL's ToS of course).

Emilly Orr

The annoying thing? Is that we've heard about these types for years, but prior to the last few months, they've actually been just incredibly cheap and scamming for Lindens.

This DOES sound more organized. And what's really killing my brain is how often I've heard this story (without the begging aspects) in various places. Girl meets boy, girl marries boy, boy gets jealous, girl quits SL, girl imports boy to live with her, relationship implodes...so nine times out of ten, she trots herself right back into SL because it's not like she'll get ANOTHER loser, right?

I'm pretty sure no one actually wrote these scripts, just tightened up the stories we hear every day into single-line cons.

Toilettage

What a great article!I really enjoy been a part of you blog.

Wrath

Oh man, I knew I should've copyrighted all my SL pick up lines.... sigh.

Arcadia Codesmith

Uh-oh... the bots are here too.

Mistletoe

Also, just as an aside, "Two-year-old shoeless lump of an avatar" makes a brilliant insult. I shall have to steal it sometime.

Lourdes

"There is a sucker born every minute."

As long as that is the case, they bots and beggin will continue until some way is found to permanently get rid of them. I believe if the scam didn't work they wouldn't be so prevalent. They are showing up more and more at the popular shopping spots. I'm surprised one isn't parked at The Arcade Gatcha.

Cake

Haha, I saw one of those yesterday--she appeared right outside my house window! ...It was kind of weird.

Corcosman Voom

Now, if only some young genius could rig things so that the bots only IM each other...

Pussycat Catnap

On the official forums, an "update" on this scam:

http://community.secondlife.com/t5/General-Discussion-Forum/Panhandler-bot-at-Vista-Anims/td-p/1758661

- Note how the OP says the bot claims they're up 75KL in earnings from it, and claims the shopkeep is ok with it... Highly doubtful.

Suggest more shopkeeps put up signs like the one screenshotted here to make it clear.

GasOven

I probably looked like a bot last week in Akeyo. I actually did bump into someone since they hadn't quite rezzed yet and then I sent them an IM and apologized for it. I guess that's why the bots use that as an ice breaker though. It's something any of us could actual do and then feel rude about. That's also a bit of a shame though. Like Iris says, it makes it harder to share with new users. I'll just be giving gifts from the marketplace for sure.

CronoCloud Creeggan

I admit that I fell prey to one, at Sine Wave. As Emilly Orr says, the story rings true in that we've seen it before, only this time it adds the begging element. And here's the thing, I think this scam is smart, because I think it's partly manual. I'm of the opinion that the "bots" are actually somewhat manually driven for the following reasons.

1. They do seem to target avatars that are more likely to have money, and they don't seem to rapidly target lots of avatars at once hat could talk to each other and realize there's a begging bot.

2. they don't ask for large amounts that would trigger our internal scam alarms they keep it to 50 to 150 L$ it seems. That's pocket change to most fashionistas.

3. there are slight differences in their "story", mine used the bumped me tactic, but didn't use the chubby cheek line.

4. The flatterbots are oldbies not day old newbs which is also less likely to trigger our internal scam alarms. The one that got me was 3 years old.

I didn't suspect a scam till the conversation ended and I realized she hadn't actually directly responded to what I said, just said general things that "could" be taken as responses. For example she didn't respond to me asking if she knew about FabFree and giving her the FabFree URL.

I gave her 50L$, I'm a softie who likes helping newbies and makeovers in general.

JJ

While in Truth I was im'd by someone, think they were 2-3 months old, and they had very similar lines to the ones in this article. I replied to two of her comments, then didn't say anything else and she didn't either. I looked on my radar and she wasn't around so I thought the whole bump thing was odd.

Dev Darkbyrd

This happened to me at Vista, I fell into the trap and offered them L's cuz that's my favorite thing to do is newbie makeovers...guess I should hurry and change passwords

shockwave yareach

Detection is simple - ask a question. If you don't get a rational response or the "person" starts a long-winded sob story instead of answering it, just mute them.

Minxy

Yes same thing at Catwa

I hate people - so it got told to poke off and was muted *giggles*

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