The schmendrik’s* guide to recognising (and avoiding) email scams

Caryn Gootkin’s alter ego, the Pedantic Player, advises the greedy and gullible to watch out for email scammers with their too-good-to-be true messages.

If you’re anything like Caryn or me, each morning your inbox contains more scam than legitimate messages. Swearing under your breath doesn’t help. Getting angry negatively affects your stress and blood pressure level but leaves the sender unharmed.

I can’t stop the cyber pollution. Come to think of it, neither can any of those fancy programmes Caryn or her service provider uses. What I can do, however, is help you to spot the scams so you don’t get taken (like so many schlemiels* do).

I’m pushing send on this column before Caryn gets home because she wouldn’t approve of me calling people schmendriks and schlemiels. Ever since her Twitter exchange of Yiddish insults with Gus Silber, she’s been really careful about what she calls people.

So here are some quick tips.

1. Bad grammar, punctuation and writing betray an amateur scammer

It is easy to classify a badly written email as scam. Very often the writer is not English speaking and their awkward use of the language is a clue. Take for example this that I received from Ahmed Rahmy [].


Is there any writing convention Mr Rahmy doesn’t infringe?

2. Inconsistencies that don’t add up

Mr Graham Greaves claims to work at HSBC Bank in London but his email comes to me from Even if he managed to hide this fact, the email address he gives in the body of the email,, doesn’t follow the format of legitimate HSBC emails which all end (I’m no internet maven but a simple search taught me this.)

He also needs to learn to vary his word choice.


Please kindly open the attachment for quick response upon your response l will give you more details about this transaction. And please response to me direct to my private email: Email address: Best Regards Mr.Graham Greaves”

3. Compensation for losses you haven’t suffered

While you may feel aggrieved by life, it is highly unlikely the UN Habitat Compensation (email address really intends paying you $2, 811, 041.00 for “all that you have suffered losses as a result of fraud, accident or illness”. In fact, how could Marcus Wright possibly know what you’ve lost? He covers his bases smoothly by including diverse types of losses. After all, who has never had an accident or been ill? But the only fraud the UN Habitat Compensation need to know about is Mr Wright’s. If you Google this topic, you’ll find that Mr Wright and Mr Greaves are very busy indeed.

But, you may ask, how can I possibly lose by giving either of them my bank account details? If they don’t deposit the money, I’ve lost nothing. Surely it’s worth a try? This is where the schmendrik warning comes in.

Mr Wright appears to work with one Allan Wilson who adds the following caveat at the bottom of the email: “Please take note that you will pay a shipping/handling fee of $155.00USD.” If just 100 people fall for this, Mr Wright makes the equivalent of R125 000.

4. There is something wrong with your bank account – phishing

Oxford Dictionaries defines phishing as the fraudulent practice of sending emails purporting to be from reputable companies in order to induce individuals to reveal personal information, such as passwords and credit card numbers, online.”

For some reason, my phishing scams always come from ABSA impersonators. They usually use email addresses that may fool the careless reader:; “accounts.”;; The obviously fraudulent email addresses (; are easier to spot.

I don’t bank with ABSA so emails from the bank warning me that my ATM pin has been compromised don’t have the potential to fool me into passing on my login details. But you should hear the horror stories some people my age tell.  I mean, if Caryn’s 98-year-old grandfather is savvy enough to see through such scams, what excuse do my contemporaries at the bowling club have?

I find it difficult not to use the s-word in these situations. Sorry, Caryn.

5. A foreigner needs a partner in order to access his fortune

My latest request to act as trustee came from the Hon. Ebenezer Sekyi-Hughes, via a boring email address, In the email the Honourable Mr Sekyi-Hughes tells me to address him on, which appears to me to emanate from Japan.

Mr S-H, who claims to be the former speaker of the house of parliament of Ghana, is having difficulty laying his paws on a “box of consignments containing 86 million GBP in London and Under the custody of the British embassy in Tokyo Japan.” I trust you are as confused by that as I am. But here’s the interesting bit. He tells me that the present Ghana government is accusing him of looting the government treasury during his time in office. Now we’re on more familiar territory. If I’ll be his trustee the spotlight veers away from him and he’ll give me 30% of the total fund. If only…

Poor Boris. (Alawi Jasim Boris to those he has not chosen to trust.) Boris is dying of “esophageal cancer” that “has defiled all forms of medical treatment”. You needn’t, however, pity him because his illness has brought him to the deep understanding that “everyone will die someday.” Boris, by his own admission, is a rich but selfish man who has never loved anyone but wishes his fortune to be used for charitable purposes after his death. Noble as this sounds, his real motive appears in this paragraph:

“I believe when God gives me a second chance to come to this world i would live my life a different way.I want God to be merciful to me and accept my soul so, I have  decided to give alms to charity. Now that my health has deteriorated so badly, I cannot do this myself anymore. If you are interested in helping me kindly act accordingly for further explanation.”

I have no doubt that the kind schmendrik who falls for Boris’s scam will find their bank account cleaned out, in every sense of the word.

6. Looking for love? There are many phish in the sea…

Caryn received an oddly-worded email from an Asian Dating agency. It calls her by her name but opens with the line, “All men have fantasized about Asian women.” It sings the praises of Asian women, listing their “unique beauty, prized as extraordinary lovers and treasured for their practicality.” Practicality? I’m so glad they didn’t give examples of these women’s usefulness. Caryn would have been furious.

I received this email from the very friendly Lovina.

 “hello, My name lovina,

I got your contact today

when i was browsing

It is very interesting

For me to get intouch with you,

then you can contact

Me with my e-mail

I’ll give you my picture from there

And tell you more about myself.

Kiss from lovina.


As tempting as it may be to befriend Lovina Loving (nee Kassala), I’m sure she plans to use the lonely responder to escape from a life of poverty in some oppressive country.

David Bullard received a similarly targeted email from the Ukraine. His Twitter comment? “24 year old Galina from the Ukraine has emailed me. She’s looking for a genuine relationship. Pity. Now if (it) was just sex ….

That’s all I have time for. If you are ever in doubt about whether an email you receive is genuine, call me. For a small fee I’ll help you decide.

* See Caryn’s previous column ‘Twas brillig and the slithy tweeps did kvetch and kibitz for translations of Yiddish words