09:49
TEDGlobal>Geneva

James Veitch: This is what happens when you reply to spam email

Filmed:

Suspicious emails: unclaimed insurance bonds, diamond-encrusted safe deposit boxes, close friends marooned in a foreign country. They pop up in our inboxes, and standard procedure is to delete on sight. But what happens when you reply? Follow along as writer and comedian James Veitch narrates a hilarious, weeks-long exchange with a spammer who offered to cut him in on a hot deal.

- Comedian and writer
For James Veitch, a British writer and comedian with a mischievous side, spam emails proved the perfect opening to have some fun, playing the scammers at their own game. Full bio

A few years ago,
00:12
I got one of those spam emails.
00:13
And it managed
to get through my spam filter.
00:17
I'm not quite sure how,
but it turned up in my inbox,
00:19
and it was from a guy
called Solomon Odonkoh.
00:22
(Laughter)
00:24
I know.
00:26
(Laughter)
00:27
It went like this:
00:28
it said, "Hello James Veitch,
00:29
I have an interesting business proposal
I want to share with you, Solomon."
00:31
Now, my hand was kind of hovering
on the delete button, right?
00:36
I was looking at my phone.
I thought, I could just delete this.
00:39
Or I could do what I think
we've all always wanted to do.
00:42
(Laughter)
00:46
And I said, "Solomon,
Your email intrigues me."
00:50
(Laughter)
00:52
(Applause)
00:55
And the game was afoot.
01:00
He said, "Dear James Veitch,
We shall be shipping Gold to you."
01:05
(Laughter)
01:08
"You will earn 10%
of any gold you distributes."
01:10
(Laughter)
01:13
So I knew I was dealing
with a professional.
01:15
(Laughter)
01:17
I said, "How much is it worth?"
01:22
He said, "We will start
with smaller quantity," --
01:25
I was like, aww --
01:27
and then he said, "of 25 kgs.
01:28
(Laughter)
01:31
The worth should be about $2.5 million."
01:34
I said, "Solomon, if we're
going to do it, let's go big.
01:39
(Applause)
01:42
I can handle it.
How much gold do you have?"
01:50
(Laughter)
01:54
He said, "It is not a matter
of how much gold I have,
01:57
what matters is
your capability of handling.
02:00
We can start with 50 kgs
as trial shipment."
02:02
I said, "50 kgs?
02:04
There's no point doing this at all
02:06
unless you're shipping
at least a metric ton."
02:08
(Laughter)
02:10
(Applause)
02:11
He said, "What do you do for a living?"
02:15
(Laughter)
02:17
I said, "I'm a hedge fund
executive bank manager."
02:20
(Laughter)
02:22
This isn't the first time
I've shipped bullion, my friend,
02:27
no no no.
02:29
Then I started to panic.
02:32
I was like, "Where are you based?"
02:34
I don't know about you,
02:35
but I think if we're going
via the postal service,
02:37
it ought to be signed for.
02:39
That's a lot of gold."
02:40
He said, "It will not be easy
to convince my company
02:42
to do larger quantity shipment."
02:45
I said, "Solomon, I'm completely
with you on this one.
02:46
I'm putting together a visual for you
to take into the board meeting.
02:49
Hold tight."
02:52
(Laughter)
02:54
This is what I sent Solomon.
03:01
(Laughter)
03:03
(Applause)
03:05
I don't know if we have
any statisticians in the house,
03:11
but there's definitely something going on.
03:14
(Laughter)
03:16
I said, "Solomon, attached to this email
you'll find a helpful chart.
03:19
I've had one of my assistants
run the numbers.
03:23
(Laughter)
03:25
We're ready for shipping
as much gold as possible."
03:27
There's always a moment where they try
to tug your heartstrings,
03:30
and this was it for Solomon.
03:33
He said, "I will be so much happy
if the deal goes well,
03:34
because I'm going to get
a very good commission as well."
03:37
And I said, "That's amazing,
What are you going to spend your cut on?"
03:40
And he said, "On RealEstate,
what about you?"
03:43
I thought about it for a long time.
03:46
And I said, "One word;
03:50
Hummus."
03:53
(Laughter)
03:54
"It's going places.
04:00
(Laughter)
04:01
I was in Sainsbury's the other day
04:03
and there were like
30 different varieties.
04:05
Also you can cut up carrots,
and you can dip them.
04:07
Have you ever done that, Solomon?"
04:10
(Laughter)
04:11
He said, "I have to go bed now."
04:14
(Laughter)
04:16
(Applause)
04:18
"Till morrow.
04:21
Have sweet dream."
04:24
I didn't know what to say!
04:25
I said, "Bonsoir
my golden nugget, bonsoir."
04:27
(Laughter)
04:30
Guys, you have to understand,
this had been going for, like, weeks,
04:33
albeit hitherto the greatest
weeks of my life,
04:36
but I had to knock it on the head.
04:38
It was getting a bit out of hand.
04:40
Friends were saying, "James,
do you want to come for a drink?"
04:41
I was like, "I can't, I'm expecting
an email about some gold."
04:44
So I figured I had
to knock it on the head.
04:47
I had to take it
to a ridiculous conclusion.
04:50
So I concocted a plan.
04:52
I said, "Solomon,
I'm concerned about security.
04:53
When we email each other,
04:55
we need to use a code."
04:56
And he agreed.
05:00
(Laughter)
05:01
I said, "Solomon, I spent all night
coming up with this code
05:03
we need to use
in all further correspondence:
05:06
Lawyer: Gummy Bear.
05:08
Bank: Cream Egg.
05:13
Legal: Fizzy Cola Bottle.
Claim: Peanut M&Ms.
05:16
Documents: Jelly Beans.
05:18
Western Union: A Giant Gummy Lizard."
05:20
(Laughter)
05:22
I knew these were all words
they use, right?
05:24
I said, "Please call me Kitkat
in all further correspondence."
05:26
(Laughter)
05:30
I didn't hear back.
I thought, I've gone too far.
05:36
I've gone too far.
So I had to backpedal a little.
05:38
I said, "Solomon, Is the deal still on?
05:40
KitKat."
05:44
(Laughter)
05:45
Because you have to be consistent.
05:46
Then I did get an email back from him.
05:51
He said, "The Business is on
and I am trying to blah blah blah ..."
05:53
I said, "Dude, you have to use the code!"
05:56
What followed is the greatest email
I've ever received.
06:01
(Laughter)
06:04
I'm not joking, this is what
turned up in my inbox.
06:07
This was a good day.
06:10
"The business is on.
06:13
I am trying to raise the balance
for the Gummy Bear --
06:16
(Laughter)
06:18
so he can submit all the needed
Fizzy Cola Bottle Jelly Beans
06:23
to the Creme Egg,
06:26
for the Peanut M&Ms process to start.
06:29
(Laughter)
06:32
Send 1,500 pounds
06:33
via a Giant Gummy Lizard."
06:36
(Applause)
06:38
And that was so much fun, right,
06:49
that it got me thinking:
06:51
like, what would happen if I just spent
as much time as could
06:53
replying to as many
scam emails as I could?
06:56
And that's what I've been doing
07:00
for three years
07:03
on your behalf.
07:05
(Laughter)
07:06
(Applause)
07:08
Crazy stuff happens when you start
replying to scam emails.
07:12
It's really difficult,
07:14
and I highly recommend we do it.
07:16
I don't think what I'm doing is mean.
07:17
There are a lot of people
who do mean things to scammers.
07:19
All I'm doing is wasting their time.
07:22
And I think any time
they're spending with me
07:26
is time they're not spending
scamming vulnerable adults
07:29
out of their savings, right?
07:31
And if you're going to do this --
and I highly recommend you do --
07:33
get yourself a pseudonymous email address.
07:37
Don't use your own email address.
07:39
That's what I was doing at the start
and it was a nightmare.
07:40
I'd wake up in the morning
and have a thousand emails
07:43
about penis enlargements,
07:46
only one of which
was a legitimate response --
07:47
(Laughter)
07:49
to a medical question I had.
07:51
But I'll tell you what, though, guys,
07:53
I'll tell you what: any day is a good day,
any day is a good day
07:55
if you receive an email
that begins like this:
07:58
(Laughter)
08:01
"I AM WINNIE MANDELA,
08:04
THE SECOND WIFE OF NELSON MANDELA
THE FORMER SOUTH AFRICAN PRESIDENT."
08:07
I was like, oh! -- that Winnie Mandela.
08:10
(Laughter)
08:12
I know so many.
08:13
"I NEED TO TRANSFER 45 MILLION DOLLARS
OUT OF THE COUNTRY
08:15
BECAUSE OF MY HUSBAND
NELSON MANDELA'S HEALTH CONDITION."
08:18
Let that sink in.
08:21
She sent me this, which is hysterical.
08:23
(Laughter)
08:26
And this.
08:29
And this looks fairly legitimate,
this is a letter of authorization.
08:30
But to be honest, if there's nothing
written on it, it's just a shape!
08:33
(Laughter)
08:37
I said, "Winnie,
I'm really sorry to hear of this.
08:39
Given that Nelson died three months ago,
08:42
I'd describe his health condition
as fairly serious."
08:44
(Laughter)
08:46
That's the worst health condition
you can have, not being alive.
08:49
She said, "KINDLY COMPLY
WITH MY BANKERS INSTRUCTIONS.
08:55
ONE LOVE."
08:58
(Laughter)
08:59
I said, "Of course. NO WOMAN, NO CRY."
09:02
(Laughter)
09:04
(Applause)
09:07
She said, "MY BANKER WILL NEED
TRANSFER OF 3000 DOLLARS. ONE LOVE."
09:12
(Laughter)
09:15
I said, "no problemo.
09:20
I SHOT THE SHERIFF."
09:24
[ (BUT I DID NOT SHOOT THE DEPUTY) ]
09:29
(Laughter)
09:31
Thank you.
09:32
(Applause)
09:33

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About the Speaker:

James Veitch - Comedian and writer
For James Veitch, a British writer and comedian with a mischievous side, spam emails proved the perfect opening to have some fun, playing the scammers at their own game.

Why you should listen

Packed full of Nigerian princes, can't miss investment opportunities and eligible Russian brides, James Veitch's correspondence with email spammers leads to surprising, bizarre and usually hilarious results. Out of this experiment came his first book, Dot Con. In 2014, his first solo comedy show The Fundamental Interconnectedness of Everyone with an Internet Connection, premiered at the Edinburgh Fringe to wide acclaim. His second show, Genius Bar, focussed on his time working for Apple, chronicles his attempts to fix his relationship using the same troubleshooting techniques he’d been using to fix iMacs, iPhones and iPods. He is currently writing his third show and preparing to tour the UK. 

He lives in London with his full body pillow.

More profile about the speaker
James Veitch | Speaker | TED.com