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I've owned the same email address for over 10 years so it goes without saying that I've seen my fair share of spam messages. Even with various email rules and spam blockers in place, I typically wake up to nearly 100 junk messages in my inbox each morning.
With the exception of recent phishing tactics, the level of absurdity with regards to topics that most spammers choose has always shocked me. Are spammers complete clueless when sending out countless messages about a rich Nigerian prince that needs your help to transfer a large sum of money? I mean, surely everyone has heard of this scam, so why haven't scammers moved on to more plausible scenarios?
As it turns out, the Nigerian scam is actually used with a great deal of intent according to a new study from Microsoft Research. From the perspective of the scammer, sending out a massive number of obviously phony emails helps to filter out false positives; those that are attacked but yield nothing.
The remaining individuals are exactly what the scammer wants - true positives, or people that are gullible enough to fall for the scam. These marks are more likely to give up personal information or flat out hand over large sums of cash to the scammer simply because they believe the scam to be true.
The sad part is that people actually fall for this all the time. Fox News notes that in 2008 an Oregon woman lost $400,000 to a similar racket after friends, family and even her bank told her it was a scam.