Yesterday, an email yesterday with a lead-in very similar to the following one made it past my spam filter. (I’ve changed all of the details to protect the innocent but it’s true to the style and effect.):
From: Mr. John Richard <email@example.com> Subject: NIGERIA PARTNER Dear Sir, This email may come as a suprise to you but I am very glad to make your acquaintance.
To my surprise (and probably to yours as well) this email was not a 419 scam. It turns out, John is from Nigeria and he really wanted to be a partner on a Free Software project I’m working on! I was glad I read the whole message before hitting delete!
I think this is interesting case for two reasons:
First, I can’t help but think that had I not had been using a machine spam filter, I would have deleted this in a heartbeat. This is a rare example of a mail that could be correctly identified by many (most?) computer spam filters using techniques like Bayesian analysis on the complete message but incorrectly by human filters who make a decision based on the headers and the first paragraph.
Second, it made me think about the impact that these 419 scams must be having on legitimate Nigerian mail. I’ve heard it said that most 419’s were, at least historically, are actually run by Nigerians although I don’t know if this is still the case. In any case, it seems that many people have come to associate Nigeria and Nigerian email writing styles as indicative of scams.
It seems possible that Nigerian Internet cafes are full of emailers with names like Mr. John Richard who use yahoo email addresses and who come from a culture where it is common to write subjects in ALLCAPS. When they write to people they don’t know, they — quite sensibly — start mails apologizing for the fact that they may have surprised their readers with an unannounced missive. Spammers and scammers put all these more upstanding folks at a real disadvantage when it comes to getting their message out.