How to Identify Email Spam

By Mark Nichol

I received the following email message recently. Actually, it went to my spam folder, but other recipients may not be so fortunate — or so discerning about its deceptive nature. But if you read carefully, you’ll find plenty of clues that the writer is not a native speaker of English, much less an FBI agent. My editorial interpolations are in brackets.

Anti-Terrorist and Monitory Crime Division.
Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Daniel McMullen (Special Agent in Charge)

Attn: , [Mac, you forgot to fill in my name, or a generic term.]

This is to officially inform you that it has come to our notice and we have thoroughly investigated with the help of our Intelligence Monitoring Network System that you are having an illegal Transaction with Impostors. [The Intelligence Monitoring Network System could be a brand-name system meriting initial capitalization, but it also could be — and is, according to an online search — a phrase that comes up only in reference to its inclusion in this message, a classic example of the Nigerian email scam. Furthermore, Rampant Initial Capitalization of Very Important Things, also seen in the phrase “Transaction with Impostors,” is a common occurrence in email-scam content.]

We the Federal Bureau Of Investigation want you to stop further communication with any Impostors claiming to be official. [The FBI would never use the royal we, it doesn’t capitalize the of in its name, and it wouldn’t simply tell you to “stop” anything.] During our Investigation, [not just any investigation, mind you, but an Investigation] we noticed that the reason why you have not received your payment is because you have not fulfilled your Financial Obligation given to you in respect of your Contract/Inheritance Payment. [More outbreaks of Raging Capitalitis. Also, even FBI bureaucrats know that “we noticed that the reason why you have not received your payment is because” is more elegantly rendered “we noticed that you have not received your payment because.”]

Therefore, we have contacted the Federal Ministry of Finance [of(?)] Nigeria on your behalf and they have brought a solution to your problem by coordinating your payment in total $5,900,000.00(Five Million Nine Hundred Thousand Dollars). [The only place you will find monetary amounts rendered to the last decimal place — followed by the spelled-out rendering, with words initial-capped, in parentheses — is in Nigerian scam emails. No one else treats references to money this way.]

Since the Federal Bureau of Investigation [Mac, can you just call it the FBI, like everyone else does? But thanks for lowercasing the of this time.] is involved in this transaction,you have to be rest assured for this is 100% risk free it is our duty to protect you. [The main clause of the previous sentence is a mess. Messages to the public from government agencies are better written than this.] We the Federal Bureau Of Investigation [there’s that royal we again, and a reversion to the initial-capped of] want you to contact the ATM CARD CENTER [All-caps = VERY IMPORTANT AND AUTHORITATIVE, but just what is the “ATM CARD CENTER”?] via email for their requirements to proceed and procure your Approval Slip on your behalf which will cost you $150 and note that your Approval Slip which contains details of the agent who will process your transaction. [This runaway sentence starts out coherently but eventually devolves into meaninglessness.]

CONTACT INFORMATION
NAME: Mr. Kelvin Williams
Address: 18 Koffi Crescent Apapa Lagos Nigeria [Is Nigeria, or the FBI — excuse me, the Federal Bureau Of Investigation — suffering a comma shortage?]
EMAIL: williamskelvin857@yahoo.com [Why am I emailing someone in Nigeria? Oh, right — because it’s a Nigerian email scam.]

Do contact [“Do contact”? The FBI sure sounds fussy these days.] Mr. Kelvin Williams of the ATM CARD CENTER with your details,and you full information So your files would be updated after which he will send the payment information which you’ll use in making payment of$150 via Western Union Money Transfer or Money Gram Transfer for the procurement of your Approval Slip after which the delivery of your ATM CARD will be effected to your designated home address without any further delay. [There’s evidently a period shortage, too.] We order you [You order me? Have I been conscripted? Oh, and, excuse me, sir, but you left out another word.] get back to this office after you have contacted the ATM SWIFT CARD CENTER [Oh, now it’s the ATM SWIFT CARD CENTER.] and we do await your response so we can move on with our Investigation and make sure your ATM SWIFT CARD gets to you. [What’s an ATM SWIFT CARD? Something available, evidently, only from Nigeria.]

Thanks and hope to read from you soon. [No, you will not be reading from me soon, Mac.]

Daniel McMullen
Special Agent in Charge
Criminal Division
FBI Los Angeles
Suite 1700, FOB
15000 Wilshire Boulevard
Los Angeles, California
[Oops, you forgot your ZIP code, Mac. But that’s OK — I double-checked your street address, and it’s wrong. In an online search, it came up only in — wait for it — references to a Nigerian email scam. (This one, in particular.)]

Note: Do disregard [Fussy!] any email you get from any impostors or offices claiming to be in possession of your ATM CARD, you are hereby advice only to be in contact with Mr. Kelvin Williams of the ATM CARD CENTER who isthe rightful person to deal with in regards to your ATM CARD PAYMENT and forward any emails you get from impostors to this office so we could act upon and commence investigation. [Again, the FBI does not condone run-on sentences — or comma splices.]

Note: There is actually a Federal Bureau Of Investigation agent named Daniel McMullen, but he’s stationed in Mississippi, not Los Angeles. Perhaps he was sent there as punishment for his atrocious writing skills. (That’s just a harmless little joke, denizens of the Magnolia State.)

Are you on the lookout for written passages to use as rewriting and editing exercises? Look no further than your email program’s spam folder.

Click here to get access to 800+ interactive grammar exercises!


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10 Responses to “How to Identify Email Spam”

  • phanmo

    You might find this interesting: http://gizmodo.com/5919818/why-nigerian-scammers-say-theyre-from-nigeria

    It provides a pretty plausible explanation for why Nigerian email scams are so poorly written, and why they’re based on such an implausible premise.

  • Ernest

    Now that was hilarious yet true. I have about three of them with the same fussy writing. I deleted two without even reading them but I have spared the third one for more humor.
    Thanx for the alert. I will look out.

  • dhler

    very interesting article. received many such scams in my Yahoo mail.

  • R. E. Hunter

    The funny thing is that because you included the text of the spam message in your message, it got sent to my spam folder by gmail. I just happened to notice it there.

  • Derek

    Good blog post.

    I always get a good laugh when I check my email everyday and see a few scam and phishing emails. I’ve been online for so long that I can spot them easily but there are people who get fooled and pay a hefty price. What we tech guys and gals can do is teach our family members and close friends on how to spot these types of emails and to never reply nor click on any links.

    Earlier this year I had to reinstall XP on my mom’s laptop because she got a virus. The virus protection didn’t pick up the virus that was in an email attachment. Yes, she got fooled in the email and opened up the attachment. Lesson learned for her.

  • MadhusudanR

    Good post. Not surprisingly, it was received in my spam folder. I think you should send another mail asking people to check their spambox for this mail and ask them mark the mail as “Not Spam.”

  • Brenda

    Thanks a lot for your post — now they’ll fix those errors and we’ll all think these emails really are from the Nigerian branch of the Federal Bureau Of Investigation! Seriously, the post was fun, but I am glad you didn’t spell out ALL the mistakes.

    I keep two email accounts, one for my “real” emails (like yours) and one that I use any time I have to give an address online or to anyone I don’t fully trust. The last is where all my spam goes and I rarely read those except when I need a laugh, and I almost never open a link.

  • Curtis

    To begin with, I have doubts that the FBI would send any such kind of email to anyone. That in itself should raise suspicion. Note that there are tax scams on the internet, with emails made to look like they came from the IRS — and the *real* IRS says on their own website that they NEVER send emails.

    If you want to try to do something about a Nigerian scam, the FBI has specific instructions, here:

    http://www.fbi.gov/scams-safety/fraud

    scroll down a bit for it.

    Then again, I read an account (perhaps fictitious) of one person who scammed the scammers; he told the Nigerians that he wanted to participate in their plan but needed money to set up his own account — they fell for it — then he somehow managed to get them to purchase computers from him — he made them pay shipping for a large box of utterly useless trash computer parts. It was hilarious, to say the least.

    Back to the topic, though — the safest thing to do is simply delete any mail coming from unrecognized sources.

  • venqax

    Mark,

    Your are to being Thanked Officially for this Informational Services you do provide. Please send 5.00 dollars (five dollars) to an OFFICAL ACCOUNT of a bank we will send to you as an official email to be provided with more informations to provide outwardly to the Daily Writing Tips that will come from a Federal Agent with a yahoo address. Do be thanked.

  • Mark Nichol

    Venqax:

    Thanking you for to send your notificatons. The cheque is on the mail.

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