Is it ethical to scam scammers?

Some arguments in favor:

  • Their money was effectivly stolen, so it's not really "theirs".

  • Selectivly punishing bad actors discourages such behavior.

Some arguments against:

  • Deontolgy/rule utilitarianism says to not lie (perhaps with exceptions for extreme circumstances, which this isn't).

  • It's illegal, and societies only function when people follow even the laws they don't like.

  • The outside view says one could be mistaken about whether they're actually scammers. Maybe one made a bad business descision, and it's made them perceive the other party as a scammer, when in reality it was just poor communication. This is why we defer justice to the courts rather than trusting vigilantees.

Market resolves once I'm convinced one way or the other for the following question:

"Is it ethical for me to decide on my own to scam someone who I believe with high confidence to be a scammer?"

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If it is possible for you to be 90% certain and 90% correct about whether someone is a scammer (that is, if given a pool of 10000 people of whom 100 are scammers, you'd mark 90 of the scammers as scammers, and then in order to only be 10% incorrect only 10 of the non-scammers would be marked as scammers), then if you use the scammed money for positive purposes (such as reimbursing their victims, donating to charities, or just not spending it on frivolous luxuries as the most successful scammers tend to do) you're doing a good thing. If those numbers are only 50%, then almost definitely not.

moral realism - That's a concept I've been wanting to understand for a while. If someone in this market can help me with some examples, I'd appreciate it

@firstuserhere As I understand it, moral realism holds that ethical sentences and judgements are logically consistent, and represent true/false relationships in real life.


If I define liquid as good and solid as bad, I must deem water, milk, oil, room-temperature mercury, etc. good, and rock, gold, diamond, etc. bad, which is true to the extent that the former are indeed liquid and the latter solid.

If I define scammers as criminals, and punishing criminals as good, I must deem punishing scammers good, which is true to the extent that the underlying syllogism is logically correct.

Opposing theories, moral relativism for example, might hold that ethical sentences are arbitrary, but do not reflect common principles or logically consistent judgements.

@XComhghall So according the moral realism, that relationship is not reflective of the current ethical standards of the society (which are always changing) but has always been and always will be that way?

@firstuserhere It seems to me that moral realism is more about the relationship between ethics (whether changing or not) and logic. Whether ethical standards are changing or have always been the way seems to be beyond the scope of moral realism.

As I understand it, moral realism holds that whatever the ethical principles, definitions, standards are, e.g., liquid is good, the ethical sentences and judgements made are consistent with them and with each other, e.g., water is good. In 10 years, now solid is good, then rock is good is consistent with the new principle, and moral realism holds.

Whereas in moral relativism, it may be that mercury is good, oil is good, but petroleum, alcohol, and water are bad. There is no consistent, reasonable principle that can be deduced or induced, but each ethical sentence is arbitrarily made without general principles or bases.

@XComhghall I see, interesting

I don't think that explanation is in line with how most people use the term. All moral systems should be consistent; otherwise there's obviously some flaw. Moral realism is the belief that moral statements are true or false in some important way, similar to how "the sun is blue" and "1+1=2" are true.

isn’t Sun green

@yaboi69 Lol, whoops. I was originally gonna use "the sky is blue" as my example, didn't want to get into an argument about clouds or nighttime, and was going to switch to "the sun exists", but apparently only did that halfway.

@IsaacKing Yes. Anti-realism though holds that moral sentences do not even purport to report facts or logical relationships, but simply people expressing their emotions / manipulating others to achieve their own interests, hence no consistency to speak of: They do not intend to be logically consistent, or to have common, general, true/false principles. The error theory being that there are no facts or logical relationships.

It seems to me that with both theories of anti-realism, there is no moral system, principles, standards, or decision rules, but that moral sentences are simply because they are, whereas moral realism claims that there are general principles and rules, for example, a moral sentence is not true for me but false for you, which would be the case with non-cognitivism (emotion and self-interest), and likely error theory too (no facts or logic at all).

This "An eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth" mentality is just a terrible way for humanity to cope with the feeling of being wronged. Seeking vengeance "to get even" IS unethical.

@Simon119 What about if you try the legal route first, and it doesn't work?

@Simon119 I never even thought of the scammed individual scamming the scammer himself. I have always thought of a group of social justice-minded citizens working with the law enforcement to justly punish scammers and rightly compensate the victims. For example, someone is scammed by a foreign criminal group, and a hacker helps the police to retrieve the illegal gains (through lawful scam), and hands the illegal gains to the police to be returned to the victims. One with any moral sense would agree that it is just and right.

@IsaacKing I'm no one to tell people what to do if they choose to do it, it's fine but being a victim doesn't make it right for you to do it, it's still unethical.

@XComhghall If you read the description you will find that Isaac was specifically talking about scammed individuals scamming the scammer themselves.

Even if he wasn't talking about that, I disagree that somehow because society views a group of individuals as justice minded citizens working and enforcing the law, that it makes the act of a scam ethical, even in that specific context.

I agree of course that the victims should retrieve their properties. But "through lawful scam" doesn't make it ethical. At some point in history it was "just and right" to enslave certain individuals, what is "just and right" shifts through time and history but I'd say that what is ethical is does not I could be wrong tho.


If you read the description you will find that Isaac was specifically talking about scammed individuals scamming the scammer themselves.

...No I didn't? Where does the description say anything like that?

@IsaacKing "Is it ethical for me to decide on my own to scam someone who I believe with high confidence to be a scammer?"

@Simon119 That can certainly be someone else. It does not have to be the victim themselves. It definitely does not rule out cooperating with law enforcement.

It doesn't matter who scams. It matter who is scammed. It is right to rob one who inflicts injuries on others to justly and proportionately compensate the victim. It is right to scam one to retrieve the ill gotten gains.

It is not right to enslave innocent people, or animals for that matter. It is right to enslave, in the sense of imprisonment, not torture or anything else, criminals who pose great danger to society.

This one I believe is just and right according to the current moral standards. Termination, the means, is not good or evil. To terminate evil is good. To terminate good is evil.

@XComhghall I disagree

As long as you only take back what they stole from you and not any more I think it is fine

I don't think it's ethical to participate in the behavior that you don't condone.

Is it ethical to scam scammers?

Is it ethical to rob robbers?

Is it ethical to SA SAers?

Is it ethical to murder murderers?

The answer would be NO for all what makes it okay for the police to engage in that behavior? Because they have an authority? Like some were suggesting the police can and do participate in unethical behavior, the police force is just a group of individuals like us. They can't do anything unethical because they are enforcing the law?


It is ethical to rob robbers, called damages.

It is ethical to murder murderers, called execution.

Evil harms and destroys, but it destroys what is good, so to destroy evil is good.

@XComhghall Collecting damages from someone is not the same as robbing, one is a crime the other isn't. Execution is not the same as murder since murder is by definition unlawful, now this is my opinion, execution is not ethical regardless of the reason.

And I kinda disagree with that last statement, of course you should stop or limit "evil" but you shouldn't use "evil means" to do so. You're just as "evil" if you do.

@Simon119 There is no such thing as evil means. Taking money from someone against their will is the means. It is lawful or unlawful, robbery or damages, depending on the identity of that someone.

Killing a person against their will is the means. It is murder or execution depending on the identity of that person. The means is good if the object is evil. The means is lawful if the object is unlawful.

@XComhghall you're the one who brought up the term evil...

And no it does not depend on the identity of the person if a police officer robs someone and gets caught he's going to be punished. If there's a context in which a police officer is allowed to "rob someone" it wouldn't be a robbery anymore it would be a perquisition. Both the act of robbery and paying for damages are very different and they have different words and meanings for that reason.

That's just wrong and most countries banished death penalty because "it's a grave violation of human rights" and even if it wasn't, if you have any sense of moral you would understand why your identity should never put you above basic human rights.

@Simon119 I brought up evil, not evil means.

Certainly it does. Not the subject, the object. There are many cases where it is ethically and legally right for a government, court, or police officer to rob someone.

A police officer robbing a innocent citizen is a crime. A police officer robbing a innocent citizen as ordered by a court is the government's fault. A police officer robbing a criminal as ordered by a court is his legal duty. A civilian restricting a criminal's liberties and handing him over to the police is not false but right imprisonment.

Robbery is unlawful damages. Damages is lawful robbery. Or as you said, robbery is prohibited distraint, and distraint allowed robbery. (Perquisition is search, not seizure.) There is no difference except the object of the action. The words distinguish none other than the object of the action, and whether it is considered legal / ethical or not.

A criminal is to be imprisoned and robbed. That is justice, law, and order.

Forget about death penalty. One's identity as a criminal justifies robbery of him and restriction of his liberties, i.e., fine, damages, seizure, and imprisonment. One's identity as an innocent citizen warrants protection of all his rights and liberties.

@XComhghall I didn't want to use the term evil altogether because IMO evil is subjective and I don't think that an individual is evil just because he participated in criminal activities, but that's a different conversation, I just tried to use the same terms you did.

I think we can't agree on this.

I'm positive that we can only call a certain action robbery if the intention is to deprive the owner of their property.

When it comes to damages the criminal isn't the owner of the said property, so can we label it as the same if one is unlawful and the other isn't? My answer would be no.

When you say that "a criminal is to be imprisoned and robbed" when does that apply? If criminal A is imprisoned and criminal B robs him, shouldn't criminal B be punished?

Or because criminal A is also a criminal, him being robbed is justified?