Bad grammar in scam emails is thought to be a method of filtering out the less gullible individuals, new research has found.
THEY usually start quite simply,'Dear Sir or Madam'. Then the sender quickly moves on to explain their extraordinary problem of having inherited a breath-taking amount of money (from a recently deceased government minister most likely) and that they need your help in releasing the money from a bank account. You, of course, will be rewarded lavishly for your troubles - so long as you send a small deposit or your bank details to them.
At this point, most of us press 'delete' and ask ourselves why we keep getting these emails that are obviously scams, as they are so completely ludicrous and often terribly badly written? The bad grammar is just one thing, but why they stick to ridiculous stories? Surely, at this point the scammers have realised that absolutely nobody is convinced by them.
Well, the answer is that you just aren't their target audience.
At least that was the conclusion drawn from research by Microsoft, which attempted to explain the methodology behind the Nigerian emails, or 419 scams, as they are also called. And what they found reveals the actual genius behind what's commonly regarded as weakness in strategy.
By sending emails that seem both ridiculous, and are also badly written, the scammers allow those with suspicious minds to opt out immediately, leaving only the most gullible Internet users to be pursued further. The bad grammar and spelling mistakes are basically a filter – the lower the reader's tolerance for such mistakes, the less likely they are to take anything in the rest of the mail seriously.
As Microsoft researcher Cormac Herley explains, "far-fetched tales of West African riches strike most as comical. Our analysis suggests that is an advantage to the attacker, not a disadvantage."
Surprisingly, in being obvious with the deception, the scammers actually maximise their chances of making money. "The initial email campaign has zero cost per recipient and only when the potential victims respond does the labour-intensive and costly effort of follow-up by email begin," Herley points out. That's why the scammers want to get rid of the skeptical, troublesome individuals as early as possible.
The dire English language in these emails might offer other benefits for the scammers too, as is suggested by some of the comments on the question-and-answer website Quora. Firstly, the deliberately bad grammar might help these emails pass spam filters – which pick-up on certain blacklisted keywords. Also, as the language and story strike most of us as ridiculous, some Westerners may view that the sender may be ignorant and thus the scam might be reversed somehow in the recipient's favour – this will pretty much never be the case.
Moreover, it is suggested that the letters written in non-native level English can tickle the sense of familiarity - of somebody from foreign country writing to 'me' personally - or evoke curiosity, just enough for the recipient to reply and thus get involved in conversation.
With all this in mind, one can only wish, that with increasing awareness amongst the Internet users, the niche of these scammers will eventually shrink to nothing.
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