How To Spell Spam.

An interesting piece popped up on Yahoo News last week; an account about a council tax scam where fraudsters contact you to say you’re due a financial reward as a thank you for paying your bill by direct debit.

Now I don’t know about you, but the concept of my local council financially rewarding me for paying tax would be enough to make me click  ‘SPAM’ faster than you can say ‘seriously unlikely state incentive’. However, clearly enough people were falling for this to warrant its broadcast, albeit hidden within the confused jumble that is Yahoo’s landing page. So I read the whole thing and there – towards the end – was a paragraph about spelling.

According to Yahoo, you can recognise spam by paying close attention to the spelling. Apparently phishing emails are usually ‘full of bad spelling and grammar’ and they use generic greetings such as ‘Dear customer’ and ‘Best regards’. The thing is though, being in the habit – as I am – of never opening spam (or emails from the bank. Or Facebook notifications. Or emails from my solicitor [long story]), I wouldn’t know whether this is true.

So ignoring the various grammaticals in Yahoo’s  news release, I did a quick tour of my trash and spam folders and, opening only those that I thought wouldn’t send a Trojan-Worm-Horse-Bouncing-Dot-Bug-Virus (look how much I know about viruses!) speeding through my hard drive, have the following non-scientific conclusion for you (based on a thorough research period of about 20 minutes):

1. Roughly three quarters had no introductory salutation but all were signed off with seemingly gushing and energetic enthusiasm; ‘all my good wishes’, ‘with heartfelt thanks’ and even ‘I wait with good impatience for your reply’.

2. The spelling actually wasn’t that bad. About half could have passed a secondary school spelling bee, but the vast majority used really bad grammar, poor sentence construction, far too many words and had a problem getting them in the right order.  So instead of saying: “Here is the file you requested,” we get something like: “Here with pleasure our file you to sending. This information is the one you asking me of.” The problem with this is that my children actually speak like that sometimes. I can see my eldest daughter opening an email thinking it was from a 15 year old with something really important to say, then yelling: “Mum, computer’s crashed and somefink, dunno to do. Like it’s alright not. Clappin’ stupid. Gonna mash it.” Or words to that effect.

3. More than half of the emails checked in my survey were of an incredibly URGENT AND SHOUTY nature. Lots warned of DANGER and asked me to ACT NOW (*Insert mental image of me in Shakespearean pose*) and many were so rabidly excited about the latest AMAZING OPPORTUNITY, that you find yourself worrying for their cardiac health.

So here for all readers of Yahoo News is an additional paragraph to go with that tax scam warning:

If you receive an email from what looks like an over-excited teenager who appears to have fallen in love with you in CAPITAL LETTERS and is having difficulty ordering their words, either you’ve spent far too long on iffy dating sites or said email is spam and should be deleted.

Using poor spelling and grammar on their own though as a benchmark for the value of something is a dangerous assertion. Had I applied this principle through my own life I’d have far fewer friendships, little patience with my kids and would be leading a witch-hunt against the teacher who made my youngest child write the word ‘iceburg’ 20 times after they’d put a big red cross through a perfectly spelt ‘iceberg’.

The more astute we become about identifying digital deception – and the smarter the spammers get with grammar – the harder it becomes for genuine marketers to make contact with us. My vision of the future is one where a free iPad just turns up in a nice box, my bank account is suddenly credited with £50 or, were it necessary, an envelope stuffed with Viagra lands on the door mat with a satisfying WHUMPF (note my use of capital letters there). We then get an email asking us what we thought of the product. Anyone who hasn’t sent us something first can just, well, Spam Off. This is called retrospective marketing and will – someday soon – takeover the world, regenerating the postal service and killing spam stone-dead overnight. You watch.

Happy Spam-Spotting.