As a public service at the beginning of 2014, I thought it might be appropriate to grade some of the recent SPAM I have been receiving. I suspect the intent behind this SPAM is to incite fear in the recipient. Instead it incited humor in this recipient. As most students already know, I don’t just review SPAM, I grade it. I have been receiving a lot of these “notice to appear” emails. Perhaps you have seen a few as well. Maybe Santa put me on his “naughty list” by mistake. Clearly I am concerned about being called into court (or not). Let’s examine this email in a bit more detail and discover some of the problems which lead me to assign a grade of D (yep, I was in a generous mood today). Let’s see the entire email message. Note that any good SPAM tries to get you to take immediate action. Since I haven’t recently been to Houston, perhaps I should open the attached zip file to find out what the problem is. THAT WOULD NOT BE A GOOD IDEA. Yes, I was shouting. Because there is a defined action step, I thought a grade of D was appropriate. Everything else sends up red flags as obvious spam. If you think I am being overly generous, post a comment below.
First a sanity check – do you really think a legal entity like a court office would be contacting me via email? If it was that bloody important, wouldn’t I have received a letter via the postal service or have a police officer pounding on my front door? Of course, this was received at an email address that I don’t readily give out to others (which is why it is blurred). Wonder how the clerk’s office got this email address?
Well that should generate curiosity or fear in the recipient (which is why they want you to open the zip attachment). Hint – the zip file will contain an executable file (they rightly assume the majority of individuals receiving this message will be using Windows computers). If you do open the .exe file, your computer would likely be compromised and connected to a bot net to send out more of these lovely missives. Another reality check – do you really think a legal entity would include an executable file in an email? Think of the liability they might open themselves to…
Now, let’s look at this message again with a few items highlighted. All of these are items which are clues that this is a bogus message.
Working from the top of the document… The email return address is “Notice to Appear” – wouldn’t this be the actual name of the clerk or court district? The actual email is firstname.lastname@example.org. Again, shouldn’t this be the actual court district or clerk office? BakerBotts.com? Clearly not something legitimate… And, look when this was sent – January 1, 2014. Isn’t that special? In my wildest dreams, I can’t imagine any public court office being open on a legal holiday. Oh sure, they have an automated program to send these out. Yep, that was dripping with cynicism.
Next, we see that my internal spam filters clearly identified this as SPAM. Still, there are other clues. For example, why is the word Order capitalized when nothing else on that line is (other than Notice)? Next, why is the document id number and order number different?
Then we have a notice of appearance. Shouldn’t they have included my full name? In addition to being a courtesy, it would make this a little more believable. You also see I am due in the court of Houston. Which Houston? I believe there are 10 states with a city named Houston (ok, I got that from Wikipedia). However, there is no state specified. Another clue this is bogus. As big as I suspect the Houston, Texas courts are, wouldn’t they need to provide more specific details (such as a building or room number)? C’mon spammers, at least try to make this believable.
Of course, I am “kindly asked” to bring the documents related to the case. Because the case would be dismissed if I didn’t bring my own copy of the documents? Another reality check – wouldn’t the prosecutor already have copies of the documents? I have heard that some courts are in financial trouble, but it seems excessive to ask defendants to bring their own documents for prosecution. Yet another clue this is bogus.
Finally the call to action does make one want to open the attachment. Of course, this would almost guarantee you are exposed to some sort of malware. “Note: The case may be heard by the judge in your absence if you do not come.” I’ll get right on this. On second thought, why don’t you just send me another email with the outcome. Next time make certain you include the name of the judge.
Lastly, the name of the clerk in Houston, Texas is wrong (and they really should include the county which is what the official sites all do). Stan is the clerk’s first name. C’mon spammers step up your game.
I do hope you haven’t received any of these bogus messages. If you did, I hope you didn’t open the attachments. If you did, I recommend using your anti-virus immediately.
I am curious what sort of email SPAM you are receiving that is new for 2014. I look forward to your comments (unless you are a spammer – those I delete after grading). Oh, and if this email was legit – please extradite me as soon as possible. It is stinking cold in Illinois as I write this and I could use some time in the warmer parts of Texas. *grin*