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.
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.
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
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