March 23, 2007

Linguistically Ignorant 419 Scammers

Going through my morning email I found what looks like a 419 scam message with an extra giveaway of its illegitimate status. It purports to come from a Japanese company but gives the following address:

Man Tech Company Ltd.
No.2, Lane 70, Ming Chu Road,
Sec.1,Tung Pao, Japan

If you know what Japanese addresses look like, this is obviously ill-formed. With the exception of a few cities like Sapporo, which are only partial exceptions, Japanese addresses are based on a hierarchy of successively smaller regions. Adresses usually start with the prefecture, then name the city, then the ku 区 "ward", then the cho 町 "town", then the chome 丁目"district", then the banchi 番地 "block", and finally the ban 番 "lot". For example, I once lived in Tokyo at: 東京都 目黒区 中目黒 5-12-8 "Tokyo-to Meguro-ku, Nakameguro 5-12-8", which is to say at lot number 8 of block number 12 of district number 5 of Nakameguro town of Meguro ward of Tokyo. Lot numbers are not like street numbers - their order is not the order along the block but depends on the date at which the lot was developed. There are often maps on signboards by the side of the road showing the nearby streets and the division of the blocks into lots. When writing addresses in English this larger to smaller order is generally broken, so this address would be given as "5-12-8 Nakameguro, Meguro-ku, Tokyo-to".

It is thus immediately apparent that the above address is not a Japanese address. The words "Ming Chu" and "Tung Pao" add to this conclusion since they are not phonologically possible in Japanese. This is a typical Chinese address as written in English, the absence of a province or district component suggestive of Taiwan. Addresses in Taiwan as in Japan are written in larger-to-smaller order when written in Chinese, though the hierarchy is different from the Japanese one and involves roads of various sizes. For example, here's an address in Taichung: 406台中市北屯區 東山路一段333 巷99弄44號2樓 It reads: 406, Taichung City, Beitun Ward, Dongshan Road, Section 1, Lane 333, Alley 99, Lot 44, Second floor. The initial 406 is the postal code. This address could also indicate that the location is in Taichung County but that is normally omitted since everybody knows where Taichung City is (it is the third largest city in Taiwan) and the postal code in any case supplies information that makes the county superfluous.

As we have sometimes remarked before here at Language Log, 419 scammers need to hire some linguists...

Update. The URL mentioned in this email exists and appears at least superficially to be for a real company, Man Tech Industries, "specializing in precision machining". The page is however missing several images. Readers John Cowan and Rob Perez have tracked down the address and indicate that there is an apparently legitimate company called Chung Yang Industries, at No.2, Lane 70, Ming Chu Road, Sec.1, Tung Pao Village, Tantze Hsiang, Taichung Hsien, Taiwan, R.O.C. Its hard to know what to make of this. Presumably the Chung Yang company knows that it is located in Taiwan, not Japan. (The address indicates that it is located in Taichung County, in the same area as the city of 台中 Taichung in West-Central Taiwan.) It looks like the scammers just borrowed part of this company's address and plunked it down in Japan.

Posted by Bill Poser at March 23, 2007 12:53 PM