Would you like some spam?

One thing that you don’t really consider or think about when you live abroad is that pretty much everything is different, including the simplest things that you’d never even think about. Culture reaches further into our daily lives than you’d typically think. For today’s example, we’ve got SPAM and other such junk (or scams).

Having grown up through the 90s, I’m no stranger to the Internet. I’ve had (and still use) an email address since 1997. I’ve been a member of many chat rooms (anyone remember WBS?), chat programs (AIM, ICQ, MSN, Yahoo!, Trillian, Skype), and various message boards (I even ran my own board for 3~ years). What’s the point? Well, you grow up getting all the junk e-mails, scams, and various spam that we’ve all become accustomed to over the years. Basically, I ignore it without even remembering that I’ve seen it, because it’s just like a common background noise for us all now.

But when you move to another country, there are different scams, different ways of trying to get your attention. As a non-native speaker, relatively new to the country, you can’t always sort it out so easily. In the case of Japan, some of the most prevalent spam advertisements utilize the cell phone system. You see, every phone here has an e-mail address associated with it. Unlike texting, as is prevalent in America, in Japan you can give out your e-mail address for your phone to people without giving out your phone number. Pretty convenient, actually. Since cell phones are a daily necessity, there are many hundreds of businesses that thrive off of the cell phone Internet system (which has special types of websites, etc, as well as being able to charge fees directly to your phone bill when you join. I’m sure you can see the problem coming).

Where there are legitimate businesses, there are scams artists. It’s like rain and wetness, income and taxes; you get one, you have the other.

What’s my point? We’re gonna take a look in how a Japanese e-mail scam works!

You see, three days ago, I got the following e-mail from someone I’ve never heard of on my phone:

I’m changing my e-mail address! Please e-mail me at kar-ry.kuq@docomo.ne.jp from now!

Now, considering I recently quit my previous job and moved away, I gave my address out to a lot of people, so it’s not out of the realm of possibility that someone has my address. Furthermore, I frequently prune my phone book and contacts and delete people I no longer talk to. So, I replied, told them who I am, and asked who they are.

The next day, we get a reply:

It’s Nobu ^_-?! What are you doing now?

Nobu? Unfortunately, Japanese is ambiguous. The author could be saying that THEY are Nobu, or confirming that I am. I’m pretty sure I’m not Nobu, so I figured it’s one of my ex HS students and run with it.

Yesterday, we got a follow up:

I’m sorry for the late reply! O_O This is Yuki.
Soo, I was introduced to someone by a friend of mine, but it seems like I e-mailed the wrong person.
I’m sorry to e-mail you by mistake!
I tried to confirm the address with my friend, but I still haven’t heard from her after e-mailing her repeatedly.
But, I was wondering if maybe we could still exchange e-mails and maybe become friends. Since I can’t get in touch with my friend, I won’t meet up with Nobu…

I wonder if it’s a good idea to bring this up, but.. You see..
Awhile back, the boy I was dating became a bit of a stalker after we broke up. It was pretty scary, so I decided that I didn’t want to date, but I guess that’s not such a good idea, huh?
Because of that, my friend went out of her way to introduce me to Nobu, so I’d feel really terrible if things just end before they even begin, which would be bad for my friend, too. ;_;

You seem like a nice person, and hey, maybe it’s fate. ^^
It’s a bad idea, huh? x_x;;

Now, I must say, I admire the guy who wrote this e-mail. It’s well crafted, and has a great cover story. It also appeals to every man’s desire to ‘save’ someone to be a hero, and has the hint of romance without throwing it in your face (which would raise a red flag). How do we know it’s SPAM? Frankly, she’s never addressed any of my replies in her e-mails, showing that these are prescripted. Next, she says she e-mailed the wrong person. My e-mail address is my name. I can promise you that Mr. Nobu does not have an address purporting to be Jason, unless he’s a fan of the Friday the 13th franchise, so that excuse is out. And finally, the situation is just too perfect. You get an e-mail out of the blue from a woman saying she wants to be friends–and maybe more–and asking you to help her? Things only happen this perfectly in movies and con artists’ cover stories.

if it’s a scam as you say, Jason, you might say, how does it work? She’s not asking for money, and it’s only e-mail!

Yes, I would reply, but there’s more to the story.

You see, she will never ask you for money, or contact info. Of that, I’m certain. Instead, what she’s probably going to do is tell you that she has a blog, where she has photos of herself (she probably wants to send them, but she doesn’t know how to work her new cell phone. How TRAGIC!). She wants you to go look at it. But, OH NOEZ!!!, you need to join a silly site to see her blog. It’s no problem, though. Just enter your address, it’s no problem. You might need to enter an authorization code or something, but don’t worry about it.

See where I’m going here?

Let’s assume you’re pretty smitten with Yuki and her scripted e-mails and sign up. You see her site, nothing too interesting. Life moves on. Wait, WHAT??? Please don’t scream in my ear. Yes, nothing happens for a day or so. But then, you get an e-mail from the website you recently joined. You know, when you joined, you created a profile. And, shock, someone sent you a message on the website. A girl, even. And she wants to talk to you. You can even see the first sentence of the e-mail! But, oh shucks, you’re gonna need to buy a basic membership to read the rest of the message. In fact, you pay a flat rate per received message, and another for every sent message.

Like any good scam artist, they make you want to be scammed. You might notice I mentioned above that you pay for each message you receive, which means they, as the provider, are inclined to send you dozens of messages from non-existent women who want to talk to you.

And that, my friends, is how a simple cell phone e-mail scam works in Japan. If you get a message, e-mail, phone call, or any unexpected communication from anyone, you should just ignore it. If you do reply, as a pointed question or say something that forces the other party to reply in a unique way. If you live in Japan and don’t speak Japanese, it doesn’t matter, since you couldn’t read the e-mail anyway.

3 comments to Would you like some spam?

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