Let me ask you this: 'Why are email scams so poorly worded?'


Friday 05 September 2014 17:19 BST

Like everyone else, I, too, always assumed that it was because either they were idiots, or non-native English speakers. But I have very recently learnt that is not the case. Indeed, the real answer is one of the more astonishing (at least to me) things I've heard in quite some time.

It turns out that the dead giveaways of 'spamese' are completely deliberate and carefully calibrated. Huh? Why? Because, the obvious giveaways are used as a 'pre-qualifier', to ensure with the least possible effort that the ONLY people who respond to the scammers' initial mass mailings (and therefore have to be brought along individually during the later stages) are the absolutely most gullible, ignorant, susceptible suckers they can find.

Absolutely brilliant! All of this has been explained in a detailed research paper published by Microsoft.

David S Rose

Wired magazine published a purported interview with a former Nigerian scammer in 2002. He described an elaborate business.

Regarding the use of language: "The letters are intended to resemble soap operas that are popular in Nigeria, Taiwo [the former scammer] said, but with language that evokes someone who is 'educated, upper-class, out of touch with the common people'.

'I was told to write like a classic novelist would,' Taiwo explained. 'Very old world, very thick sentences, you know?'."

The use of awkward English predates the mass email of the internet. I received a typed Nigerian scam letter 20 years ago that was sent by airmail from Africa.

All scams and 'confidence tricks' are intended to catch people off guard while being maximally credible. Their strategy is to play into people's superstitions of how the world works and provide specific details to intrigue the imagination.

The awkward formal English, in particular, fits how a lot of people think an upper-class African might talk whose family dates from the colonial era.

Paul King

Most modern spam filters user Bayesian filters, a statistical technique that estimates the probability of a message being spam.

Bayesian spam filters are 'trained', so if you come up with a unique way to misspell Viagra, you have a better chance of getting through the filter.

Geir Freysson, CEO of Brandregard.com

'Why are email scams so poorly worded'? originally appeared on Quora: The best answer to any question. Ask a question, get a great answer. Learn from experts and get insider knowledge. You can follow Quora on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+.

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