What weird spam is this?

By Felix Salmon
July 23, 2009

On June 11, I got an email from mike.power200@gmail.com:

Hi,
What are the tax if i live in ny and la?
Would you consider giving me a hand or at least some advice based on your experience?
Would you consider giving me a couple pointers?
Thank you in advance.
Sincerely,
Larry

It was the first of many such weird, semi-targeted spams. June 22, from petrov.gazprom@gmail.com:

Hi,
How much rent you can play on a 6 million house? What are the pros and cons I should be looking out for? Would you consider giving me a couple pointers? I really appreciate your help. Thankyou, Jerod

June 27, from winstonfinancial@gmail.com:

How much per square foot to build an apartment? I have been thinking about this for a while and was hoping you might be able to shed some light on the subject. Please point me in the right direction. Thank you for your help.
Thanks,
Jerod

July 1, from the same winstonfinancial address, but this time with a different name at the bottom:

Hello,
Are interest rates on cds going to go up? What Gotchas should I be aware of?
Please point me in the right direction.
Thankyou. Gratefully, John

On July 5, an email from petersons.production@gmail.com dispensed with the greeting entirely:

When are mortgages going back to normal?
I need a little help/direction before I can start. Any nuggets of wisdom would be absolutely great and very much appreciated. Would you consider giving me a couple pointers? Thank you very much. Warmest Regards, Terry

On July 10, the same email address asked me about fixed vs variable mortgages, signing itself “Susan”; on July 15, it was “Frank” looking to rent a house in the UK; and on July 19, the email had changed to petrov.gazprom@gmail.com, where “Tony” wanted to know “How much does it cost per day in london?”. By July 21, “Tony” had changed his email to iris.accountants@gmail.com, maybe because the petrov.gazprom address had switched over to “Leanne”, who, this morning, asked me “How much does 1 hour phone cost on the home phone?”.

The general rubric is clear: a foo.bar@gmail.com email address, a question, a plea for help, and a sign-off. Is anybody else getting these emails? And what is their purpose?

Comments
30 comments so far

I believe the point is to fool your spam filter and render it useless.

Posted by Funny Banker | Report as abusive

I have gotten some, though not near that many. Or perhaps my spam filter caught them.

My guess is that they are phishing for live email addresses. If you respond, you’re live and who wouldn’t respond to someone needing financial help in a crisis. That’s my guess.

Either that or the requests will build slowly towards a request for money.

They could have two purposes:
1) Determine which email addresses are real (if the email doesn’t bounce, you know it’s good)
2) Mark certain email users who reply as naif

Posted by Rob | Report as abusive

Funny Banker is right- its to widen the bayesian filters on spam.

Posted by spotatl | Report as abusive

It may be specifically targeted at you by someone who wants to access back-end functions on one of your blogs via cross-site scripting hacks.

Posted by Sterling | Report as abusive

(The same party may well be targeting tens of thousands of other bloggers and site owners, as well. Spam is effectively free to send.)

Posted by Sterling | Report as abusive

I’ve been getting these and wondering the same thing. Maybe it is blog thing.

Speaking of SPAM, Felix, you should look into this new telemarketing. I’ve been getting calls for weeks and when you answer it’s just a recording that prompts you to press 1. When you do, it goes to a rep and when I asked the guy how they got my number (it’s a cell phone and I believe I’m on the do not call list) he just laughed at me and hung up. The phone number is 214-221-9430 and when you call it it says it’s not registered. Also, when you google it you get thousands of hits from people venting about it.

Posted by Johnson | Report as abusive

Spam filters in web based systems (gmail, yahoo etc) know who are your friends and don’t mark their emails as spam.

If you respond to an email that means you consider the sender to be worthy of sending you email and so their next spammy messages will not be sent to “spam” folder.

Posted by eu | Report as abusive

What is the frequency?

Posted by dan.rather | Report as abusive

I just got one. Here it is.

Hello,
How to find the prime rate for the last ten years in the federal reserve? There are so many factors to consider. Would you be kind enough as to give me some pointers as what to look for or avoid?
Any info much appreciated.
Thank you for your help. Kind Regards,
Joan

I told them to google historical chart prime rate. Maybe, I should have ignored it.

I am sure these people have simply recognised your expertise in matters of consumer finance and genuinely want your advice.

Somehow my name has circulated in a similar manner among people who want to find out about enhanced sexual performance and getting money out of Nigeria. I’m doing my best to help, but there are only so many hours in the day.

Those offers were from me, Leigh. Get in touch with me if you’re interested. I’ve got a limited time special going for a few more days.

I got one from mike.power200@gmail.com on Tuesday. Here it is:

Do real estate agents cost money? What are the best options in your opinion. Please help me.
Thank you so much.
Thanks, Peter

Seemed too stupid to be real, so I ignored it.

Are there links in those emails? Replying or clicking links can lead to insecurity exploits.

Posted by Weevie | Report as abusive

“Mike Power” usually asks me in which direction rates are going :) … here is an example;

“Hello,
How much money to carry in europe? There are so many factors to consider. Would you be kind enough as to give me some pointers as what to look for or avoid?
Would you consider giving me a couple pointers? Thank you in advance. Kind Regards,
Terry”

and one more …

“Hello,
Where are inerest rates going? Since you have experience, I was hoping you could give me some clues as to what you look out for. Would you consider giving me a couple pointers? I really appreciate your help.
Thank you,
Janet”

best

Claus

iris.accountants@gmail.com

I’ve just received one from petrov.gazprom@gmail.com
——————————————–
Subject line: WHAT SERVICE DOES HANDLING company DO

Message :
Hi,
What service does handling company do?
I have been thinking about this for a while and was hoping you might be able to shed some light on the subject.
A little advice would go a long way right now. Thank you for your help. Sincerely, John
——————————————–
- Very strange as I would of thought our email address of CALLhandling would have been fairly self explanatory hence why I googled his email address and found this page. I’m not entirely sure what the spammer is looking to get out of this other than for the recipient to reply and get their email address stuck on a “live” list of emails for spammers to target.

I HAVE THE ANSWER FOR YOU:

We are a jewelry company and have been getting these email messages from different bogus email addresses for about 6 months. I tracked one back to a blog where all of the answers went, and answers to the emails we have received are being posted on the web at:

http://www.xmediapartners.com

for example, one of the emails I replied to was on this page:

http://www.xmediapartners.com/Home_-_Con sumer_Information-cat.html

So, these spam emails are being sent to unwitting individuals and companies for “expert” opinions so that this company can publish content on their blog/website. They then run paid ads next to the answers, so they can make money off of other people’s expertise.

I actually answered two of these emails months ago, and got many on one day, found it suspicious, and figured it out.

Posted by Susan | Report as abusive

i have received three emails from iris.accountants@gmail.com. at first, i also thought it was a legitimate email. the first email was from janet, the second was from james, and the third is from jerod. i answered the first two emails because i thought it was a legitimate email. but now that i received the third one, i started to have doubts. i searched the net for the email address and found your site. i’m not going to reply to that email anymore. thanks!

“Tony” using the petrov gazprom at gmail address asked me whether he should buy a “baost” and the misspelling of “boat” was the only really strange thing about the email. It was better than ordinary spam. Susan’s explanation above seems reasonable.

I also got a message from petrov.gazprom@gmail.com.

Same format as before, but about credit hours.

Yeah…

I too have received these emails. Unfortunately I was dumb enough to respond to the first one I got because it seemed to come from a real reader in need of advice. Then I started receiving more similar emails, and I realized I had been spammed.

Then I did a Google search using the words of my response to that first email, and discovered that it had been published on a website. The site has Adsense ads on it. It’s a spoof website that has been made to look like Yahoo Answers. (I guess it must be affiliated with xmediapartners as mentioned above.)

If any of you have responded to any of these emails, search Google using the words of your reply. If you find that it’s been published on a website, PLEASE complain to Google and/or Adsense!! Email content is copyrighted! Maybe together we can get this site taken down or at least banned from Adsense.

Posted by a webmaster | Report as abusive

I get these emails on a regular basis, from the exact same handful of Gmail accounts you mentioned in your post. In fact, I just filled out a Gmail abuse form for each of the senders. I recommend you anyone who is targeted do the same thing, and continue to do it. If Gmail gets a ton of complaints, they will shut down the senders’ accounts. If they continue to shut down the accounts, the spammers will stop using this stupid Gmail strategy, because it will become too labor-intensive for them.

Trust me — if you do nothing, you will continue to receive these emails. I dealt with it for two months before I reached the point of contacting Google.

Here’s the abuse form:
http://mail.google.com/support/bin/reque st.py?contact_type=abuse_phishing

Yes, we’ve ben getting these message too – one of them from the same winstonfinancial gmail address. I stupidly replied to the first one as the question asked was similar enough to genuine emails that we receive from time to time – we get asked for advice on personal debt although that’s not what we work on – and have received some more since. I too have been baffled by them and could only think that it was somebody’s way of wasting our time responding to requests that aren’t genuine. But maybe it is something more sinister…

Posted by Helen | Report as abusive

The spam operation sending these spam has now been placed on the SBL blacklist by Spamhaus, this record details the operation:

http://www.spamhaus.org/sbl/sbl.lasso?qu ery=SBL77368

These are pretty good spam messages. I would have been fooled (they were directed at an email address of mine where I do offer “how to” info), except that I received two exact same questions from different email addresses (one from iris.accountants) Now I know not to respond.

Since kicking this spammer off The Planet (not *this* planet, the US ISP called The Planet ;) last week, we have not seen any further “random questions” spam. If anyone sees this same spam again, let us know at Spamhaus.

Joan mentioned earlier they used the words “Kind regards” I have been getting emails from a Nigerian scam where they want to order large quantities of goods and have them sent to a orphanage in Nigeria. The problem with this it is a scam. There is usually poor English, one word missing and often use the words “kind regards” or kindly. They always want to know what kind of payment you require. In other words do you take credit cards. They pay with stolen credit cards. Somehow this scam leaves you holding the bag with their freight stuck and held for randsom in a container. I think this is some how connected. Simply because of the language and the oddity. I think I will open a new G-Mail account and eventally close the old one for security purposes & get Lifelock!!!

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