I am frequently asked why phishing emails and other scam messages often contain spelling mistakes and grammatical errors.
“Haven’t scammers learned by now how to write in proper English?” the question often goes.
The answer is simple – those “errors” are not mistakes; they are intentionally included by design.
Of course, in some cases, errors may result from scammers having a poor command of the English language, but, in most cases, any included “mistakes” are intentional and strategic. Here is why:
1. The goal of a scammer is to make money – not to have many people respond to his or her email. As such, the scammer wants only people who will ultimately fall prey to the scam to respond – people who respond and interact with the scammer, but who ultimately do not fall prey to the scam and send money to the scammer, waste the scammer’s time. In order to weed out responses from such people, scammers insert sufficient clues into their messages so as to discourage responses from anyone who isn’t sufficiently gullible so as to ultimately fall prey to the relevant scam and generate revenue for the scammer.
2. Another reason that scammers introduce spelling errors is that spam filters look out for various keywords and phrases commonly found in phishing emails; at least in the past, scammers who misspelled some relevant words had a greater chance of having their scam emails penetrate through spam filters than did scammers who spelled everything correctly; criminals obviously prefer to send out imperfectly-written emails that reach their targets, than to disseminate perfectly-written emails that never reach their would-be victims.
3. In the case of emails that impersonate those being sent by an individual, rather than by an institution, misspellings and grammatical errors also make the email seem more “authentic” and “believable,” as the vast majority of people simply do not write their emails with The King’s English, to put it mildly. A bogus email impersonating one from the head of corporate computer support is likely more believable with minor errors in it, than if it were written as well as most articles in the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal.
4. Additionally, because most people are not great writers, they may have a subconscious affinity for emails with minor errors – such mistakes make the emails more seem more relatable, and may actually help the scammer build rapport with the intended target.
So, the next time you receive a scam email that contains all sorts of errors, don’t dismiss the sender as stupid. Scammers, sadly, are often quite smart.