If it sounds too good to be true...
By Richard Zowie
Here at the Times Guardian office we receive a host of cryptic e-mails. Some are column submissions so bizarre that you'd swear the person who wrote them uses lead-based eating utensils. Some are incredible offers. One says that in 48 hours I can become an ordained minister through a correspondence course.
I can see it now: "By the power vested in me by the state of Texas and by Sally Struthers, I hereby pronounce you husband and wife. You may now kiss the bride."
Other e-mails are ones regarding bogus bank accounts of mine while many are urban legends that have been around forever (no, Bill Gates WILL NOT give you $200 for every e-mail of his you forward). Some e-mails are patently fake: they contain odd characters within them and often read as though the writer has only an elementary grasp of English.
Of the oddball e-mails I've received so far, my favorite one (and there are LOTS of variations of this one) involves a freedom fighter in Africa with money he wants to give to you. He wants YOU to handle his money, and he's willing to pay you a comfortable chunk of change for it. Here's a quick summary of one I received recently (names changed to protect the morons who sent the e-mail):
My friend, I know you aren't expecting an e-mail from me, but my name is Lieutenant Colonel Salem Kareem Abdul Jabbar Al-Gebra Al-Cohol. I have $35 million in hidden funds that I would like to transport to you for safekeeping. I am a freedom fighter in the Madagascar Annex of the Western Sahara Liberation Army. My boss, General Abdul Wahid Shaquille Al-Paso Al-Afghanistan Al-Pakistan Weird Al-Yankovic was killed in battle (it's actually a funny story how it happened, but right now this is serious business). This money hasn't been reported, and if the Western Sahara Revenue Service (WSRS) finds out about this money, we're in trouble.
Even though this e-mail has been sent out to you 229 times, to billions of other people and to extra-terrestrial life on the dark side of Pluto (there, Pluto is known as "Brrrrr-tron"), I swear on my camel's grave that you are the only one who knows about this proposal. Please eat this e-mail after reading it to prevent it from falling into the wrong hands.
I am prepared to deposit all the money into your account for safekeeping. In return, when the coast is clear, you can re-send it back to me. I will allow you to keep $15 million of it for yourself (before taxes, of course).
What do you say to such a great deal? To facilitate it, all I need is your bank account number, your social security number, your home phone, your deepest, darkest secret and any other information that I can exploit...er, obtain from you.
(P.S. Contrary to rumors, my birth name is NOT P.T. Barnum)
It's hard to say why these people send out these nonsensical e-mails. My speculation is that it's a way of trying to make money off a quick scam. Unfortunately, there really are poor souls out there who think it would be easier to receive a ministerial ordination than to go the normal route of attending college, seminary or going through a recognized or respected correspondence school. As for the e-mail about the money, some people think nothing of giving out their bank account number in hopes of overnight wealth. Call me crazy, but not only do I NOT give out my bank account number over e-mails, but when I go to my bank and they ask for my account number, I write it down on a slip of paper and give it to them rather than say it out aloud.
As for the quiet transfer of such a large amount of money, I'm told that anytime you make a cash deposit of $10,000 or more into your bank account, it must be reported to the federal government. Furthermore, I'll be the IRS would find it curious how a little ol' writer like me, who makes considerably less than $50,000 annually, could suddenly magically have an account balance of millions of dollars.
Still, it makes for amusing reading. What fun would life be if we didn't have to spend an hour each day deleting unsolicited e-mail? We might waste our time with work, paying bills, spending quality time with our families, finding a cure for cancer...
Richard Zowie is a reporter and columnist for the Times Guardian. He wishes e-mail spammers would go the way of the Yugo. Send comments to him at email@example.com. Those wanting their comments published should include their phone number for verification.