What we want for 419 spammers: randomly-generated gibberish

Got another 419 scam spam (surprisingly, to my Gmail address; usually it’s .Mac which lets through the junk). It contained the marvellous paragraph

After legal consultation, I have concretized modalities for a secured way that would guarantee a perfect transaction. But be most assured that for your help and partnership you will get a good percentage of the total sum. It is important to let you know that fifty percent of the rest will be invested over there under your anagement. For a negotiable period of time and we will open a fruitful dialog to that effect.

But of course! Concretized modalities are just what we need today, and in five-inch sizes too – though only the biodegradable ones will do..

At which it occurred to me that what we need is something that will generate some sort of gibberish – close to English, but still rubbish – to keep the 419ers going. You could even start up a Gmail account of your own to bounce the rubbish back and forth, keeping it separate from the Gmail accounts you actually value. The longer these folk waste on scams that aren’t going anywhere, the less time they’ll have for real scams, and the better for the ISPs in Nigeria et al. (They pay for the ISP service, right?)

There used, in the Mac OS 9 days, to be a program called “Kant“, which would generate phrases according to a set of rules you generated. During Andrew Marr’s reign at The Independent, Andrew Brown and I (we sat alongside) toyed with the idea of creating a Eurosceptic version, which would spout unreasonable rubbish about Britain’s inheritance being sold for a mess of pottage if you gave it any random input – say, “forks”. Though it would be tuned to the subject of forks, of course, not just repeating its own things.

Ah, it turns out that Kant was the work of Mark Pilgrim, and work continues to move it to OSX. But gradually. And Pilgrim has released the Python code.

Which takes us some distance from the 419ers, but we’ll get back there eventually. IF Kant can’t bamboozle them, he ain’t trying hard enough. Perhaps some pure Kant output would do it..

As is shown in the writings of Hume, our a priori concepts, in reference to ends, abstract from all content of knowledge; in the study of space, the discipline of human reason, in accordance with the principles of philosophy, is the clue to the discovery of the Transcendental Deduction. The transcendental aesthetic, in all theoretical sciences, occupies part of the sphere of human reason…


  1. Well, after a quick look at the Pilgriom thing, when I should have been on quite a different deadline, I can’t see the problem. It’s the python code which does the real work — all the mac stuff is just about pretty displays, which are in this context irrelevant. All you need do is to replace the kant.xml with your own scammer.xml and hook it up to a cgi or run it from the command line.

  2. Charles, just ignore them. Adding to spam with more spam just increases the amount of spam. They are not stupid ‘Nigerians’ it is the fools that respond to these scams (and plenty do) that are the stupid ones. They probably don’t have much in the way of ISP costs through the use of zombie machines. This increase in traffic MIGHT make their ISP sit up but probably not. Just put the emails in the trash can and step away!

  3. I know they’re not Nigerian (or at least, not in Nigeria). I realised – in an epiphany the other day – that they pretend to be rather stupid in order to make you think you’re cleverer than they are.

    You know – you’ll think you can get a quick one over these folk, that they’re so stupid (based on the ludicrous phrases they use) that it can’t possibly work.

    Because after all, if this sort of daft phrasing didn’t work, they’d have abandoned it ages ago.

  4. Commenter, I don’t entirely agree that it would be a futile effort.

    While I agree that the increase in ISP cost would be minimal, the true cost that you would be imposing on the spammer would be that of their time. This is just as the true cost of spam on us not so much higher internet bills but actually that of our time.

    Basically, spammers use a minimal amount of their own time to incredibly inefficiently harness the time of others in order to turn a profit.

    Making reading replies to spam (and therefore sending it in the first place) an uneconomic use of time is in my humble opinion the best way of fighting it.