Dec 132012
 

There seems to be a disturbing upward trend in the number (and methods) of panhandlers in Second Life.

We’re all used to seeing them pop up in large, free-to-join groups, asking for “just L$50 until I get paid”. Indeed, one of the main reasons why so many groups that were once free-to-join now charge a minimum of L$50 (and, in some cases, multiple hundreds of L$) to join is to prevent both spammers and panhandlers from annoying their group members.

In recent months, though, I’ve both experienced and been notified about, new panhandling tactics. I hope this post will serve as a warning that they are out there, that they are getting more and more skilful, and hopefully I can help you to spot some of their tactics.

The main difference is this: The new panhandlers are far more willing to spend time, one-on-one, with another avatar, be it in person or (more usually) in IM. I’ve heard reports of upwards of 10 minutes’ general chitchat before the panhandler gets to the point: they just need x amount of money to help them out.

Hop behind the cut.

Things to look out for:

1: If you’ve been IM’d by another avatar who compliments you out of the blue (or, conversely, who accuses you of something – such as pushing them out of the way in a store), then check your radar immediately. If your viewer doesn’t have a built-in radar, then use the free Mystitool, or grab the freebie radar from Crystal Gadgets. The important thing is this: if the avatar who has IM’d you is not in the same location you’re in (the same store, and especially not the same region) then you should be on your guard. If they’re nowhere near you, how can they see your nice avatar, and how could you push them out of the way? It’s very likely an opening for a pandhandling attempt.

2: Observe their side of the conversation without getting drawn into it too deeply. By all means, respond, but be general and polite. Does it seem as if they’re not responding to what you’re saying to them? Is the conversation one-sided? (ie: your side is moving with the flow and you’re responding to them, but they seem to be on a single track). Chances are they’re pasting their prepared story from a notecard. If you’re getting a sob story and their past history (note: this will never contain requests for money, or mention that they have no money) and it’s coming thick and fast, then you’re probably not the only person being IMd exactly the same thing at exactly the same time.

3: Observe how much text is coming through to you, and at what relative speed. If you’re receiving whole paragraphs of response within a second or two of replying, then they are definitely pasting from a notecard. However, just because the responses seem ‘correct’ as to how fast a person could reasonably type a response (ie: one paragraph every 2-3 minutes) that doesn’t mean it’s not a prepared response. See point 2, above.

4: By all means, be sympathetic. It may be that the avatar is genuine and not on the make. But, likewise, be on your guard. Don’t offer to help. If you want to offer advice, then do so. If you do, observe whether they respond to it, or say thank you. If they don’t, then we’re back to that notecard-pasting again.

5: When the request for money finally comes (this could take anything up to 15-20 minutes) it will invariably be a smallish, affordable amount. The more ‘expensive’ your avatar looks, the higher the amount requested may be. Expect to be asked for between L$50 and L$250.

6: The final test for panhandling – don’t just say “no” to the request. Instead, respond with a way in which the avatar can help him or herself. It helps to have a notecard in your inventory (make sure it’s No Modify) containing links to freebie blogs and LMs to good freebie stores in-world. If the money request is so they can buy some nice clothes for their avatar (“OMG, I joined SL years ago, then my computer died. Now I’ve got a new computer and come back to SL, and everyone looks so good and I look awful and I have no money!” etc), send the notecard and tell them they can look fabulous for absolutely zero spend. If the request is for money to pay their SL rent because their paycheck won’t arrive until Friday, tell them to speak to their landlord immediately, because all good landlords will offer a grace period, as they understand sometimes money is tight – especially in the current financial climate.

7: Above all, be firm and don’t budge. You’ll probably find that you won’t need to say it again. Why? Because the likely response to your reply to their request for money will be…

… a big, fat silence.

You didn’t fall for it, so they moved on to waste some other poor avatar’s time.

UPDATE:

There is now a blog where you can report these ‘flatterbots’, and also view the various scripts that they use: http://slvanitybots.wordpress.com/

Also, read an amusing conversation between a long-time SL resident and a flatterbot, here: http://slfashionpassion.wordpress.com/2012/11/24/dale-meet-the-bot-bot-meet-dale/

Lastly (updated March 4th 2013) read this interview, by Every Second Man, with the person behind the flatterbots.

  4 Responses to “Hints & Tips: Avoiding SL’s panhandlers”

Comments (4)
  1. These are bots. They make their comments at timed intervals. Try it sometime. You can say almost anything in response and you’ll get the reply, “You’re so nice!” Engaging with them is a waste of time. The minute you get a suspicious IM, like the bit about bumping into you, mute them.

    • I don’t doubt that for one second, Indigo, and very sophisticated bots at that. Personally, I have had at least much lengthier replies than “You’re so nice!”, so if the ones I’ve encountered recently are bots, then they have been incredibly well-scripted and primed for ‘conversation’. They’re nothing like the old Alice chatbots that I remember.

      Next time one pops up, I might try responding with a single word. Maybe just “Hi!” over and over. *grins*

  2. They ARE sophisticated and it’s got me a little worried. I was convinced I was talking to a person.

    • (Oh, WordPress, how I hate thee when you eat my three-paragraph reply. *sigh* Let me try to reconstruct the crux of it.)

      In some cases, you probably are talking to a person. On at least two occasions I’ve been physically approached by an avatar who engaged me in a two-sided conversation for some ten or so minutes before the money request was made.

      However, the vast majority are probably bots. I expect that, once they’ve pasted their spiel and got the the point of the matter, they then close the IM window and move onto the next poor schmuck. Either money from victim #1 arrives in their account, or it doesn’t. They’ve done all they’re going to do in order to get it, and have already moved on before you can start typing your helpful response or send your freebie notecard.

      (Ugh. That was nowhere near as coherent as my original response. Curse you, WordPress, for farting as I hit ‘post comment’! *shakes fist*)

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