EVE Online's biggest scammer tells us his secrets

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Scooter isn't EVE's only notable con artist. The most classic heist in EVE history was pulled off by The Guiding Hand Social Club, who befriended an alliance leader for over a year before robbing her blind and murdering her character. More recently, Samantha Myth stole a priceless ship from a renowned pirate and duelyst—and she did it all just for the fun of it.

There are few people in EVE Online as reviled as scammers. Even in an MMO that prides itself on its savagery, where a single player turning coat can burn an entire alliance to the ground in the span of minutes, scammers are widely despised. And for good reason, too. For EVE's most prolific scammers, few lies aren't worth telling if it means swindling you out of everything you own.

Unlike other MMOs, CCP Games condones (and even celebrates) scamming as a viable way to make money in EVE Online. Players can steal and cheat all they want, but actually pulling off a proper scam is a rare thing. That's because there is an artistry to scamming—and Scooter McCabe is EVE's Beethoven of bamboozles.

In his career he's stolen entire space stations, talked players out of their most prized supercaptial ships, and even pretended to be the judge of a mock space courtroom to make a few extra bucks (and have a few laughs). Scooter isn't just a random thug, however. He flies with the infamous Goonswarm Federation, and uses his skullduggery to settle the score with enemies of the state. But he's also done good things for EVE Online, like the time he liberated a group of new players from a forced labor camp. And today, Scooter is revealing his tricks of the trade.

The man behind the mask 

"Scamming is a game of trust," Scooter tells me. "It's like a form of PVP, except you're literally pitting one person's intelligence against another. The common complaint about people who scam is that they're sociopaths. But really, if you think about it, there's actually a legitimate playstyle here where you don't have to be a psychologically distressed person to perform a scam. It's just a very grey area that you're playing in."

Scooter is a pragmatist. Yes, you are stealing from other people, but it's just another way of playing the game. A good scammer avoids getting caught up in sympathizing with their mark the same way a combat pilot shouldn't feel bad about the fate of his enemies.

EVE is an inherently social MMO, where players are forced to talk and interact with one another, and scamming takes that to a whole new level. A good scammer needs to be willing to talk and build a relationship with their mark—especially if they're not on voice comms. "I would say I'm only on voice comms one percent of the time," Scooter says. "But people think that actually talking to someone over voice chat changes things, like 'Wow it's a person on the other end of the line, I shouldn't scam him!' That's a fallacy. Every scammer understands there is another person on the end of the line, we are just hoping it's one that is paying out today." 

Every scammer understands there is another person on the end of the line, we are just hoping it's one that is paying out today.

Scooter McCabe

But despite what all the silver-tongued rogues in books and games might lead you to believe, being a scammer isn't about being a good talker. "You have to be a good listener," Scooter says. "You can't just be waiting for your turn to speak but actually listening to the person and processing what they're saying."

I ask what other qualities make for a good scammer. "You have to be patient, because it's not a race to the end," Scooter says. "To make 30 billion ISK, it might take you an hour or two to talk that person out of their money. That's still a hell of a payday, but you need to be patient. Being impatient, or wanting the score so badly that you start pushing the person, they'll notice and back right off on you. The third thing is being adaptable and creative. Shit can go sideways, but if you keep it spinning sideways, you can eventually get it upright again. Just because someone throws a monkey wrench in the operation doesn't mean it's done as long as you can be creative."

The one thing you should never do is try and piss your mark off, Scooter tells me. Many scammers are tempted to mock their victims after they've taken their money. But anger is dangerous. It makes players try and get revenge or raise awareness of what the scammer is doing, making it harder to score on future marks. But if you are polite and stay civil "they're more likely to never say anything about it because they feel like a dope."

But just having the qualities of a good scammer isn't enough. You need to know how to pull off a con.

The magician's tricks 

To be successful, scammers like Scooter have to find clever ways to subvert the game design in their favor. That means understanding the nuances of how EVE's corporations (similar to guilds) are structured and operate or how the complex in-game economy works. But Scooter is quick to mention that, although there's some basic templates you can follow, every scam and every mark is different. And being able to think on your feet is a must. "There's a science to scamming that you can learn, but there's also an art that you just can't teach."

That said, here are some of Scooter's best scams.

The Meat Thermometer 

One of the most common tools that any scammer uses is alternate characters. EVE allows subscribed players to have multiple instances of EVE open at one time, so you can effectively be two or more people at once. Most players use this to their advantage because EVE's skill system makes it hard for one character to do everything. So players might have a combat pilot and an industrialist or trader. Players often refer to their favorite persona as their 'main' and the rest as their 'alts.'

The Meat Thermometer is a classic infiltration scam with a twist. The basic idea is that you find a mark that you want to score from, infiltrate their corporation or alliance, gain their trust, and then steal everything. But the twist is that you use a second character who isn't on the inside to apply a little heat. "Create terror on the outside, and manipulate it from the inside. Your alt is like a meat thermometer and you're just waiting for that sucker to cook over," Scooter laughs.

This type of scam is best illustrated when Scooter liberated a group of new players from an in-game forced labor camp run by the nefarious Scottmw15. Scooter used one of his characters, Neerah Otomeya, to infiltrate Scottmw15's corporation, Standing United, and gain his trust. Meanwhile, as Scooter, he launched a one-man siege, shutting down the corporation's mining operations and sowing so much fear that players were forced to stay cooped inside of their station. 

Create terror on the outside, and manipulate it from the inside.

Scooter McCabe

But there's an important trick. "When you're working on the outside, what you want to do is escalate," Scooter says. He explains that, as Scooter, his siege started as a minor nuisance, and he only attacked a Standing United member here or there. Then slowly, he'd pile on the pressure. He'd gank Standing United members more frequently, would taunt them or camp their station for hours. Morale began to erode and players began to question Scottmw15's leadership. 

"If you start out going 100mph, there's nowhere to go from there. Escalation is important because each time you successfully escalate, you're creating this narrative that the situation is just getting worse and worse. At the same time, while you're escalating, you try and reach out to the people who are suffering collateral damage and sympathize with them. Make them understand you're not there for them. Doing that isolates your intended target and creates dissent in the ranks."

With Neerah on the inside "taking the temperature," Scooter was able to know when and where to strike to cause the most chaos. He was also able to anticipate when things were coming to a climax, and how best to sink the final dagger into Scottmw15's back. You can read the full story here

The Bureaucrat's Delight 

Another of Scooter's favorite types of scams also involves using alt characters—a lot of them. Similar to The Meat Thermometer, it's a twist on a popular and well-known scam that many players should be more aware of: recruitment scams.

Despite being highly publicized, players still fall for it all the time. The scammer pretends to be a recruiter in their corporation. They find players who might be interested in joining, tell them how wonderful their corporation is, and coax them into handing over money as a fee in order to join. Except they never had any intention of recruiting the player. Goonswarm Federation used to be so infamous for their constant recruitment scams they had banners on their website warning new recruits not to cough up ISK to get in.

In any scam, you're looking to maneuver a person into a scenario where the only logical solution is to comply with what you're asking them to do.

Scooter McCabe

Scooter adds a creative twist, though, and it can be applied to all sorts of scams where you appear to have something someone else wants (like rare ships or valuable intel). Instead of asking for a fee, you fabricate a situation where the recruit's application to the corporation gets stuck in bureaucratic hell. Then, when they're desperate for any kind of solution, you offer them a chance to bribe their way through. 

Scooter explains it like this: First the recruiter (Scooter) tells the recruit that they screwed up their application and that has caused a delay. Then, using an alt character, Scooter will pretend to be his own supervisor who comes in to sort it out. But before he can, Scooter adds a third alt to the conversation who is pretending to be a part of the corporation's counterintelligence unit. He tells the recruit that they have reasons to be suspicious about them, and that'll delay their application while they investigate.

The player never realizes that each person they are talking to is Scooter as he talks and argues among his fake personas. "You just keep piling shit on where all of a sudden this guy feels caught in a shitload of paperwork," Scooter laughs. "And once the person is frustrated and desperate to expedite the process, you have another alt come in who has the authority to override everyone. You catch him in bureaucratic hell, and then you offer him the one corrupt official to take the bribe."

"In any scam," Scooter says, "you're looking to maneuver a person into a scenario where the only logical solution is to comply with what you're asking them to do. You're removing objectives, you're anticipating concerns, and you're blending a mix of empathy and authoritarianism into your approach. You're taking them on an emotional rollercoaster."

It's a process that can sometimes take hours and sometimes months. But when it works, the payday can be huge. Scooter says a well-executed recruitment scam can pull in several hundred million ISK. A great take for an evening's worth of work.

But there's one important rule to follow.

The Space Court 

"Never admit that you're scamming someone," Scooter tells me. "Sometimes marks will come back to you a day later and end up handing over more money in hopes that you'll uphold your end of the bargain. They think they can buy their way out. Most times marks are used to people declaring their intent, but when you're ambiguous, they have no idea what the hell happened and they're confused."

Not all pilots

Contrary to what you might think, not everyone in EVE Online is out to get you. Many players have built entire careers out of being honest and generous. Likewise, it's community is genuinely helpful and eager to welcome new players.

Perhaps his most infamous series of scams is Space Court, where Scooter set up a fake courtroom on Teamspeak where victims could sue for justice against those who scammed them. But the whole thing was a joke that everyone but the victim was in on. Other members of Goonswarm would pretend to be lawyers and the jury, and no matter how well a victim made their case, they'd always lose and be asked to pay court fines. Not realizing the whole thing was a joke, many would pay up. "By not admitting to it and following up, you can always find a way to get more money out of it," Scooter says.

Space Court is a perfect example of how scamming is all about social engineering and being creative rather than following a template. And that's where the biggest scores can be found, as low effort scams like players who say they'll "double your ISK" if you trade it to them rarely make a buck. Scooter, on the other hand, pays for multiple accounts by converting his ill-gotten ISK into subscription time, but it's because he's willing to invest his time in high-effort heists.

Low effort scams you should avoid 

That said, if you're starting out it might be worthwhile trying your hand at a few basic scams—if only to see if you have the stomach to rip people off and not feel guilty about it. The EVE University Wiki has a list of common scams that people attempt with the intent of educating players on what to look for. But EVE is a big world, and it's easy to find someone with more ISK than brains.

Common scams include contract scams, where players sell a bundle of items via a contract instead of the automated market place. The idea is that you make the contract seem like an incredible deal and hope that victims don't double check the math first and realize there's an extra zero in the price, or that the amazing deal you're advertising isn't actually included in the contract. It's the equivalent of sneaking things into the small print and hoping no one reads it.

Likewise, players sometimes list items in a regional marketplace for insanely cheap, hoping that players don't realize the goods are stored inside of a nearby system infested with pirates the scammer is affiliated with. Once the victim buys the item, the pirates will ambush them en route to picking it up.

the other person has an obligation to always be prepared for something like this to happen to them—especially in EVE.

Scooter McCabe

But, according to Scooter, none of these scams are worth your time. "Maybe once in a blue moon do those scams pay off," he says. "That's a low effort, not-even-worth-it kind of scam. By the time you make something back, you could've done a bunch of other stuff like mining. It's like calling yourself a poker player and only playing video poker."

That only highlights that scamming is a EVE career path only a select few will ever be good at. You can follow in the footsteps of EVE's most prolific scammers, but only if you're willing to take risks and try new things. And you'll need to be content with the fact that most players will outright hate you. But for Scooter, that hate isn't justified. "There's a joy in engaging a person in a battle of intelligence," he says. "Only one person is fully aware they're playing it, but the other person has an obligation to always be prepared for something like this to happen to them—especially in EVE."

Steven Messner

With over 7 years of experience with in-depth feature reporting, Steven's mission is to chronicle the fascinating ways that games intersect our lives. Whether it's colossal in-game wars in an MMO, or long-haul truckers who turn to games to protect them from the loneliness of the open road, Steven tries to unearth PC gaming's greatest untold stories. His love of PC gaming started extremely early. Without money to spend, he spent an entire day watching the progress bar on a 25mb download of the Heroes of Might and Magic 2 demo that he then played for at least a hundred hours. It was a good demo.