A Potosi businessman did something last week that most people who are being scammed never have the opportunity to do. He scammed the scammer.

“Today cyber crimes are a pretty big deal,” said Aaron Penberthy, owner of Beyond The Backyard. “Nowadays there’s a scam going on where a person will make a fake profile online. They can get tons and tons of pictures. They can make it look legit.

“What they do is, they try to lure in older men by appearing to be younger women and build a relationship with them. One of the tactics they use is they will say they will come visit the man, but they need money for a plane ticket to get there. Then the man sends them the money and the person never shows up.”

Scamming is a common occurrence in a world where people are interacting more and more online rather than by face-to-face contact. In most scamming situations either the person loses money or they realize it’s a scam and they hang up the phone.

Penberthy didn’t do that. He started talking with the scammer who, despite the enticing photo and fake name of "Janet Gore," wasn’t a woman at all.

“After he tried to scam me, I told him right off the get-go, ‘All right, I know this is fake. Be real with me,'” Penberthy said. “I gained his trust and started acting like a friend so he would reveal his entire scheme to me. I found out that this person is 32 years old and from Texas.

"He’s a normal person like me and you. He works a regular job. He watches 'The Walking Dead' just like I do. His family doesn’t even know that he does this. I don’t know the person’s real name, but I may be the only one who knows that he does it.”

According to Penberthy, local police are too overwhelmed dealing with crimes in their own communities to spend time following up on cyber crimes like this one. The only thing he believes can help people to avoid scams is learning how they work.

“This person said that he’s usually talking on average to six or seven men at a time,” he said. “I asked him how much he pulls in a month. He told me that on a good month, he makes about $2,500. I asked him if this was part of a network and he said, ‘No, it’s just him that does it.’

“He does this all-day long. He’s sitting there working a normal job while having guys texting him. If a man wants the ‘woman’ to call him, the scammer claims that his phone’s broken. If they do answer, they muffle up the speaker.

Penberthy also learned that, not only do “secret scammers” work the phones all-day long, they also do it all-year long.

“He was doing it on Thanksgiving,” he said. “What they do is make a fake PayPal account under a different name — no matter what, they get their cash. The police won’t be able to get that cash back for them. The only way you can help people out is to let them know what’s going on and how to prevent it.

“People need to think realistically. Let’s say you’re a man in your early 60s and there’s an attractive 20-year-old girl wanting to hit on you — think twice about it. This happens more often than you think. I usually get five or six of these requests a day. I’ll look at the picture and ask myself, ‘What’s this smoking hot supermodel want with me?”

Penberthy said people should also be aware that not all scammers are necessarily from foreign countries.

“What scares me the most is that somebody I know could be doing this and I’d never know it,” he said. “It’s that easy to hide."

Kevin Jenkins is a reporter for the Daily Journal and can be reached at 573-518-3614 or kjenkins@dailyjournalonline.com