Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The poesy of spam and other stories.

Spam - it's the detritus of cyber-life - it's the unbidden litter that infiltrates our private spaces, it's the gobs of gum that adhere, it's the cig. butts flicked aside that irritate the non-smoker's eye long after the smoke has drifted away. It's a fact of cyber life. Get over it. Deal with it. Delete it.

Fortunately my spam filter does a reasonable job - correspondence and such goes one way and rubbish the other (a bit like getting on a plane: turn left = comfort zone, turn right = the 8th circle of hell.) Every once in a while I scan through the spam folder before pressing 'empty' just in case something's slipped through the wire. And vice versa - occasionally some ostensibly innocent mail drops into the inbox with some resistible offer. ''Di$cOunt Meds Shipping world-wide' - nope, 'Penis enlargement' - err no. 'Cheap Meds - beat these prices', 'adult pay per view', 'NEed software', no, no, no, not for me. Have I got sucker stamped on my forehead? Don't answer that.

Then there are those mails whose very phrases are so poetic and beguiling that one might almost forget they mask some scam or other. I read 'add candlestick to sugar' or 'in it unicorn' and I am reminded of Edward Lear, nonsense poet extraordinaire, and want to read on. 'Be purveyor in Madhouse' was followed by the cryptic message: 'Somebody Knows Something.' Indeed.

And then there are those heart-rending letters from some bereaved unfortunate, frequently in Nigeria, wanting your help (but mostly your bank details) to unlock the fortune that is awaiting them in some account or other. For your help, paying a few fees and such, a share of that bounty will be yours........ They are always a good read; usually a plane/car crash or civil war, untold millions and maybe a terminal illness too. I do find it hard to believe that there are people out there gullible enough to fall for this ruse. It's known as Advance fee fraud or 419 Fraud (419 relating to the section of the Nigerian penal code that prohibits such activities).

'Gilbert' took the fraudsters on: 'Having received a number of advance fee fraud emails, I decided to do something in retaliation. It’s a small gesture, but I decided to try and waste the time of these scammers as much as possible: to give them less time to defraud other people. I decided to scam the scammers: to string them along with bogus stories just as they string along others. I decided to try to get them to waste their time attempting to access money I said I’d transferred to them, attempting to contact me, or attempting to meet me in pre-arranged locations. And as you will read, it’s worked.'

In these scambusts, a variety of different personas (all called “Gilbert Murray”) string along a number of advance fee fraudsters with increasingly ridiculous and unbelievable stories, attempting to lead them on and embarrass them as much as possible. This website presents the email dialogues that Gilbert has carried out with the fraudsters. It's a very amusing read. Wish I'd thought of it.

So - delete it or deal with it.


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MJ Smith said...

Scambaiting has been going on for quite some time - I came across them in 2004 when the Observer did an article on them. My favourite was 419 Eater, in which he gets them to hold up pictures of themselves with the names of his personae, which are often amusing in a toilettish sort of way.