January 26, 2007

Army scammer? Let's check the grammar

I've received my first Nigerian-style dubious-money-transfer-scheme-assistance solicitation email purporting to come not from an African widow but from a fellow countryman: a soldier serving as an attaché in Iraq. "Hello Pal, he says very informally (too much so?): "My name is Sgt. Jarvis Reeves Jr. I am a military attache with the Engineering unit here in Ba'qubah Iraq for the United States, we have about $14 Million dollars that we want to move out of the country." Always ready to help our brave men and women in uniform, Sgt. Reeves; but first we're going to do a little grammatical analysis on your message to make sure you're not just another illiterate foreign scammer.

Here's the full text of the message:

From jmrjr009@bellsouth.net Tue Jan 23 11:27:55 2007
Delivery-date: Tue, 23 Jan 2007 11:27:55 -0800
X-Mailer: Openwave WebEngine, version (webedge20-101-1106-101-20040924)
X-Originating-IP: []
From: Jarvis Reeves Jr
Reply-To: jmrjr008@yahoo.dk
Subject: can I trust you?
Date: Tue, 23 Jan 2007 14:25:34 -0500
Message-Id: <20070123192534.KLBQ26200.ibm60aec.bellsouth.net@mail.bellsouth.net>

Hello Pal,

I need of your assistance. My name is Sgt. Jarvis Reeves Jr. I am a military attache with the Engineering unit here in Ba'qubah Iraq for the United States, we have about $14 Million dollars that we want to move out of the country.

My partners and I need a good partner someone we can trust to actualize this venture.The money is from oil proceeds and legal.But we are moving it through diplomatic means to your house directly or a safe and secured location of your choice using diplomatic courier services.

But can we trust you? Once the funds get to you, you take your 30% out and keep our own 70%. Your own part of this deal is to find a safe place where the funds can be sent to. Our own part is sending it to you.

If you are interested I will furnish you with more details. Awaiting your urgent response.

Your Buddy.
Sgt Jarvis Reeves

God Bless America!!!!!!

God bless America indeed, with six exclamation marks to add to her 50 stars and 13 bars. But, Jarvis (may I call you Jarvis?), I think we have a problem. Well, quite a few problems, actually. Let's count them up (I won't bother to try and segregate the grammatical points from lexical or punctuational or other suspicious errors):

  1. An attaché is an officer working in an embassy, not a sergeant serving in an Army unit.
  2. You're with "the engineering unit"? That is not the way Army engineers talk. They'd name a battalion or a company or something. There isn't just one engineering unit.
  3. Why are you mailing from Yahoo in Denmark (jmrjr008@yahoo.dk) if you're a sergeant serving with my country's military in Iraq? R&R in Copenhagen? Who's looking after the money?
  4. Pal should not be capitalized.
  5. I need of your assistance is ungrammatical.
  6. we have about $14 Million dollars is the start of a bad run-on sentence.
  7. Million should not be capitalized.
  8. The word dollars is redundant since you have "$".
  9. The phrase need a good partner someone we can trust is an even worse run-on (not even a comma).
  10. The sequence "legal.But" should have a space. Omitting space at places where there is a parenthesis or a punctuation mark is the hallmark of a person with too little education to rise above the rank of private. You have several other occurrences of the same thing.
  11. The money is "from oil proceeds and legal"? Even allowing that oddly disjointed coordination of source and status descriptions, how did a sergeant come to have access to legally earned money from an oil company's bank account?
  12. Moving the money "through diplomatic means"? There is something slightly wrong about through (with which one expects a path) and means (which connotes an instrument): by would be more normal here. And are you suggesting that as an Army sergeant you get access to the diplomatic bag? Wouldn't your normal means be something more like an Army post office?
  13. The phrase to your house directly or a safe and secured location of your choice is not grammatical (the adjunct directly modifies the verb moving but illicitly interrupts the coordinate structure to your house or a safe and secured location of your choice).
  14. The phrase you take your 30% out and keep our own 70% is ill-phrased: it sounds like I keep all the money. You mean "hold for our collection" rather than "keep".
  15. Awaiting your urgent response is an ugly ill-placed modifier: I think you mean Urgently awaiting your response.
  16. The period after Your Buddy is wrong: you don't use a period after the "Yours" line before the signature.
  17. Buddy should not be capitalized.
  18. Both Hello Pal and Your Buddy sound like Army usage as imagined by someone who has seen Second World War movies and Hogan's Heroes episodes but has not interacted with the military. Real soldiers tend to be rather formal when addressing people they don't know; they say "Sir" rather than "Pal".

So, let's face it: you're not really U.S. Army at all, are you, "Sergeant Jarvis Reeves Jr."? In the original version of this post I suggested that perhaps you were a Danish hacker who didn't learn his grammar well enough to be a convincing spam-scammer, but then someone showed me* that showmyip.com would permit me to check on you by the very simple device of pointing my browser at http://www.showmyip.com/?ip= And guess what: you're actually in Nigeria, Jarvis! With a Danish zombie address (John Cowan reports to me that it only took him a few tries and he had one too; it is free, it is easy to sign up, and to start sending an email from the new account you hit the button marked Skriv).

Well, Jarvis, now your email address has been shown on Language Log, and every Language Log reader in the world is going to email you and pretend they want to help your transfer the money. Only Language Log readers are smart, and they won't send the advance fees you will tell them they need to pay. They will just play you like a fish on a line and waste your time.

*Thanks to Hao Wang for the tip. Thanks also to John Cowan, Michael Andresen, and Jim Gordon.

Posted by Geoffrey K. Pullum at January 26, 2007 01:10 AM