I hate e-mail scammers.
That’s probably not earth-shaking news. Most – if not all – people do. And in the same way that people hate being sprayed by skunks or losing the tips of their fingers in cooking accidents, it probably goes without saying.
Only, I’m a bit different. I don’t hate scammers because they’re trying to take my money. I hate scammers because they’re not trying very hard to take my money.
Actually, I also hate them for trying to take my money, now that I think on it, but to a lesser degree.
There’s an old saying, often attributed to Abraham Lincoln: “Whatever you are, be a good one.” And while it’s advice of the most trite variety – akin to “do your best” or “believe in yourself” – I think it’s actually great advice. You may not like being an office worker, a janitor or a seasonal migrant worker, but you know what’s worse than those things? A crappy office worker, janitor or seasonal migrant worker.
In terms of e-mails scams, I understand the appeal. From the perspective of pure math, it’s often more productive to put very little effort into a scam that you send to a million people. I also realize that pride may be a foreign concept to anyone who sits down one day and says, “Well, that’s enough being a decent human being. Let’s try to find an old person and take the money they need for medicine.”
But I honestly don’t think I’m asking for a lot, so here are a few tips for the aspiring e-mail scam artist. (Even if I’m not 100% sure “aspiring” is the right word.)
If there was a Prince of Nigeria, I think he’d be able to spell the name of his own country. Seriously. Nothing kills your credibility faster than sentences like, “I am considering for to you. Much money!” Yes, that’s from an actual e-mail I got pretending to be an actual South Asian bank.
(I’m not sure what the scam was, though it seemed to involve money and consideration.)
More heartbreaking was the message I got where the sender misspelled the web domain in the e-mail address. How am I going to send you my credit card number now? C’mon, man. That’s day one stuff at villain school.
I’m not asking for an epic, but at least make the story plausible. There’s no realistic reason you need my social security number to wire me money. And if you’re pretending to be an old acquaintance of mine, fine. But when you start asking me my name, there are going to be some red flags.
Actually, I changed my mind. I do want an epic. I probably get between two and three scam e-mails a day. You’re going to have to write me a good story for me to even take notice. If you can’t rope me in by the first paragraph, you’ve already lost me.
A good example for a subject header will give me a vague idea of what’s going on while establishing a sense of urgency. For example: “Dwarf kittens in danger! Please help!”
Don’t be afraid to get a little creative with your story. Sure, some people might be skeptical that the Avengers are trapped in Atlanta and need me to wire them $500 so they can return home, but at least it’s a good story. Besides, I don’t think that story sounds any less believable than displaced royalty needing money because of…reasons?
People are pretty stupid, but give us a little credit. I think I’d remember entering an International Lottery. I also think I’d have heard of it before. I also also think it would have some sort of web page. I mean, I found a Snopes page, but that’s probably not a good thing.
Don’t defeat your own scam. Consider the International Lottery example. I don’t remember entering that. In fact, I’m sure I didn’t. While the allure of an unearned $500 million is pretty tempting, think two steps ahead. Is it really a good idea to go claiming random money I’m sure isn’t mine? Wouldn’t there be legal ramifications? The International Lottery Asset Protection Agency would have a field day, assuming they existed.
And if I put an exiled Nigerian Prince back on the throne, aren’t I displacing their current political system? (I checked. It’s a Presidential Republic.) I mean, money’s cool and all. But Africa has it bad enough without me setting them back five hundred years on a whim. Even if this Prince comes in with a bloodless coup (which is super, super common by the way because it’s always a good idea to keep political rivals around), I’ve still probably made Nigeria a worse place.
Honestly, I don’t know the first thing about how these Nigerian Princes plan on ruling. Are they going to make sure the Nigerian people have access to health care and clean drinking water? What about dealing with Islamic militancy? Women’s rights? Education, specifically for girls? Also, what do you mean there was a mistake with the transfer and now I need to give you another $250?
It’s not a slot machine. It’s a bank teller. You don’t put a fee in and maybe get a transfer.
In short, put in a little effort. You may not scam any more people out of their hard-earned money while you cling to society’s underbelly like a disgusting parasite, but at least you’ll be able to take some pride in your work. Some. I mean, a little is still some.