Former NASA engineer Mark Rober builds some awesome stuff on his YouTube channel, like devious squirrel mazes, but his most popular video series is the annual glitter bomb, a beautifully over-engineered fake package that douses porch pirates with a shower of glitter and fart spray. In an unexpected twist, last year's glitter bomb video also helped police catch and arrest someone involved in a phone scam scheme, and Rober's spent the subsequent year digging into just how these phone scam operations work. In a new video he shows off the extensive results of that effort, including hiring double agents to infiltrate several phone centers in India and hacking their security camera footage.
And of course he got off a stink bomb, too.
For Rober, this crusade started when he teamed up with another YouTuber, Jim Browning, to try to send a glitter bomb to a scammer operation. Browning's whole channel, which has 3.7 million followers, is devoted to identifying the call centers behind tech support scams and refund scams. These scams typically target the elderly and less computer-savvy folks and usually rely on the scammers gaining remote access to your computer and then tricking them into giving up personal information like their bank account login. “Refund” scams make people believe they've been overcompensated with some bogus refund and trick them into sending cash in the mail to the scammers.
The people who receive those cash packages in the United States are essentially underlings in these scam operations, so after getting a glitter bomb in their hands last year, Rober set his sights on the call centers themselves. With Browning's help, they were able to gain access to the CCTV of the infiltrated call centers, while another YouTube pair, Trilogy Media, traveled to Kolkata, India to run operations on the ground.
Trilogy Media's video focuses on their relationship with the “sleeper agents” they sent to work in the call centers before planting pranks like containers of cockroaches and the classic stink bombs. Browning's, meanwhile, shows him in conversation with the scammers, who don't realize he's watching them on CCTV.
The wildest part of Rober's video to me is that they were even able to gain access to at least one of the scam operations' financial data by watching the boss type in his computer password over a security camera. Turns out that particular operation scams people out of an average $65,000 per day, or around $18 million per year.
It's worth watching the videos—both for some schadenfreude, and to know what to be on guard against yourself if the scammers ever come calling. As fun as the pranks are, it's frustrating knowing that the operations are mostly ignored by police, at least in the city of Kolkata. But Rober's crew did have an impact: They actually got another call center shut down elsewhere in the country. Hopefully videos like these, which have already racked up millions of views, at least cut down on the number of people who fall for scam calls.