Most people think of email spam as annoying, but I’ve always enjoyed it. It’s like getting a tiny novella delivered to my inbox for free—an exotic fiction designed to grab my attention, my imagination and, should 78 of my IQ points happen to stage a wildcat strike, my money. But I’m worried about what the recession is doing to spammers. They appear to have lost their creative spark.
This past week, I received from “DHL Delivery Service” the following message: “When do you want your Two Hundred and Fifty Thousand Dollars to be delivered to you?” That was it. That was the entire con. Earlier, an equally imaginative proposal had arrived: “I am Mr. Vincent Cheng, GBS, JP Chairman of the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation Limited. I have a transaction of 22.5 Million USD for you.”
Oh, Mr. Vincent Cheng: I’m disappointed in you. Like most veteran users of the Internet, I have certain quality-based expectations of those who attempt to swindle me out of my life savings. For one, I expect spelling errors—many, many spelling errors. I also expect a shaky grasp of English verb tenses. And I expect—nay, I demand—that the return email addresses of a purported wealthy industrialist such as yourself be something along the lines of firstname.lastname@example.org.
But more than all that, Mr. Vincent Cheng, I expect salesmanship. I expect effort. And I expect way more lying.
Here, let me help you out a bit. You need to tell a story, okay? Entice me into your highly dubious world. Make me understand who the fake you really is. I’ll get you started: perhaps you’re a) the frail widow of a military dictator, b) the glamorous wife of an exiled tycoon, or c) the wiener dog of Leona Helmsley.
Paint me a picture. Make it seem possible that you have access to formidable cash reserves but that—just like in most good Hollywood romantic comedies, and all the lousy Richard Gere ones—there is a fishy but remotely plausible obstacle keeping you from retrieving the money. For instance, it could be the fact that a) your late husband’s military rival is now in command, b) your spouse faces trumped-up tax evasion charges, or c) the safety deposit box is too high for you, a humble wiener dog, to reach—even standing on your hind legs.
Once I’m committed emotionally, once I’ve bought into your personal tragedy or hilarious canine shortcomings, that’s when you try to hook me. That’s when you tell me a) “I’ll give you 30 per cent of the proceeds,” b) “I’ll pay you a $2-million consulting fee,” or c) “Woof!”
Now get out there and defraud me like you mean it, Mr. Cheng. That’s how Contused H. Latina, Kermit Bolton and Hines X. Meggy used to do it, back in the day when bizarro monikers were the trendy way to elude spam filters. (Now, of course, most people instinctively click delete at the first glimpse of an exotic name like Chase Wang or Jewell Mayo. In fact, I don’t know how many emails from Chase Wang I’d deleted before I discovered that Chase Wang is a real, non-fake person. He works for a PR company in California. I am sorry for ignoring you and not believing you exist in corporeal form, Chase Wang.)
Happily, there is still one spam genre where low-life schemers keep putting in the effort. Consider the urgent email I received from “Serg.” The subject line attracted my eye and at least one other part of my body: “Lindsay Lohan drops bikini bottom.” Intriguing, I thought to myself. Plausible. So I went ahead and opened it. The full text of the message read as follows: “So large that you will have to change your underwear size.” And then there was a link.
Help me out here. I can understand how a certain type of person can fall for a certain type of financial-based scam. But what kind of guy reads, “So large that you will have to change your underwear size” and thinks to himself: hey, this sounds like a reputable solicitation for a safe and effective method of increasing the size of my precious genital organ. I think I’ll give it a shot! And what comes in the mail if you place an order? Pills? A mallet? A stout man to grab hold of it and start walking that-a-way?
More to the point—do you have any idea, Serg, how big a penis would need to grow to compel a change in underwear size? I don’t either, but I suspect the words “serpentine” and “hey, stop stepping on that” would be involved.
And what about Lindsay Lohan and that bikini bottom? What happened to that little promise, Serg? I’m beginning to think I shouldn’t trust you with my bank account information either.