02 November 2007

Lovely Spam

But I don’t like Spam!

I recently received a scamming spam, in which the sender represented himself as the United States Internal Revenue Service. Not just an agent of the I.R.S., mind you, but the whole of it. He informed me that the government was prepared to make me a tax refund in the amount of $200. All I had to do was confirm my account information at my bank, and the full refund would be deposited electronically. A fairly typical spam on its surface, but a rollover revealed that the address of the sender was somewhere in the nation of … Iran.

Of course you know this means war.

I thought that chutzpah was punishable by stoning in Iran these days, but I see that I was mistaken. (It’s only the word itself they find offensive.)

Apparently there really are people gullible enough to be taken in by such scams: you can tell somebody thinks the scheme is working when you get several similar appeals in a short period of time. Thus I find batches of urgent warnings that somebody has tampered with my eBay account (I don’t have one), or that suspicious transactions have been made from abroad using my MasterCard account (I don’t have one), or that I qualify for a mortgage on my home (I don’t have one), or that I have won the lottery in the Netherlands (oh, really?), or that a humble, hardworking, honest widow has chosen me out of all the world to assist her in spiriting her late husband’s multi-million-dollar fortune out of Africa.

It’s almost a relief to find other, less imaginative messages, those that inform me that I can pleasure her all night without plastic surgery, thanks to the miracle of enhancement. Strangely, they never mention who this woman may be who has nothing better to do than spend sleepless hours with me; maybe she’s one of the dozens of nubile Eastern European lasses who are waiting to meet me NOW.

As a scrupulously moral man who enjoys his privacy, I’m outraged by the whole concept and practice of spam. Yet as a writer, I’m intrigued. Really bad spam is an art form. Imagine writing a fiction, larded with absurdities and inconsistencies, yet so compelling that a stranger confides in you not only his trust but also his Social Security number, his bank-account and credit-card information, and the bulk of his retirement fund. I am certain that if Herman Melville were alive today, his Confidence Man would not work a Mississippi riverboat; he’d surf the Internet. (Melville would have his own blog, too, so that his unhappy late-career publishing history might never bother him.)

Attempts to craft a really good piece of spam have so far failed me. I can’t quite strike the right note of audacity. But there’s hope. With further effort, I may succeed. And I’d be happy to send you the results personally. Just send your credit-card number and expiration date, along with the security code and your name as it appears on the card, to my private e-mail address. Thanks!