Posted tagged ‘spam’

My friend Gavin

February 12, 2018

“Hi Ferdinand”. This was the friendly salutation in the first email I opened this morning. But then came one of those phrases I particularly hate in emails, and in letters for that matter: “I hope this email finds you well.” At that point I could safely say that the email didn’t “find” me well, mainly because it had actually found its way to me.

“Regarding your marketing needs in your company, can we arrange to have a chat on the phone later this week.” No question mark at the end of that sentence, by the way. If I were to reply to this, the text of my reply might be “Fat chance”, or words to that effect.

Two other irritants. The email is signed “Gavin”, with no surname, and a company name, but no indication of what role Gavin plays in the organisation. The subject line is “Your query”. Now if I had the time and energy to focus on Gavin, I would indeed have a query or two, but none related to his ability to service the marketing needs of “my company”.

Of course we all know about the spam problem. In 2016 it was estimated that 59 per cent of all email traffic was spam – which, mind you, was an improvement on the 71 per cent estimated for April 2014. But actually that’s not my issue here. Gavin wasn’t selling me Viagra from dubious sources, or offering me the chance to meet some desirable Russian ladies. Gavin, in fact, works for a quite reputable company which I have come across a few times and which, I believe, offers an appropriately professional service. So what on earth has persuaded Gavin that this is a good way to get my business?

So for all the Gavins out there, don’t do this. Not because it annoys me (though it does), but because you won’t get my business this way, even if your product looks interesting. Your email is destined for the bin. Don’t address me as if I were one of your oldest friends, if we have never met. Don’t address me at all if your product or service is obviously handled by someone else in my organisation. Don’t suggest I run a “company”, at least make the effort to find out what kind of institution this is. Don’t suggest a “chat”, or even a cup of coffee. Don’t, in fact, be such a complete pillock.


Spamming the blog fastidiously

August 20, 2013

As I have mentioned before, this blog receives about a dozen or two spam comments every day, most of them filtered out by the spam service of WordPress. Occasionally I check the quarantine folder to make sure no comments have been caught there that were actually legitimate.

One thing that strikes me in reading the spam comments is that many of them use very curious language. I am not commenting on the quality of their English: some of the spammers come from various overseas countries. But there is a pattern of expression that I find interesting. So for example, most spammers call this a ‘weblog’ rather than a ‘blog’ – which is notionally correct but strange. Less correct is the very frequent use by spammers of the word ‘fastidious’. Just today one urged me to ‘keep up the fastidious work.’ That does have a meaning, but probably not what he thought. And a total of 28 spammers have used ‘fastidious’ in their bogus comments over the past week.

Is there some spammers’ glossary that they use, designed to persuade filter systems that the comment is genuine? But why would it contain ‘fastidious’?

Just wondering.

Insulting spam

April 3, 2013

WordPress, the host site for this blog, tells me that its software has removed a total of 150,858 spam comments from the posts here. That means that spam comments account for over 90 per cent of all comments submitted. Mostly these are attempts to get the reader (if it got as far as the reader) to click on various commercial (and sometimes unsavoury) links, obscured by text that typically purports to praise the quality of the blog, often in incomprehensible ways (not helped, I suspect, by computer translation); as in this case:

‘Nice answers in return of this issue with firm arguments and describing all about that.’

Sure. But sometimes you get something different, and today an enterprising spammer decided that insulting me might pay dividends. This was his attempted comment:

‘The next time I read a blog, I hope that it doesn’t disappoint me just as much as this one. I mean, I know it was my choice to read, but I actually believed you would have something useful to say. All I hear is a bunch of whining about something that you could fix if you weren’t too busy looking for attention.’

Ah, who knows, maybe he’s right. He wants you to click on the site of an online therapist, by the way.

My sad fate?

December 6, 2010

Sometimes you can learn things about yourself in emails. Here’s one I received today:

‘Pardon me for not having the pleasure of knowing your mindset before making you this offer and it is utterly confidential and genuine by virtue of its nature.

I write to solicit your assistance in a funds transfer  deal involving US$ 1M.This fund has been stashed out of the money desposited here by formerly respected international figure Ferdinand von Prondzynski, a leading academic now sadly in mental decline. He lodged the sum, which is the value  of his family property, in the Industrial and Commercial Bank which I am the manager. He has no heirs.

I  have already submitted an approved end of the year report for the year 2006 to my head office here in … and they will never know of this sum.

I have since then, placed this amount on a Non-Investment Account without a beneficiary. Upon your response, I will configure your name on our database as holder of the Non-Investment Account.

I will then guide you on how to apply to my head office for the Account Closure/ bank-to-bank remittance of the funds to your designated bank account.

If you concur with this proposal, I intend for you to retain 30% of the funds while 70% shall be for me. Kindly forward your response …’

Ah well, the mental decline bit may of course be true. I wish I did have the funds. And to be honest, I am almost flattered that I have made it to this level of fame. At any rate, this bit of spam gave me a good laugh on a freezing Monday morning.

Challenged spammer

February 13, 2010

As I have noted here before, a fair number of spammers attempt to get their posts published on this blog. WordPress uses spam detection software that sends most of these posts straight into the spam folder and you, the readers, never get to see them. Occasionally one slips through and I have to remove it manually. Usually they get through because while they advertise some commercial and usually highly dubious website, they also add some general narrative which is meant to look like a genuine comment. Usually this is along the lines of ‘Great post, very interesting analysis. I’ll bookmark this site and return often’.

Today one of these, allegedly called Samantha (who sells a ‘reverse phone lookup service’, whatever that means) managed to get his/her comment published before I removed it. It was in response to my post on Dublin speed limits, and what she wrote went like this:

‘It seems too complicated and very broad for me. I am looking forward for your next post, I will try to get the hang of it!’

It’s complicated for all of us, Samantha.

Supportive spammer

January 19, 2010

Someone trying to sell property in an overseas location attempted to spam this blog today. I won’t give you the spammer’s website details – the location of the property is not somewhere you’d want to invest, at least not wisely – but I thought you muight like to read his or her upbeat assessment of this blog anyway. The comment was posted allegedly in response to the last post on the value of dissent. Here it is:

Your blog is very good to see it got some amazing stuff in this blog. No dissent needed. I have a draw on your pictures I feel very Ace ………….. Please don’t dissent, everyone say ‘Oh yes, good good blog’. Ace, really ace…….

Now who could disagree!

What do you make of this?

January 12, 2010

As I do from time to time, I’ve just been looking at the spam folder for this blog, since occasionally genuine posts get diverted there erroneously. And then I sometimes stay to marvel at some of the spam stuff that people have tried to post.

But here’s one that I cannot work out at all. The spammer says: ‘Hey, this is a great blog, I enjoy it a lot and will come back often. It engages me in much the same way as a live birth video.’

What am I to make of that?

Spamming the blog

July 23, 2009

One of the things readers to this blog don’t get to see is the spam that gets submitted as ‘comment’ on individual posts. WordPress has a spam filter that is pretty effective, keeping irrelevant, spurious and commercial stuff out of the way. It gets sent to a spam folder, and every so often I go to have a look, just in case something legitimate got sent there (and that occasionally happens). To give you an idea of the volume, since this blog was launched 5,964 comments have been submitted, of which 4,314 were spam.

As with email spam, a lot of it is to do with the sale of drugs and medicines. One persistent spammer (who clearly believes that, one day, I’ll publish this) always has the same comment: ‘Great blog, made me think. Do you want Viagara?’ – with a URL to make the latter offer real. More recently he has become hugely subtle: the offer of viagara has been dropped, but the word ‘great’ has been hyperlinked with the same URL. But I confess I have been almost tempted to publish another spammer’s comment, simply because it made me laugh. It read: ‘Wonderful blog, great post. You should be big’ – with the word ‘big’ linked to another viagara site. That’s kind of neat.

I get a certain number of comments entirely in Russian. It is of course possible that they are all about higher education, public policy, or even Newcastle United: but the fact that the only word I can recognise is ‘mp3’ makes me suspicious.

Then there are posts I file as spam because, to be honest, while they are in English I have absolutely no idea what they are about. For example, one (who didn’t add a URL or anything that would make me suspicious) submitted a comment on the post ‘A date in history’, with the first sentence of the comment reading:

‘You might conclude from your post that sex dating in Michigan is a new phenomenon.’

Maybe you’d like to read on, but I’m afraid I think it’s just spam. No idea what the spammer wanted to achieve, though.

I read the spam folder about once a week, and don’t spend much time on it. But there is another sense you get from it, of seeing all of human life through a rather dirty lens.  There they are, the merchants of dubious products, and some pretty disturbed people (including an obsessive who tried to comment for a while pretending to be someone else).  Maybe a spam folder should be the basis for some analysis on what we need to do to get a better society. Or maybe it needs to be only what it is, a folder into which we sweep what we do not need to see.

Could this scam really work?

June 27, 2009

No doubt many others receive regular emails promising them millions of Dollars/Pounds/Euros. On the whole the quality of these scams has declined, to the point where they seem so obviously laughable that you would wonder whether it’s worth anyone’s while writing such stuff. Below is one that I received today. Given its incoherent message and illiterate style, and the fact that anyone reading it would be doing so without any prior context, it would seem totally unbelievable to me that anyone at all could possibly take it as genuine. And yet it was written and sent, so presumably the author thought otherwise. Can there really be suckers out there who would fall for this?

For anyone wondering, the objective here is to make you give them a copy of your passport. Everything else is just padding around that.


International credit settlement
Office of the director of operations
Mr Mark Farraday
Overseas Bank International plc.


This is to officially inform you that we have verified your contract/inheritance file and found out that why you have not received your payment is because you have not fulfilled the obligations given to you in respect of your contract/inheritance payment.

Secondly we have been informed that you are still dealing with the none officials in the bank all your attempt to secure the release of the fund to you.

We wish to advice you that such an illegal act like this have to stop if you wishes to receive your payment since we have decided to bring a solution to your problem.

Right now we have arranged your payment through our swift card payments Asia Pacific, that is the latest instruction by the new elected President Federal Republic of Nigeria. President Umaru Musa Yar’adua (gcfr) on his speech when swearing in as the president Federal Republic of Nigeria.

This card center will send you an ATM card which you will use to withdraw your money in any ATM machine in any part of the world, but the maximum is (five thousand dollar per day).

So if you like to receive your fund this way please let us know by contacting the customer care service card payment center and also send the following information;

Your full name:

Your phone and fax number

Your age:

Your current occupation:

A copy of your identity card:

Your country of origin:

Your address where you want the ATM to be send:

Customer care service.
Rev. Michael Iwo
Integrated Payment Department.

[followed by ‘contact details’]

Spam, spam, spam!

August 19, 2008

In September 1995 I received my first spam email. And it was a good one. It was sent to me directly from the Martian Consulate, LLC, and it offered to sell me a plot of land on Mars. It promised that the purchase deed would be presented to the first legitimate government of Mars once this government had been established. The land cost $29.95 per square mile – an attractive proposition to anyone having to face land prices in or around Dublin; but not useful for commuting purposes.

Over the years that followed, the volume of spam grew exponentially, but not really in quality; the Martian Consulate at least got my attention, which I cannot say of many of the scams and deals and pills and video offers that followed. And of course it did not take long before the number of spam emails got so large that I couldn’t possibly bother with the content. Just occasionally something might still catch my eye – for example in 2001, when Mother Teresa appeared in my inbox trying very very hard, repeatedly, to sell me something she could not possibly know about…

The extent to which spam has taken over cyberspace is evident from the fact that if you google it, you get 358 million hits. And it is also interesting that when you look at the first Google result, it is ‘spam’ in Wikipedia; there the definition you get is ‘unsolicited bulk email, and not (as would have been the case 20 years ago) ‘a canned meat product sold by the Hormel Foods Corporation.’ Nevertheless, there is a connection between the two: the Monty Python ‘Spam’ sketch referring to the meat product probably led to ‘spam’ being seen as unwelcome repetition, and this led to its use to describe unwanted bulk email.

But now spam emails have become so common that, on any rational reading, they should long ago have totally overwhelmed the internet, so huge is the bulk of the stuff. Many people now will receive far more spam emails per days than ‘legitimate’ messages, though often they will be unaware of this if they have good spam filters; the price to pay being that the latter filters will sometimes syphon off regular messages.

We seem to be powerless to do anything at all about this. The cost of spamming is minute to the spammer, and extraordinary though this might sound, there must be idiots or desperate people out there who will buy products from spammers, or give them their bank account details, or download their virus-laden attachments. If there were not, spam would stop.

I have never ever met a person who has confessed to responding to spam; but probably I have met and know such persons. And if any of them are reading this, then for heaven’s sake, stop! We are all paying the price of your foolish behaviour.