Comedian and writer James Veitch on This is What Happens When You Reply to Spam Email at TED – Transcript
Right click to download the MP3 audio:
James Veitch – Comedian and writer
A few years ago, I got one of those spam emails. And it managed to get through my spam filter. I’m not quite sure how, but it turned up in my inbox, and it was from a guy called Solomon Odonkoh. I know.
It went like this: it said, “Hello James Veitch, I have an interesting business proposal I want to share with you, Solomon.”
Now, my hand was kind of hovering on the delete button, right? I was looking at my phone. I thought, I could just delete this. Or I could do what I think we’ve all always wanted to do.
And I said, “Solomon, Your email intrigues me.”
And the game was afoot.
He said, “Dear James Veitch, we shall be shipping Gold to you. You will earn 10% of any gold you distribute.”
So I knew I was dealing with a professional.
I said, “How much is it worth?”
He said, “We will start with smaller quantity,” — I was like, aww — and then he said, “of 25 kgs. The worth should be about $2.5 million.”
I said, “Solomon, if we’re going to do it, let’s go big. I can handle it. How much gold do you have?”
He said, “It is not a matter of how much gold I have, what matters is your capability of handling. We can start with 50 kgs as trial shipment.”
I said, “50 kgs? There’s no point doing this at all unless you’re shipping at least a metric ton.”
He said, “What do you do for a living?”
I said, “I’m a hedge fund executive bank manager.”
This isn’t the first time I’ve shipped bullion, my friend, no no no.
Then I started to panic. I was like, “Where are you based?” I don’t know about you, but I think if we’re going via the postal service, it ought to be signed for. That’s a lot of gold.”
He said, “It will not be easy to convince my company to do larger quantity shipment.”
I said, “Solomon, I’m completely with you on this one. I’m putting together a visual for you to take into the board meeting. Hold tight.”
This is what I sent Solomon.
I don’t know if we have any statisticians in the house, but there’s definitely something going on.
I said, “Solomon, attached to this email you’ll find a helpful chart. I’ve had one of my assistants run the numbers. We’re ready for shipping as much gold as possible.”
There’s always a moment where they try to tug your heartstrings, and this was it for Solomon. He said, “I will be so much happy if the deal goes well, because I’m going to get a very good commission as well.”
And I said, “That’s amazing, What are you going to spend your cut on?”
And he said, “On real estate, what about you?”
I thought about it for a long time. And I said, “One word; Hummus.” It’s going places.
I was in Sainsbury’s the other day and there were like 30 different varieties. Also you can cut up carrots, and you can dip them. Have you ever done that, Solomon?
He said, “I have to go bed now.”
“Till morrow. Have sweet dream.”
I didn’t know what to say! I said, “Bonsoir my golden nugget, bonsoir.”
Guys, you have to understand, this had been going for, like, weeks, albeit hitherto the greatest weeks of my life, but I had to knock it on the head. It was getting a bit out of hand. Friends were saying, “James, do you want to come for a drink?”
I was like, “I can’t, I’m expecting an email about some gold.”
So I figured I had to knock it on the head. I had to take it to a ridiculous conclusion. So I concocted a plan. I said, “Solomon, I’m concerned about security. When we email each other, we need to use a code.” And he agreed.
I said, “Solomon, I spent all night coming up with this code we need to use in all further correspondence: Lawyer: Gummy Bear. Bank: Cream Egg. Legal: Fizzy Cola Bottle. Claim: Peanut M&Ms. Documents: Jelly Beans. Western Union: A Giant Gummy Lizard.”
I knew these were all words they use, right? I said, “Please call me Kitkat in all further correspondence.”
I didn’t hear back. I thought, I’ve gone too far. I’ve gone too far. So I had to backpedal a little. I said, “Solomon, Is the deal still on? KitKat.”
Because you have to be consistent. Then I did get an email back from him. He said, “The business is on and I am trying to blah blah blah …”
I said, “Dude, you have to use the code!”
What followed is the greatest email I’ve ever received. I’m not joking, this is what turned up in my inbox.
This was a good day. “The business is on. I am trying to raise the balance for the Gummy Bear — so he can submit all the needed Fizzy Cola Bottle Jelly Beans to the Cream Egg, for the Peanut M&Ms process to start. Send 1,500 pounds via a Giant Gummy Lizard.”
And that was so much fun, right, that it got me thinking: like, what would happen if I just spent as much time as could replying to as many scam emails as I could? And that’s what I’ve been doing for three years on your behalf.
Crazy stuff happens when you start replying to scam emails. It’s really difficult, and I highly recommend we do it. I don’t think what I’m doing is mean. There are a lot of people who do mean things to scammers. All I’m doing is wasting their time. And I think any time they’re spending with me is time they’re not spending scamming vulnerable adults out of their savings, right?
And if you’re going to do this — and I highly recommend you do — get yourself a pseudonymous email address. Don’t use your own email address. That’s what I was doing at the start and it was a nightmare. I’d wake up in the morning and have a thousand emails about penis enlargements, only one of which was a legitimate response — to a medical question I had.
But I’ll tell you what, though, guys, I’ll tell you what: any day is a good day, any day is a good day if you receive an email that begins like this: “I am Winnie Mandela, the second wife of Nelson Mandela the former South African president.” I was like, oh! — that Winnie Mandela. I know so many.
“I need to transfer $45 million out of the country because of my husband Nelson’s health condition.”
Let that sink in. She sent me this, which is hysterical. And this. And this looks fairly legitimate, this is a letter of authorization. But to be honest, if there’s nothing written on it, it’s just a shape.
I said, “Winnie, I’m really sorry to hear of this. Given that Nelson died three months ago, I’d describe his health condition as fairly serious.”
That’s the worst health condition you can have, not being alive.
She said, “Kindly comply with my bankers instructions. One love.”
I said, “Of course. No Woman, No Cry.”
She said, “My banker will need transfer of $3000. One love.”
I said, “No problemo. I shot the sheriff.”
[But I did not shoot the deputy]