Our Spam, Ourselves

I mentioned recently the interesting-but-weird abundance of Russian-language spam in my Gmail spam filter. Hypothesis offered by my wife: "How many of those 'Find a Russian bride' sites have you been visiting, anyway?" Slavic in origin herself (Czech), she understands my aesthetic.

Cruelly unfounded as such a suspicion might have been in this particular case, it turns out that the larger idea -- the spam you attract in some way reflects the person you are -- has something to it. Or so I learn in the note below from Nathan Newton, now of shutterclassic.com and formerly of the Atlantic's tech staff. He explains why he is always fending off spam requests of a kind I never get.

Since you seem to have an interest in the spam industry, I thought I would send along an observation. Just as giving money to the WWF or applying for a patent will qualify you for a whole new class of junk mail, there are also niches in spam. For example, Matt Yglesias recently complained about press releases from the Venezuelan Embassy. You may receive this sort of spam [yes! and the Venezuelans are far from the leading offenders], but few people outside of the media are aware it exists.

I routinely receive another type of spam that I was unfamiliar with prior to owning an online retail business. An example is reproduced below. The scam is that the "customer" want to purchase a commodity that can be resold on the open market (can can also ship quickly). After some back-and-forth, he will insist it ship overseas using his freight forwarder. For convenience, he will ask you to pay for the shipping, and he will reimburse you for that cost. The product and the shipping will be paid with a fraudulent credit card or check. If the mark falls for the scam, the mark will not only have lost the goods, but will have also be out the amount he paid the freight forwarder.

You can encounter a similar type of fraud if you post an expensive item (motorcycle, for example) on eBay.

Hello Owner/Manager My name is Rev Clark Bruce I am with the Presbyterian Church of God And I will like to Order a Product Call Window Blinds or any type of blinds to ship it to a Presbyterian Church in Ghana

And,i will like to order some Window Blinds from you,i am interested in a size of glass is below;
1. I need the 008 Gauge slat.
2. I want the size 1 1/2" X 1" handrail.
3. The dimensions is 35 1/2" Wide X 40" High we will take 1/2" off of the 35 1/2" Width, inside mount.
4. The opener should be on the right.
6.[sic] Color:Black And Red.
7.I want 220 pcs of the Window Blinds

I will like you to get back to me with the total cost of the Window Blinds without the Freight charges and if it happens you do not have the request Size instruct, i will like you to please get back to me with the sizes and total cost of the 220 pcs that you do have instruct plus the form of payment method you do accept.
Thank You, Rev Clark
Fortunately, this type of spam is easy to spot once you know what to look for: overly formal introduction, request for in-stock products, often destined for use in a church or orphanage in Africa, usually has some grammatical mistakes, and email is from a free account.

Despite these clear signs, the spammers have substantially improved their presentation over the past five years.
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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.


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