If you are a carbon-based, oxygen-breathing mammal with an Internet connection, you’ve undoubtedly received countless 419 scam spams.
In case you’re wondering what I’m talking about, I’m talking about messages coming from people from distant countries with vaguely African-sounding names who have had a close relative or business associate, usually with a high-ranking position, killed under tragic or mysterious circumstances, leaving behind a large amount of money that they now want your help in embezzling or laundering through your U.S. bank account, and in return for your services, they’ll give you a percentage.
And you thought you were the only one who had all these connections to powerful people. Sorry to burst your bubble, Sparky.
What do you do when you get one of these? Some people get irritated and delete them. Some people call me. It usually takes me about 4 seconds to figure out it’s a scam and finish their story (and mine’s usually better, if I do say so myself). Some people write back and mess with them. That takes time and creativity. Unfortunately, my oversupply of creativity is matched only, it seems, by my oversupply of humility and my shortage of time.
What you’re supposed to do (if you’re a U.S. citizen, which I know a good number of you are not) is forward the mail to email@example.com. Include the words NO LOSS. That helps the Feds know who’s doing this. They won’t contact you if you haven’t lost any money. But the key to catching crooks is data. So send ’em data. Typically I’ll paste the full mail headers back into the message as well.
If you’re lazy but want to mess with them, you can use the Business Reply Generator. Plug in the name of the guy who e-mailed you and the details of the letter, and it generates a rambling response. Copy and paste it and send it back to ’em. Some people are afraid of responding because they might get more of this stuff. I doubt it. These aren’t typical spammers who are paid in volume–they only make money if people respond and fall for the scam, which involves advancing money for bribes/expenses/whatever, until they lure the victim into a foreign country where they can kidnap and hold the victim for ransom and get even more money.
So I would think wasting their time is more likely to get you put on a don’t-waste-your-time-with-this-guy list than to get you put on a quick!-fire-up-the-mail-server-we-found-a-working-address list.
If nothing else, the automated reply generator is amusing. Click “more” to read the response it put together for me. I especially like the last sentence, which, the way I read it, means “I’ll post it on my Web site.”
Dear John Coleman.
I am replying in regard to the BUSINESS PROPOSAL that you have sent me a couple of days ago.
First of all, I want to relay to you how saddened I am to hear of what has befallen your Father, Chief Paul Coleman. While I never heard of him before, as I do not generally keep up to date on the affairs of Sierra Leone, your letter left me with little doubt that his was a career filled with success and achievements. I’m sure Chief Coleman’s plight will find many sympathizers among the honest people of your great nation.
As I have stated, I do not follow the events in your part of the world too closely, but from what I did hear of Sierra Leone, the events detailed in your letter do not surprise me in the least. It is outrageous that such a horrible injustice can take place at the dawn of the Twenty First century.
But I would like to discuss your proposal. It could not have come at a better time. You see, just last week, I have received a confidential letter from Canada. It was from a man named Marcos Boondwaka Jr., who is the Cousin of General Antonio Broneida, the recently Removed from Power Leader of the Freedom Fighters of that country.
This man’s letter explained how after his Cousin’s imprisonment there is a significant amount of money being sought by the General Broneida’s enemies in Canada. It then went on to ask for my help in moving the money (a total of SIXTEEN MILLION – $16000000 U.S. Dollars) out of Canada and into my account, promising to pay me a percentage of the sum as compensation for my part of the operation.
In his letter, Marcos Boondwaka Jr. requested complete secrecy, so while I have shared this information with you because you seem to be in a very similar situation, I am sure you will appreciate the need to not share this highly confidential information with any of your other contacts.
I was quite ready to offer Marcos Boondwaka Jr. my assistance with the transfer his Cousin’s money when I got your letter. You see, I have performed poorly at my job this year, and did not receive a yearly bonus from my employer. Therefore, I believe that if I were to transfer a large amount of money (even as much as TWENTY ONE MILLION – $21000000 DOLLARS, the amount your are proposing to move), the authorities would simply believe this to be my bonus and it would not raise eyebrows or trigger any red flags.
In truth, initially receiving your letter within mere days after getting Marcos Boondwaka Jr.’s, I was a little skeptical as to the honesty of your claims. However, after thinking about it a lot yesterday, I have come to realise that this is an indicator that the situation in countries like Sierra Leone and Canada is much less stable what is portrayed by our government and media. This deception of the masses is outrageous and I for one will write letters to various people demanding it come to a stop.
However, the current situation represents a bit of a dilemma for me. You see, while I would be happy to acommodate you both, I do not want to run the risk of detection by both the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and their counterpart in Sierra Leone, as such risk would put all parties in excessive (and in my eyes – unacceptable) jeopardy. So it is after long hours of being torn between caution and compassion to both your causes, that I have decided that I dare risk accepting only one of the offers.
Despite the fact that your offer would yield me greater profit, I firmly believe that in such situations, financial gain must take a back seat in favor of ethics and integrity… Therefore, my decision in this matter has to be made primarily based upon the seriousness of your situation, as well as that of General Broneida’s Cousin. I would appreciate you getting back to me at your earliest convenience to let me know why you, and the estate of your esteemed Father are more worthy of my aid than General Antonio Broneida. Also, in finding me, you have demonstrated that you are a man of many connections, in your own country as well as abroad. If through your associates in the information gathering sphere you come upon any information leading you to believe Marcos Boondwaka Jr. to be disingenuous or not worthy of my help, I am sure you will relay such information to me with all expedience, as it will greatly benefit your own cause.
I eagerly await to hear back from you with the pertinent information, and would like to assure you that I approach our dealings with all the secrecy and gravity that the situation requires.