The most customized (and presumptuous) “email scam” letter I’ve received yet


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Hi Blog.  Bit of a tangent today, but not really.  I got this morning an email from somebody asking for help.  That’s not unusual (I get at least one a day, two on Sundays), and I do my best to accommodate, within reason, depending on the reasonableness of the request and my depth of knowledge about the problem raised.

But this is the Internet, and things can get kinda odd at times.  The requests I’ve tended to ignore are the ones asking me to abet an illegal activity (some people have friends who are going down for drugs and want me somehow to assist them; sorry, TS), asking for free legal advice (when I’m no lawyer), asking questions they could easily find either with a quick Google search or in our HANDBOOK (such as how long a Japanese visa is or what kinds of visas are out there), asking me how hard is it to naturalize (usually from high schoolers who are entranced by Japanese anime and have never even been to Japan), or even those who want me to write their college term papers for them (most cryptic question:  “Is Japanese a left-leaning or right-leaning language?  Why or why not?”  Huh?)

The ones I’ve regretted helping are those who are nuts (such as this one, who has a case with merit but can’t make his own case sound convincing; and another one whom I won’t mention by name but wasted an afternoon listening to; the latter later became a cellphone stalker when I dropped his case), or those who have anger management problems and go all ungrateful, such as this one.

But then, this morning, I got the most jarring one yet:

I hope you  receive my message? And is very urgent. I could barely think straight at this point. I had a trip here in  United Kingdom  on a mission. I am presently in [XXXXXXXXX] and I am having some difficulties. I misplaced my bag on my way to the hotel where other valuable things were kept along with my passport. I feel so ashamed because i am so stranded and idle.  I will like you to help me with a loan of 1800 Pounds to pay my hotel bills and also return back home. I will refund the money to you as soon as I get back,  I have spoken to the embassy here but they are not responding to the matter effectively I currently have limited access to emails for now.

To quote Jon Stewart: “WHAT??!!”

Let’s take inventory.  This guy not only wants my time, he wants money.  He wants me to pay for the privilege of helping him.  I’ve seen all sorts of mass-mailed scams from Nigerian princes and the like, but this is the most customized (and presumptuous) of them all — taking advantage of’s charitable use of time to ask a perfect stranger (I’ve never met this person) for a loan.  Sorry Charlie.  Even if I had the time, I definitely do not have the money.  Or that much of a Pollyanna outlook towards people.

I’m glad to help when I can.  But it’s instances like these that make me wonder if I’ve been just a little too generous with my time, to the point where people think they can take this much advantage.  Overly harsh an assessment?  Arudou Debito in Sapporo

20 comments on “The most customized (and presumptuous) “email scam” letter I’ve received yet

  • Is that the letter in its entirety?

    If so, don’t bother thinking it was customised for you or whatever. They’re a dime (or is that nine yen?) a dozen.

    Got a web site that shows your location? You’ll get email like these.

    — Sorry for not making this clear, but this guy has contacted me in the past about other business, so this is not just a random scam. It’s a presumptuous request.

    Yes, this is the letter in its entirety.

  • The email could have been sent out from his address without his knowing about it. That’s what the spammers are doing these days. Don’t blame your friend so quickly.

    — Yes, quite possibly.

  • Nuts. Just nuts. Don`t stop helping people, well people who actually need help – not people who think you`re an ATM machine!

  • Steve VonMaas says:

    Sometimes I like to get such scammers’ e-mails when I’m feeling sadistic enough. I usually tell them it’s a huge coincidence that they wrote, because I, too, need their help due to having lost my last check from home in a bad investment with a former assistant minister of transportation. I tell them I have a replacement money order on the way, but I need a local person to help me negotiate it because I have had my passport impounded by the hotelier until I pay my room charges. Then I give them a random address at a hotel in Lagos and ask them to meet me in the lobby at 2:30 a.m., sharp, so we can pick up the money. I like to picture them riding a bicycle there. It’s most delicious when they write back saying they can’t find me and begging me to return to the lobby so they can “help” me.

  • The letter went out to a number of people in Sapporo, and the “sender” is still not aware of it, that I know. I’m a bit concerned about what kind of virus has affected the person’s email. The poor grammar as well as the fact that the “sender” is not currently in the U.K. are only part of what gave it away. I actually tried to contact the person via a different email address, but it was returned, so I may try contacting the person by phone. Sorry that it caused you such anguish!

    — If this is indeed a virus, thanks for letting me (and us) know. And my apologies to readers for making such a fuss about it.

    I’m still getting a little tired, as I mentioned in my entry today, of so many people contacting me out of the blue for free legal advice etc. (and getting all petulant when I can’t give it), most not even sending a note of thanks afterwards when I do give it. This hobby of mine is financially unrewarding enough without even getting a splash of goodwill. I guess this email just put me over the top.

  • Joe Hindman says:

    My guess is that this instance is more random than you may initially assume. This is much more common than one might think. The excerpt printed above, while it may seem tailored to, probably was not. This seems very similar to an experience that I had recently. We all get emails from strangers in some odd state of need or offering us impossible gains for a small “favor”. To make matters worse, there have been a number of instances of this happening from the hacked accounts of ACTUAL FRIENDS or acquaintances. I had a similar situation where someone who appeared to be my former college classmate was appealing for help in the form of a Western Union cash transfer to London via her Facebook chat feature. While it seemed highly illogical, there is that human-kindness-factor that keeps even the most resolute skeptic engaged until he is 100% certain that he is dealing with a fraud. It is a variety of the オレオレ詐欺 ore-ore-sagi (“It’s me! It’s me!” scam)which has proved quite effective in Japan. With hacked accounts, internet chat functions, or compromised cell-phones the con-artist is given quite the psychological advantage. The intended mark automatically assumes that the communication is genuine. Most of the emails, chats, texts and calls we receive actually match up to their respective electronic tags. When they don’t, we have to become convinced of the fact. It is our instinct to help people in need, especially our friends and loved ones. Beware those who prey upon that instinct.

    Here is a link that I found by googling the address provided by my would-be scammer:
    Ironically, they were using the same script with me.

  • Haha, that’s even funnier then! I can’t believe he’s expecting “help” to that degree.

    Justin makes a good point – how does the spelling and crap grammar compare to his previous correspondence? If it really does seem like the same guy, then I second James’ proposal about the monopoly money. (Or just badly printed photos of real currency!)

  • I too would guess that it’s been hacked, given that the sender is not in the UK. I’d also imagine the same e-mail has been sent to other contacts on his list. As Joe Hindman says, a scammer is given so much more of an advantage if he does it through the contact medium of a friend/acquaintance, especially if they’re smart enough to mimic one’s writing style and write something that seems probable if it was coming from the victim. Social networking sites in particular can give a wealth of information to a potential scammer.

  • …When you send the monopoly money, send it C.O.D. (着払い). That may get his attention.

    Don’t let this silliness get to you. Keep up the good work!

  • To answer Simon’s question, the person is an English teacher who might make an occasional typo (we all do), but would not have such consistently poor English. The scammers can’t be too bright if they won’t even get someone to proofread their mail.

    Thanks for that link, Joe. Not using capitalization and all is more common in chat, so it’s possibly less easy for a would-be scammer to get identified. I’d naturally be leery of anyone asking me for money since all of my friends know I’m just above the poverty line (^o^), but I’d certainly ask for some kind of information that only the actual person would know.

    How can one “get these people back” when the supposed sender of the email was also the victim of Internet abuse?

  • “(usually from high schoolers who are entranced by Japanese anime and have never even been to Japan)”

    I’m happy to say that I am a high schooler who doesn’t like japan for its anime.

    Anyway, I wonder just how many people got this email?

  • “asking me how hard is it to naturalize (usually from high schoolers who are entranced by Japanese anime and have never even been to Japan)”

    Hey that was me ten years ago or so… actually no, I think I was asking about how hard it was to get a spouse visa, akin to doodling the boyrfiend-of-the-time’s names in the margins of my Trapper Keeper. (and I guess I was in college not high school, but whatever)

    And hey, here I am ten years later, thoroughly rid of that boyfriend but married to another wonderful Japanese guy, decent enough in Japanese to get by, and having my naturalization application scoured by government lackeys as we speak…. Crazy what little things can lead to huge changes in a person’s life. I’m sure you don’t remember the first time I emailed you with a stupid question all those years ago, but I do. Thanks. For all the losers, I think there are a lot more that you, and this site, help in whatever way.

    — Thanks for saying so. Ten years ago? Yow!

  • Bangkok Boy says:

    Hey Debito,

    Right now in Bangkok, please, send me some 300.000 yens for my “expenses”…Pronto!!! 😛

    — Duh, okay!

  • Yep Debito, this may well be sent out by hackers who have recently taken over scores of emails and used them to send spam to the person’s address book. Sounds like a Nigerian one, judging by the style of English, I got one of these sorts of emails from my Mother a few weeks ago!

    — Yes, it’s been been since exposed as a scam. A lot of other people around Sapporo who knew this person received the same email. And the owner of the email address came out and told us how he got phished. Again, sorry for the osawagi, everyone.

  • Debito, this is definitely a case of a trojan/virus which takes over the person’s address book and sends out the same email to everyone in the address book; hence you know the person, though not well. I saw the same scam the first time about two years ago, but have seen the exact same message from two different senders in the last ten days, so it looks like it is becoming quite pervasive. I googled parts of the message and found quite a few instances, but I couldn’t find any good information on the virus causing it. I presume that updated anti-virus software will handle it. Caveat lector.

  • “most cryptic question: ”Is Japanese a left-leaning or right-leaning language? Why or why not?” Huh?”

    This refers to the grammar of the language. Japanese happens to be strictly left-branching….

  • Innocent_Bystander says:

    I got an almost identical one via hotmail, personally addressed to me, from a Tokyo clergyman who was traveling in southeast asia. It seems someone stole his laptop and sent out mails to all the names in his inbox. But it looked fishy and I demanded verification. I later found out the details. He found out about it, got to another computer, and warned others just in time.

    No request for money made via the Internet in any form should EVER be taken at face value.


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