The Decline of Creativity in E-mail Scams

Published February 17th, 2012 in Coffee Break | Comments Off

My years of dealing with the internet have given me a rather odd hobby. I like to read and critique e-mail spam, especially the kind that try to get me to do something remarkably stupid. If that makes you curious and tempts you to visit your spam folder, I have just one thing to say. Don’t bother. It’s just not worth it anymore. The creativity’s gone and you might as well read the telephone book.

Walter Mitty rides again

Sometimes I miss the glory days of the great Nigerian e-mail scams. Yes, they were illegal and unethical, but you have to admit whoever organized them had a thorough knowledge of human nature and an ability to concoct a plausible story. Whether the scammer took the role of a banker trying to get a client’s money out of the country or a desperate widow trying to save her inheritance, the scenarios were perfectly crafted to target the Walter Mitty type. The mark may have been a bored convenience store manager, but in his heart he was a budding secret agent or knight errant. Better yet, he could live out his fantasy and get rich quick at the same time. Someone out there may not have had the best grasp of English grammar and spelling, but knew the target audience very well.

Getting careless

I never had any desire to help the banker or the widow, but I almost missed them when I started getting e-mails from barristers in the UK, telling me a distant cousin had left me a tidy sum of money. At first, I read these with fascination, but they got boring fast. They weren’t well crafted at all. Might have been believable if my background wasn’t British enough to know that barristers are trial lawyers and wills are handled by solicitors. Still, someone out there was getting slipshod. The banker and the widow had plausible stories. If you didn’t know better, they’d be easy to believe. The stories told by the barristers and their successors in mischief were as full of holes as a Swiss cheese.

Enter the phish

Winning the Microsoft Lottery four times in one day, on four different e-mail accounts showed me the world of e-mail scams was changing. With the rise of phishing, all creativity was gone. No more stories, believable or otherwise, just a notice that I’d won a lottery I’d never entered. Since then it’s been all variations on a theme. Send us your information or open the attachment. You have to wonder what happened? Were the tactics changed because too many people knew the old stories and victims were getting scarce? Did they find out that it was easier to make more money by minimizing the personal contact and just going for the bank and credit card information? Maybe the whole operation is automated now and the scammer barons just sit back and let the money roll in? Who knows? All I know is that there’s no fun left in reading the things.

Hitting rock bottom

I think today might mark the last time I bother to read scam spam. You can’t get any worse than this one. “Please find the parking ticket appeal form in the attachment to this email. Failure to submit the form within 28 days will result in $200 fine.” It was signed “Traffic Penalty Council”. Worse yet, it was addressed “dear *****@****.com . Someone else’s address. They’re not even bothering to personalize the things anymore.

There’s room for hope though. If scams don’t sharpen up a bit and come up with new and more convincing material they might just fade away. After all, the gullible may be a big target audience, but even the terminally stupid figure things out eventually.

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Jeffrey Smith

Jeffrey Smith

A loose cannon by right of descent, Jeffrey developed a fascination with figuring out anything related to computers precisely because he never even saw one in school. He's been writing for over thirty years and blogging for five, primarily on local history, medieval history, church architecture, and religious art. Jeffrey describes his interests as, "too confounded many for a well-ordered life."