I presume we’re all sort of on amber e-lert for suspicious e-mails these days, knowing as most people do that the world abounds not with thieves hiding under cars with knives or poisoning Halloween candy but rather with malicious spammers and chain letter pimps.
In the past month I’ve received a couple particularly obnoxious types of phishing e-mail, however. They are especially noxious because they have juuuuuuust enough coincidental timing as to get me thinking for a few minutes whether they might be f’reals.
One was an official-looking note from Chase Bank advising that I needed to confirm some details because my account had been compromised. About four hours earlier I had actually received what turned out to be a legitimate payment notice from Chase for a sum of money that was owed me.
Most recently I received an e-mail supposedly from DHL with instructions about how to go about picking up a package. Coincidentally, I have been expecting a small package from the States that I’m pretty sure is simply being aged in the Saudi Arabia customs office.
Calling on my superpowers as an English teacher, corporate copywriter and editor, I was soon able to parse the note into the piece of garbage it is.
What I look for is a variety of quirky punctuation and grammar — not misspellings per se — more like odd bits of unusual capitalization and strange voice and tense constructions.
In this most recent one there are several unusualities. Let’s take a look:
Your parcel has arrived at the post office on October 23.
Our Driver was unable to deliver the parcel to your address.
To receive a parcel you must go to the nearest DHL office and show your mailing label.
You need to print mailing label, and show it in DHL office to receive the parcel.
Thank you for your attention.
Thank you for your attention.
OK, we’re back
1) “Good Day!” — who says bloody “good day” as a salutation in North America? And what’s with the exclamation?
2) “has arrived…on Oct. 23” — either the parcel has arrived, period; or the parcel arrived on such and such a date.
3) “…at the post office” — maybe I’ve missed the concept of delivery services but isn’t the whole idea to deliver the package to your home or office…not the post office?
3) “Driver” – improper capitalization. No corporate copywriter in the freakin’ universe would cap that.
4) “To receive a parcel…” – First off, it’s wrong to use the indefinite article since that implies a general policy statement from DHL about how parcels are delivered. More to the point, why would they have a general policy that you pick up your DHL parcel at their office?
5) “Show your mailing label” – Wait! How do I have a mailing label when you never delivered the package to start with?
6) “You need to print mailing label…” – This is really the big tip-off, and its bogosity is clearly seen in the smallest of grammatical units — the missing indefinite article. It looks like it was written by a foreign language speaker who routinely drops articles.
7) “…and show it in DHL office” – again this sounds like a Middle Eastern or Asian construction where they’re not really clear about English prepositions and articles. They could have said “present it at the DHL office” or simply “bring it to the DHL office,” but nooooooo English speaker says “show it in DHL office.”
8) “DHL Customer.” – Methinks they meant to sign it “DHL Customer Service” but either way, there is no period after a name used in a signature line. Furthermore, the letter purports to come from Logistics Services, so the two departments should decide what they’re called.
So there we have it. It’s easy to see the amateurish English-as-a-Second-Language mistakes once we’ve taken it apart. But in an age where even otherwise competent English speakers mistake “their” and “there,” compose text messages with “UR” and “wont” (Ok…I do it too!) and can’t tell the difference between ‘disinterested’ and ‘uninterested’ is it surprising that spammers get away with this foolishness?
And get away with it they must because we wouldn’t be getting all this stuff if at least one or two of you–yes, I mean you—didn’t occasionally open it up or (gasp) respond.
Do yourself a favor: get an English teacher to check your e-mails before you open up anything unusual…even your intimate e-lingerie.
It’s OK, we’re professionals.