Know the Lingo — How to Get Wise to Scam Language

Scam language provides lots of clues to help you better spot scams and protect yourself: Internet Scambusters #326

The world of con tricks, forgeries and frauds has developed its own set of terms and an unusual way with words — a unique scam language.

Some of the words are used to describe individual scam techniques while others are part of the stumbling vocabulary and rotten grammar that expose their fakery.

In this week’s issue, we take an occasionally humorous but always serious look at scam language and how you can recognize it — so you can better protect yourself from Internet scams.

Let’s get started…

Know the Lingo — How to Get Wise to Scam Language

Over the years, scam language seems to have become something of an art form in itself — sometimes hilarious and sometimes deadly serious.

For a start, there’s a whole mini-dictionary of new words or new definitions of old words. Think of phishing, vishing, pharming, flim-flams and 419s. Then there’s whaling, skimming, baiting-and-switching, and key logging. Or how about boiler rooms, pretexting, splogs (fake blog sites), scareware and malware?

There’s certainly enough for a good Trivial Pursuit category!

Our particular favorite — though it’s no laughing matter — is the recently coined abbreviation RUMBLE (Recruitment of Unwitting Money-launderers by Bogus Letters of Employment), which is part of the overpayment scam.

But the use of language — or, more precisely, its misuse — can also be a dead giveaway for a scam. Take this gem, for example:

— Begin scam email 1 —

Good news dear, It is my pleasure to inform you that the latest development regarding the news from the New president of the United State of America to release all your fund through bank of america without any further delay.

— End scam email 1 —

The bad grammar, incorrect capitalization, curious wording and the references to the singular United State, are exactly as written. As the blogger who received it said: “This one is so bad, it’s good.”

(Incidentally, all the spelling and grammar errors in the examples in this article are exactly as in the originals – they’re not ours!)

The non-use of an individual’s name in this example also signals a scam. A common variation starts with something like “Dear account-holder.” They don’t know who you are!

Surely, you would think, nobody would fall for this type of message. But they do. Scammers don’t seem to worry about their poor use of English. Sometimes, they even apologize for it, offering it as evidence that they are just poor, humble citizens in desperate need of help.

They also know that if the bait is strong enough, people’s curiosity will be piqued to the point where they overlook the poor wording of a message. Like this email urging the reader to click on an attachment:

— Begin scam email 2 —

Here is the archive with those information, you asked me. And don’t forget, it is strongly confidential!!! Seya, man. P.S. Don’t forget my fee 😉

— End scam email 2 —

Hmm. What could be in that “confidential” attachment? This word is commonly used to lure people to open attachments or activate links. Don’t click it, man!

Sometimes, single misspellings provide the clue that all is not right with the message you receive, especially if it’s supposed to come from a business person who you would expect to be able to spell and string a decent sentence together.

For instance a recent RUMBLE letter offering victims a bogus job said salary would be paid “twise” a month, a 419-er referred to the “issueing” bank, while a spoof eBay phishing message said the firm strongly “advice” you to change your password.

Another phishing message to subscribers of the Internet phone service Vonage warned that their account would expire in “Octomber.” That should have been enough to put potential victims off from clicking the link which went to a bogus Vonage sign-on page.

It’s not just words that the scammers get wrong either. Another eBay phishing message, reported recently by the magazine New Scientist, told recipients that “eBay have over 100000000 people worldwide dedicated to keeping PayPal accounts safe.” That would work out at about one in 70 of the entire world population working for eBay!

Of course, not every decent person is blessed with math skills or knowledge of perfect grammar and spelling, so it’s quite possible that spelling mistakes may be missed. But there are other tell-tale types of wording that suggest a message or website could be a scam. Here are some more signs:

  • Use of old-fashioned, stilted or flowery language, like this lotto-winner spoof: “We are assigned to render advice and assistance in line with your winning claim process.”
  • Use of foreign languages and/or Russian/Cyrillic characters, or purposely jumbled words that aim to bypass spam filters. If you can’t read it, ditch it.
  • Auction listings or messages that use words with all capital letters. Even in normal usage, all-capitals is considered rude and bad form. But in auctions, as eBay themselves admit: “If an auction is posted in ALL CAPITAL LETTERS….the chances of a buyer having a problem with the purchase are increased by a factor of TEN!”
  • Incomplete or rambling sentences that just don’t make sense. Believe it or not, the following is all one sentence:

— Begin scam email 3 —

Due to our credit card processor is down we can not proceed on charging of your credit card so the company board advices that you look around for a western union around you and make the fund deposit to the company accountant name via western union so that your shipment can be activated for delivery soonest so we can get back to you with your full shipment tracking details so you can track your order online via fedex.

— End scam email 3 —


  • Use of religious terms that suggest the scammer is really pious and honest. Though certainly not all are scams, bogus messages using this technique often end with “God bless.”A recent phony begging letter began “MY Beloved One in Christ.” It continued: “It is rather unfortunate that I am writing this mail to you in deep tears while lying on a hospital bed due to chronic cancer of thelungs waiting for the time to pass unto eternal glory.”

“Rather unfortunate” seems rather an understatement…

Some of these scam language points are neatly rolled up in this classic Nigerian scam message received by a British target:

— Begin scam email 4 —

All whom I needed is a sincere, honest, trustworthy and God-fearing individuals whom my mind will absolve to help me in this deal. If you have feelings about my situation, don’t hesitate to stand for me.

— End scam email 4 —


There are also a number of perfectly legitimate words that form part of the scam language lexicon, that should, at the very least, encourage caution. Words like “processing fee” and references to “tax” or “customs” payments often crop up in lottery and Nigerian/advance fee scams.

Be on the lookout too for words and phrases that urge you to take action immediately, like: “deadline,” “won’t last,” “act now,” “today only.” And so on; you get the idea… (Of course, there are also many legitimate sales messages that do use these terms.)

And if someone says they “saw your profile on the Internet” and just had to get in touch, or wanted to offer you a job or a modeling assignment, beware. The scam language giveaway is that they don’t say where they saw it.

But even if they name a site, always exercise caution and check them out thoroughly. 999 times out of 1,000, it’s a scam.

Finally, a couple of business names that should always, but always, put you on your guard: Western Union and Moneygram. These are perfectly legitimate businesses that provide a useful service but if you’re buying online or asked to send money to someone you don’t know using these services, they should set the old alarm bells ringing!

Same goes for emails supposedly from big businesses or important people who use email addresses like Gmail and Hotmail. Many of us use these addresses but big companies do not.

In summary, words play a vital part in society. We use them to communicate ideas, feelings and knowledge and to understand the intentions of others. But they can also be used for evil.

Paying attention to grammar, spelling and key phrases can help you spot scam language and trouble. When it comes to scams, get your dictionary out and mind your language!

Time to conclude for today — have a great week!