HM Revenue & Customs You are eligible to recieve a tax refund…
So, did you spot the deliberate mistake in this promising email, that turned up in my spam folder this morning? That’s right, ‘receive’ is spelt ‘ei’, not ‘ie’.
The old rule about ‘i before e except after c’ is so compromised by genuine inconsistencies as to be virtually worthless. But in the case of ‘receive’ it holds good, unfortunately for the idiot who wasted his time concocting this risible phishing expedition.
Worse, the ‘official letter’ goes on to address me as ‘Dear applicant’, as if I had somehow ‘applied’ for – what? A tax refund? You must be joking, I don’t earn enough to pay tax! But if I had ‘applied’, do you seriously imagine I wouldn’t know I had? And that HM Revenue & Customs would then not know my name? Or that they would send me their decision by email?
The other day, I placed an ad on a national sales web. It was for my house, which I have been hoping in vain to sell now for the past 16 months. Using the interthing was really just a long-shot, a desperate gamble. The house is with an agent, who has it advertised on proper agent-type sites, and in his window on the high street. Plus, I have advertised it myself in the local paper and on other web places, where it has had hundreds and hundreds of viewings but no contacts. No-one has even come to look at it since last October. The Bank of England has no need to fear a new housing bubble while yet stands Railway View unsold.
Almost immediately, I had a reply. Every fisherman knows not to trust the first disappearance of the float below the water, so I was equally mistrustful of this email. First, it began ‘My name is Matthew’. Now, in my very long experience, anyone who suffers from low self-esteem will attempt to reify themselves in this way, but someone who is proposing to buy something as large and expensive as a house will reserve the introductions until last. They will also tend, I think, to rely on their surname to introduce a note of formal credibility. ‘Matthew’ appears not to have one. They might also propose a visit, or ask for further details, before making me an offer I could only refuse.
‘Matthew’ then goes on to explain with utter lack of conviction that he lives in the same town as me, that he has just sold his own house, and that he can therefore happily offer me a sum of money in cash for mine, which he hopes I will accept. Unfortunately for ‘Matthew’, I am not the sort of giving human being who would make anyone a present of the £25,000 by which his offer came up short of the finishing line. I reply, using few words, telling him so.
I am not sure what ‘Matthew’ was hoping to gain by contacting me in this way. Granted, his spelling was a hundred-per-cent, the grammar unobjectionable. There was nothing overtly dishonest about his message. It was admirably concise. I could not see how he might obtain by it, any useful information about, for instance, my bank account, or other personal details. Perhaps he had genuinely dreamed in the night that I would sell him my house for £23,000 less than I paid for it three years ago, and he would go on to make his fortune in property?
Yet it was the too-earnest desire to give me those encouraging details of his situation, that made the message seem so obviously spurious. Nothing about it rang true. Ultimately, I decided, he must merely be one of that sad legion of spammers who just like wasting people’s time.
And that was when I had the brainwave.
As it happens, I have enjoyed a forty-year career as a writer and editor of English texts. It began with radio and TV news bulletins, progressed through freelance journalism and commercial copywriting, including several years in the junk mail business, and ended with editing many serious hardback books.
Who then better to offer valuable advice to those hoping to glean a modest living from conning gullible pensioners out of their savings and bank details?
Dear (tick nationality: Estonian, Nigerian, Russian, etc.) Scam Artist. Your application to recieve (sic) expat tuition on how to write more convincing phishing emails has been SUCESSFULL! Please send $49.95 for a copy of my best-selling book, How to Avoid the Ten Common Mistakes in e-English That Will Expose You as a Total Fraud!
Just one thing prevents me from carrying-out this lucrative scheme.
A couple of years ago, while broke and hallucinating through a bout of flu, I so desperately wanted to believe I had a tax rebate coming that I actually replied to Mr HM Revenue & Customs (Dniepropetrovsk branch), completing his highly convincing application form, bank details and all. It was only after keying Send that I thought, hang on, they’ve forgotten to ask for my Social Security number…
Ultimately, I suspect, the only defence against email fraud is not to have any money in your account to begin with.
Not long after writing this Post, I heard a discussion about email fraud on the wireless, and was immediately discouraged from my little wheeze of offering proofreading services to illiterate Chinese hopefuls by the guest, from whom we learned that scammers DELIBERATELY introduce errors, so as to weed-out literate respondents who have immediately seen-through their disguise, who might otherwise waste their time, and strike directly at the gullible dimwits who are going to send them money and bank details, because they are too poorly educated to defend themslves.
Hey-ho, back to the drawering board.