Spam-tastic! The Logic Behind Junk Email

I’ve been using Gmail for a nearly a decade now.  Yes, I was one of the cool kids who received an exclusive launch invite (but for some reason, dropping that line in high school didn’t help me get laid).  Their spam filter is extremely effective, and very rarely does any enter my inbox.  Occasionally, however, it will snag a legit message, so I do check the junk mail folder from time to time.

Usually, I just do a brief scan of the ten or so emails in the folder, make sure there is nothing a vital importance, and click the “Delete Forever” button (they make that sound so dramatic, don’t they?).   But sometimes I’ll click and read one just for fun.  I received this the other day:


Sender Name:  Oprah Winfrey
Subject:  Let’s talk more my bunny!

Hello! My name is Tanya , I am lonely russian woman from Ulyanovsk. I hope you will interested in my letter or in my structure in agency. I have decided to write to you really liked to me. Some more about me…. I am 25, I have finished medical university in our city and now I work as the children’s doctor. My free time I spend on a hippodrome, as I 7 years am engaged in equestrian sport. I think more about my appearance will tell you my photos. If you want to learn more about me you may write me to. Also if you want to ask me some questoins (if interested in me), please write me and I promise answer you and also I will send you more of my photos. Bye for now.  I hope it’s letter will not without your reply.


Please know that I cut and pasted that email exactly as it was written—typos and all.  I assume that’s part of the ploy, as the lack of English comprehension is meant to imitate a lonely woman—who may be named Oprah Winfrey or Tanya?—stuck somewhere in Russia, when in reality, it’s just some chubby dude named Todd out in Dallas.

It’s also of note that nothing is asked for other than a response.  As opposed to that message we’ve all received from the Nigerian prince who has fallen on hard times, and if we just send him $5,000, he will repay us with mountains of gold from his family’s fortune.  At its core, it’s a basic scam; he not asking for money, he’s offering an investment opportunity (hell, it may be a safer bet than anything on Wall Street these days).  Maybe if I respond to this lonely Russian woman named Oprah or Tanya, then she will hit me up for money, but as of now, she’s just wasting my time by requesting return correspondence.  Weird.

Ultimately, my question is this: Who exactly is the target audience—if that’s what you call it—for this type of spam message?  If you’re going after someone who is completely undeterred by the lack of writing skill, doesn’t realize that Tanya is not a nickname for Oprah (and vice versa), and really, anyone dumb enough to still fall for email scams, then they probably aren’t going to have much to offer on which to be conned.

Of course, wouldn’t the ultimate irony be if all these spam messages turned out to be legitimate?  I’ve never been to Nigeria before, so for all I know there are countless numbers of princes who just need a little help, only to return the favor tenfold.  And those lonely women in Russia, just looking for love like the rest of us… Nah, that can’t be the case.  If these spam messages held any validity to them, I’d be sporting a 1 to 3 inch gain below the belt.  Sadly, I still don’t think that would have helped me in my high school pursuits.

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