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Scamming the scammers, an ethical question

Discussion in 'SteamRep General Discussion' started by Lava, May 12, 2021.

  1. Lava

    Lava Public Relations SteamRep Admin

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    There have been some misunderstandings, and there are honestly some valid questions for us answer or debate on the subject, so I’d like to talk about SteamRep’s stance on scamming the scammers, and why we take the stance we do. The world is hardly black and white, and I think some discussion and questioning is warranted, so I created this post to help the community understand how we arrived at this conclusion, and why we have yet to find a compelling argument against it for the nearly 10 years we’ve followed this principle.

    When you’re making a lot of money at someone else’s expense, it’s easy to get blinded by greed and justify quick and easy profit without even realizing it. There are admittedly some debatable ethical considerations for scamming a scammer in certain situations that I’ll get to in a bit, but from an outside perspective I think this much should be absolutely clear: Targeting people, who at some point in their lives, scammed someone else, so that you can get a little richer, doesn’t make you any better than any of the other scammers in Steam or elsewhere. Don’t fool yourself, you’re not trying to make the community a better place (and it’s not any better as a result), you’re just doing it for your own benefit and dehumanizing the victim as an excuse. Their history of scamming doesn’t make them fair game, which is why SteamRep allows reports from scammers, and we will always fairly investigate them regardless of who the victim was.

    Now let’s assume for the sake of argument that you are not interested in making any profit, but rather helping a victim out. Or maybe you’re just looking to hurt the scammer in retaliation, sending a message, or otherwise somehow making the community a better place through vigilantism. Maybe you're sending all proceeds from your stunt to a charity or maybe you're just discarding them, but either way we'll assume you're not making any personal gain from this. Let me ask: Would you still consider yourself to have the moral high ground if you later learned the person you stole from was innocent? What if the victim reporting a scammer to you or asking you for help were lying, and you as a trusted member of the community just helped a crafty scammer steal something valuable? Often times it's not even more gray, where depending on who you ask the "scam" that happened to you or your friend wasn't even fraud, such as a dispute on what the items were worth. What if the person marked by SteamRep you stole from were truly innocent? It’s rare, but SteamRep does make mistakes (and yes, we do correct them and help clean up when they happen). That’s not to say any particular scammer is innocent – they usually aren’t – but just because someone did something wrong in the past doesn’t make it ok for you to turn around and harm them.

    In practical terms, beyond the scope of this thread, there is actually historical precedent for Valve to follow items as they get moved around between scammers’ alternate accounts and cascade their bans. It’s unlikely Steam Support would give you a pass if you simply said the victim you stole from was themselves a scammer. Are the stolen items worth the risk to your account?

    SteamRep doesn’t ban people for punishment or revenge. We do it as a public warning to protect the community. Scammers are people too, and while we don’t like them for what they did, we treat everyone fairly because it’s not our place to declare any group of people as “fair game” for the community to steal from. As such, we decided nearly 10 years ago that scamming from a scammer is still scamming. While there are rare individual circumstances that may help someone’s case in an appeal for it, we have yet to hear a sufficiently compelling argument to condone stealing from fraudsters.

    If SteamRep were to carve out exceptions for scamming when the victim is themself a scammer, then it would put us into a strange position of deciding who is “fair game” for stealing from and who is “off limits”. That’s something a protection racket would do, and it would rightfully earn us a lot of ire for who we choose to ban. It’d create perverse incentives among those SteamRep admins might trade with. And frankly, that’s not what we’re here for; our job is to educate and protect the community – everyone who trades, scammer or not – from fraud. The bottom line is that scamming a scammer is still scamming. Whether it's justified or not can sometimes be debated in an appeal given the intentions, harm done, and amends made afterwards, but it's not something I can ever see us condoning.
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  2. IcarusFell

    IcarusFell New User

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