My Chemical Romance and Twilight shaped my mid-2000s, like many other teenage girls growing up during that time. The walls of my room were adorned with posters of men in black, skinny jeans with greasy dyed-black hair and thick eyeliner and my book collection consisted of four thick entries in the Twilight series.
While I think of it as an embarrassing blip on the timeline of my personal brand, its influence still has a hold over my fashion choices today (I’m wearing a black turtleneck as I write this). Thankfully, much to my Latina mother’s relief, I grew out of the phase of worshipping ‘emo’ men (read: devils) and being obsessed with drawing zombies and vampires. I’d come to the light side but every now and then, the darker subcultures of the world would draw me back.
One evening after work, I received a peculiar email from my editor. He asked me to investigate a series of strange reader comments, left on any articles relating to blood or horror films, inviting readers to become a vampire. Subtlety, apparently, was no longer an important vampire trait in 2019.
Here's the (terribly worded) reader comment, which has appeared on several Lifehacker articles:
I turn to a vampire any time i want to. i become a vampire because of how people treat me, this world is a wicked world and not fair to any body. at the snack of my finger things are made happened. am now a powerful woman and no one step on me without an apology goes free. i turn to human being also at any time i want to. and am one of the most dreaded woman in my country. i become a vampire through the help of my friend who introduce me into a vampire kingdom by given me their number. if you want to become a powerful vampire kindly contact the vampire kingdom at [redacted]
I’ve always wanted to be an investigative journalist so here, I thought, was my chance. Plus, if it wasn’t a scam, I’d get to become a vampire, which was most likely my dream at the tender age of 14.
The following day, I fired up my VPN and pretended I was in a faraway place (apparently, Brisbane fit this criteria). I also made up my alter ego - Carmen Soto - and gave her a fake birth date just in case the vampire happened to be into astrology. It is 2019 after all.
After finding an appropriate stock image ("young businesswoman with eyeglasses in office"), I decided Carmen, a 29-year-old Scorpio from Brisbane, was ready to let herself be swept up in the world of online vampires. I typed out my message, doing my best to mirror their weariness:
“hi, I saw your comments on the internet and I’m really interested in finding out more. the world has treated me badly too and I want to become more powerful so nobody can cross me too. what sort of powers can u do? thank you, carmen”
A few hours later, I’d received my first of many emails from Lord Jiang Shi.
Welcome to the vampire family
It was a strange introduction from a Jiang Shi Moore welcoming me to “Vampire Family” in “Sang Diego”. Naturally, I googled if Sang Diego was a real place and if Jiang Shi Moore existed. What I found was the name was a reference to a vampiric creature from Chinese folklore (thanks Wiki).
The Jiang Shi are, according to Chinese folklore, reanimated corpses. They lie somewhere between vampire and zombie. Like Western vampires, they sleep in a coffin during the day and come to life at night searching for people to suck the qi (or lifeforce) out of.
But where they differ is in how they become a vampire. Instead of biting a human’s neck, Jiang Shi are created after someone’s soul becomes trapped between death and the afterlife due to a violent death. This fission causes the body to reanimate, thus creating the Jiang Shi.
My Jiang Shi, however, wasn’t like this. To me, she was no more than a few poorly-formed sentences. I needed to know more.
How to become a vampire
The first reply I sent back to my potential vampire lord was one of curiosity. I asked how she would turn me into a vampire and whether the organisation existed in Australia as well as the United States.
Jiang Shi was courteous. She told me I could have anything I wanted, as many kids as I wished and not even the sun would affect me if I read a specific page in the “Vampire Holy Book”. She explained the Vampire Family were the first family and King Dagan and Queen Gula, who were 68,849 and 66,201 years old respectively, were their spirits to call on. Vampires in Australia and United States did exist, according to Jiang Shi, but I’d only be able to see them once I transformed.
A later email promised a sickness and pain-free life, influence, connections, thinking and running faster. The vampire life sounded pretty good. Why had I wasted all this time not being a part of it?
All I had to do was fill out this form detailing my basic details, purpose for joining and mobile number.
Before handing over all my worldly possessions for this once in a lifetime opportunity, I decided to do what any digital native would and did my background research.
A quick search of the email showed me how prolific this vampire was. They’d commented the same spiel - typos and all - across 494 sites on the internet and in multiple languages (I found examples in Spanish and German). The comments went back as far as 17 November 2015 but were attributed to a Jiang Shi Paul. Not my Jiang Shi.
They even had a Twitter account; this was truly a millennial form of vampirism. Or was this the world’s least successful scam? I pondered. After years of trying to turn innocent bloggers and internet folk into vampires, no one had really written about it to complain or even shed light on them.
I reached out to the ACCC’s Scamwatch who reminded me this was probably not the most well thought-out plan and recommended not engaging with these sorts of comments.
“Be very careful about how much personal information you share on social network sites. Scammers can use your information and pictures to create a fake identity or to target you with a scam,” the ACCC spokesperson said in an email.
“Seemingly innocuous details about an individual’s life can be used by scammers in social engineering scenarios, particularly for identity theft and dating and romance scams.” I've read enough Twilight to know vampire scams fall into the 'romance' category.
ACCC Scamwatch announced there have already been 86,872 reports of scams from Australians in 2019 so far and nearly 11 per cent reported losing income. Those 10,000 or so cases have lost just over $58 million dollars. June alone saw Australians lose nearly $12 million dollars.
Send me your blood
I asked Jiang Shi how many others were in Australia and when I could meet them. I was doing all I could to delay filling out that form.
Apparently, she had been a vampire for more than 100 years and I would be able to meet my new vampire family on the day of the "Cana" ceremony. Cana, as it turns out, is the biblical town where Jesus performed his first miracle; the famed water into wine event. It's also the name of a vampire in the manhua series, Vampire Sphere.
I pressed for more information and hit a wall. To proceed, I'd need to fill out that form so it could be processed by a Master Donna. I sent my fake information through, purposely ignoring the mobile phone request.
But it wasn't enough. I now needed to send Jiang Shi a video of myself saying; "I, Carmen Soto, will always be faithful and will do anything for the brotherhood". I'd also need to provide my home address and phone number. Once they had all the details required to stalk the hell out of me, Jiang Shi would put a drop of blood on my photo and then send a 'package' via the US Postal Service.
I considered trying to learn if I could produce a 'deepfake' video using my stock image but it seemed too far so I tried a bold new tact; I asked Jiang Shi to send me a video proving their legitimacy. It did not go down well.
Fresh off the news that Reddit brought the banhammer down on r/deepfakes and a worried direct message from a friend on Twitter, I realised I should probably go and find out what 'deepfakes' actually are. Turns out, I probably didn't want to know.
“Listen to me Carmen you have to let the family believe in you and trust you before some info can be say out so if you don’t believe in the family we will not contact you again but if you truly want to change then get back with what is needed to move forward.”
They kept to their word and never got back to me after that. While I should’ve been happy to out-scam the scammer, I needed to know more.
Scampires are the real monsters
Some of the comments from other Jiang Shis (Jiang Shi Moore, Jiang Shi Paul and even a Brother Scott Morgan) also included a website. The website, which had both 'vampire' and 'financial solutions' in the title, screamed scam. It also included a Californian address, which when searched did not show up on Google Maps and led to a 'Candy Store' and a skincare store. There were also connections to a confirmed financing scan.
Each of Jiang Shi's email responses came from a different IP address linked to numerous states in the USA. Either Jiang Shi was travelling pretty regularly from Iowa to Virginia to Wyoming or they were using measures to cloak their location. Just like me, hopefully.
I asked RMIT University cyber security expert, Professor Asha Rao, whether she'd encountered this sort of set up before. She said she hadn't and recommended not responding with any real information.
“The primary purpose is to identify vulnerable people, and get their personal details,” Professor Rao told me in an email.
“So, for example, they started with your home address. Once they have that, then they will build rapport with you and get more information, ultimately stealing your identity.”
Scamwatch reported around 22 per cent of scams in 2019 had been attempted via email and disproportionately affected those 25 years and older. The most well-known of them is the Nigerian scam; one which sees an unsolicited email detailing an elaborate story about the scammer having a huge sum of money stuck in a war-torn country and only you can help them retrieve it. The scammer promises to give you a cut for helping them out. Of course, once you hand over your bank details they skim your accounts and you never receive the promised riches.
Professor Rao said while she couldn't confirm with certainty Jiang Shi definitely wasn't a vampire, it's best not to give any information away, no matter how small and insignificant it may seem.
“If you don’t know the person then any information is too much,” Professor Rao explained.
“The problem is there is already tons of information about each of us — via work and social media. Once they have a bit of information, they can start correlating information and start building [up] a profile.
"You would only find out when some company or bank, starts chasing you for an unpaid bill.”
Professor Rao recommended to report them straight away to ScamWatch. “If it feels too good to be true, it very likely is,” she warned.
I’m still no closer to figuring out whether Lord Jiang Shi was a real vampire or a certified scampire but whichever way it was, I'm happy to leave them behind in the dark recesses of the internet.