Dear Spammers: Where Has the Pride Gone?

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In the wake of the huge Epsilon data breach, we've all been warned to expect a wave of newly sophisticated "spear phishing" attacks. These will come from spammers who now (thanks to Epsilon) know our real names and email addresses and therefore can send messages from businesses we really deal with, asking us just to "confirm" a few details like account number and password.

A chilling sign of just how diabolically clever these new attacks might be appeared in the Gmail inbox this morning. Click for larger, if you think you can stand this exposure to pure evil genius:

LazySpam.png

JimmyTheKid.jpgThe mastery of colloquial English! The exact replication of the tone and style of a real Google message! First Stuxnet, now this....

Hardee-har. I've mentioned before the puzzle of how incompetent, clueless, or lazy many spammers seem to be -- or how naive they assume recipients to be. ("Dear Friend! It is I, the former Director of the Central Bank of Gabon!") I know the old chestnut that while brilliant criminals make for great detective shows and thrillers, most criminals really aren't that bright. (Cf the wonderful Dortmunder novels by the unbelievably gifted and prolific Donald Westlake, starting with Jimmy the Kid.)

Among the many reasons to wish that Westlake were still around is so that he could do a novel about the masterminds who come up with phishing messages like the one I just received, or those from the Central Bank of Gabon -- and the people who decide to answer them. I hope someone is pursuing this idea.

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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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