Social Engineering

Spamming the spammers

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 22 September, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 22 September, 2004, 12:00am

Every year, Canadians lose C$11.5 billion (HK$69 billion) to deceptive marketing schemes, many of them promoted through the internet. For a while, the Nigerian 419 fraud was one of them. It invited a 'lucky' foreigner to assist in the transfer of millions of unclaimed or misplaced dollars to his or her bank account, but only after they had paid thousands in 'fees'. Once the fees were paid, of course, the millions evaporated, along with the fraudsters

But like most confidence tricks, Nigerian 419 had a short shelf life. The new favourite is the Lottery Scam, and last week, my winning ticket turned up in my e-mail in-tray. It came from Amsterdam, and it said I had won 'one million United States dollars'. All I needed to do was contact the lottery's 'fiduciary agent', (with the reassuring first name of Faith), and she would send me the necessary paperwork to begin the transfer of my windfall.

Police say that you should delete such messages immediately. Instead, I went to Brad Christensen's website. He is the patron saint of 'spam spoofers' - a new breed of internet pranksters who fight the spammers by flooding their e-mail service with hoax mail. Mr Chistensen has several on-line personas. One is the pastor of the almighty church of the first cousin of Noah. He promises to send his banking information, but only if the spammer converts to his church, and agrees to go on a diet that will allow the convert to gain access to Heaven through a 30cm hole at the edge of the universe.

If that does not work, he demands a face-to-face meeting in the town of Goobersville, Alabama. Mr Christensen's e-mails are absurd, but there is just enough verisimilitude to string the spammer along in a long, time-consuming correspondence.

I decided to start modestly. 'Hello, can I get my million in cash?' I wrote. 'Maybe tens and 20s. Maybe you can send me a ticket to Amsterdam, economy class is okay, and I'll pick it up.' They responded with a starchy letter: I first had to fill out a form, and send personal details.

'Can you send me a few dollars to tide me over?' I said. I wanted to buy a 1955 Studebaker and a new house with a circular driveway. They ignored that, and demanded my bank details. They needed them 'immediately'. It was signed 'Kate'. I could sense her impatience.

'My uncle Bill says it's not a good idea to give out banking details to strangers,' I wrote back. Could I at least despatch my Dutch friend, Albert, to Amsterdam to see my winnings, and produce my bona fides? And maybe they could wire me a little 'good faith' money? I had some urgent bills to pay. At this point, the correspondence stopped. Clearly, my million would be going to someone else. Maybe to Mr Christensen, in Goobersville.