How Do You Spell Spam?

lettersS-P-A-M? S-M-A-P? S-A-M-P? M-A-P-S??

Have you ever noticed that some spammers seem to be really bad at spelling? Given how often spam messages contain weird spellings, you might assume that spammers are poorly educated or just plain stupid.


Usually they’re doing it on purpose.

Subject: We love to heoar thuoghts

ihTs is an imaortpnt E-mial, act qiuick oefbre the slots fill up. Want to tsart eannirg huge douigh fryom oyur home on yuor own houurs?  Wlle then yoou shluod defenitely read thiis artlcie and send in youer applicatyion todiay.. so many spots opeon but they will fill up quiack

This example is a real spam email that we intercepted recently. Even though nearly half of the words in this message are misspelled it’s still pretty easy to read.

That is, if you’re a human.

Why humans can unscramble messed up words is still being researched. However, the fact remains that we can detect the meaning of a group of written words even though most of them have their letters somewhat scrambled. Unfortunately, computers don’t have this talent.

Spammers frequently take advantage of this dichotomy to get their messages delivered. Many spam filters track word frequencies and measure how often words are seen in spam versus how often they are seen in legitimate messages. If the spammer plays his or her cards right, the misspelled words will be new to the filter so it won’t know what to make of them.

Believe it or not this actually works quite well.

Still, we have to wonder why it works on people. If the senders weren’t getting results they wouldn’t do it which means that somebody is going to the trouble to visit their sites. In the case of the example above, for the spammer to get paid, the recipient has to: decipher the message; figure out which part is a URL; copy the URL to a browser and visit the website.

Who does that?

Obviously, spammers are not the stupid ones in this equation. A person who ignores all of the evidence that they are responding to an illegitimate message even to the point of actively helping, is not exactly the sharpest tool in the shed.

To paraphrase Smokey Bear:

Don’t play with spammers. Only you can prevent spam.

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