i get mail…

By Alison Campbell 14/04/2010

… although I have to say, it’s nothing like as interesting (!) as some of PZ’s correspondence 🙂

However, I thought I’d reproduce it here (despite the fact it isn’t really ‘science’) as it could form a useful basis for a critical thinking exercise (& possibly one in creative writing…). I’ve included my correspondent’s name as I very much doubt that it’s her (?) real one.

Subject: hello, dear


 I would like you to permit me to apply through this medium for your co-operation and to secure an opportunity to invest with you in your country.

 I have a substantial concealed capital honorably inherited from my late father (Mr. Timothy Cohen); He was killed by the rebels in the ongoing political crisis in our country that have resulted to war since this past few years.

 I intend to invest this money in profitable and lucrative business venture of which you are to advise and execute the said venture over there for the mutual benefits of both of us. I shall be glad to reserve this respect and opportunity for you, if you so desire, I want you to be rest assured that everything is in order and legitimate.

 I am 19years old, an orphan presently living with a family that I never knew from Adam, Imaging being alone at this tender age.

 I will give you all information?s needed as soon as I hear from you to further this transaction immediately.

 Best Regards,

 Miss Janet Cohen


OK, for a start, e-mails with subject lines like that go straight in my junk folder & often don’t see the light of day. (I have to check the folder occasionally as for some reason the system also junks e-mails from my students if they aren’t using their Uni e-mail addresses.) If you want me to look at a message, at least give it an informative title! Even my Significant Other doesn’t write like that 🙂 So, ‘another scamming e-mail’, I thought to myself.

I’m not quite sure how one could dishonourably inherit something. Short of nefarious activity on the part of the inheritor, that is. But I notice that while Janet (?) names her ‘father'(?) she has somehow forgotten to identify the country they lived in. I’m sure that was accidental… But of course this makes it a) harder to check her bona fides & b) increasingly likely that her intentions are dishonorable.

The spelling? Well, that could be excused from someone who (genuine or otherwise) doesn’t have English as their first language. It’s interestingly inconsistent, isn’t it?

What are they offering? Unusually, this particular letter-writer doesn’t say (they generally wave the carrot of 10% – or some similar proportion – of a rather large sum of money). I guess s/he wants me to be sufficiently intrigued to write back for these all-important details, & then s/he’d be able to string me along some more. And then get me to commit – because the punchline is generally that I need to either make a ‘small’ enabling payment, or hand over my bank account details, in order to expedite the deal. It’s often a few hundred US dollars – might seem like small bikkies, but it would rapidly add up if enough people were foolish enough to send the cash. (And of course, they’d never see it again.)

But – why on Earth, if this person is up-front, would they make an offer like this to someone they’ve never had contact with before? Surely, if they’re genuine, they’d be dealing with a mainstream financial institution? Would you be following through on this wonderful offer from someone completely unknown to you, one which seems almost too good to be true?

Well, unfortunately, far too many gullible people do just that every year. despite warnings from government and other agencies. I guess the lure of what looks like easy money, at ridiculously high rates of return, is just too hard to resist. Just remember – if something looks too good to be true, then it almost certainly is.

(I mentioned creative writing… The Scambuster419 site, based in the UK, contains some excellent examples. And of course there’s the very creative Scamming the Scammers site. However, I would recommend that you don’t try this at home; leave it to the professionals! Seriously – look at the examples for interest, education, & amusement. But some of the scammers can turn a bit nasty when they realise the tables have been turned.)