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Do people actually respond to scam emails?

Tami Abdollah hacked email

Kevin Ferguson/KPCC

With 30,000 emails to go, KPCC's Tami Abdollah is still sorting through replies.

Have you ever wondered whether people actually respond to those scam emails that promise millions of dollars in inheritance? KPCC'S Education Reporter Tami Abdollah recently learned the answer the hard way. She writes with a first person account of the experience:

My email account was hacked after a virus found its way through the system. Note to self: always update your software. The attack began Memorial Day morning and lasted about 20 hours. By then nearly 60,000 emails had been sent from my account to people I had never met. Here's what it said:

"I am Mrs. Jamila Abd-Al-Hamid, a Muslim. I have picked your email address for an inheritance of 18.2 million pounds. Please contact me for more details via email."

And even though they were told to write another address, I still heard back from more than 150 people. In fact, I'm still getting responses.

My emails went out to all levels of government across multiple continents, NGOs, humanitarian organizations. Lots of these people were working in Africa, in the Sudan, Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda. My email reached the State Department, USAID, various agencies involved with the United Nations, The Guardian newspaper, Shell, the German Red Cross, Sony.

What did they say? Here's just a few of the responses I got:

"Is this for real?"

"I accept!"

"Please stop writing such silly e-mails."

"Go **** yourself with your 18 million pounds."

"I received your below email, and thanks for that. If you would like to send me the said amount, please send it via DHL to my office because I have no banking account for foreign currency. Thanks for your understanding."

"You are a thief!!!!!!!!! Thank you for your cooperation."

"You can use it for anything you want. I am a satisfied person, I want nothing from strangers. You can try your luck else where. Not me. Don't you ever write to me again."

"Thanks, keep the money, give it away, better still--use it to help your family. Money has no value for me. Be happy. "

Overall, more than a quarter of the people wanted to know more. Some thought I was their long lost love, some asked for a photo, or wanted to be friends. And a good dozen told me I needed to accept Jesus as my savior or made some other reference to God. Plenty of people also cussed me out.

I'm still trying to sort through more than 30,000 emails clogging up my system. And I'm infamous with our IT department now.

I later learned the hacker was in Melaka -- a historic, and culturally rich seaside city in Malaysia that I visited last year. It's a small world after all, I guess.


Update: After consideration, we've removed the term "Nigerian scam emails" from the headline of this piece and thank our commenters for joining in the conversation.


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