“Attention Beneficiary…!”: Assessing Types and Features of Scam Emails

“Attention Beneficiary…!”: Assessing Types and Features of Scam Emails

Innocent E. Chiluwa, Ebikaboere Ovia, Emmanuel Uba
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-8535-0.ch022
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This chapter identifies the various types and features of scam emails as a genre of computer-mediated communication. The types identified include money transfer, investment scam, inheritance claim, next-of-kin claim, charity donation scam, foreign aid scam, foreign lottery scam and email account lottery scam. The study also describes the linguistic and discourse features of these types of scam emails and argues that the more knowledge of online financial crimes that is created and disseminated, the more people are informed and empowered to protect themselves against them. This study hopes to contribute significantly to literature on phishing attacks and online financial crimes.
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Studies in linguistics, law, cybercrime and cybersecurity have recognized the menace of phishing and email scams, many of which are said to originate in Nigeria (Heyd, 2008). Zook (2007, p.65) particularly argued that advance fee fraud “has strong historic ties to Nigeria” with a global network that operates in other countries. Email scams by Nigerians have been said to be justified as a way of providing reparations for crimes against Africans, who were cheated through slave trade and colonialism. This argument has assisted scammers to rationalize their crimes, convincing themselves that scamming is justifiable given these special circumstances. The idea of Nigerians being the kingpins of scam reached such an embarrassing height that the Nigerian Government formulated a legal injunction about scam being punishable by law. “419”, which has come to be known as a synonym for scam, is a section of the Nigerian criminal code, dealing with advance fee fraud (Chiluwa, 2010).

The first studies of email scams adopted linguistic approaches to investigate the English competence of the writers of scam emails for a clue to the origin of the scammers (see Blommaert, 2005). Also, Blommaert & Omoniyi (2006) argued that while the authors of scam emails demonstrated technical skills in the use of information technology, they lacked the corresponding linguistic competence to produce the appropriate messages to reflect the credible identities and relationships in the proposed transactions. More recently, however, Taiwo (2012) argued that scammers had “improved” in terms of how the messages were constructed.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Scam: A fraudulent or deceptive act, especially armed at defrauding someone or group of their money or other valuables.

Security Information (Infosec): The practice of preventing unauthorized persons from gaining access, use, disclosure, disruption or destruction of information. It is generally designed to protect the confidentiality, integrity and availability of computer system data from those with malicious intentions.

Fraud: Wrongful or criminal deception intended to result in financial gain; this may involve deliberate concealment or omission or perversion of truth. A person is also described as a fraud if he/she intentionally deceives people by unjustifiably claiming to be what they are not or claiming an accomplishment that is false.

Discourse: Language use in oral or written communication. Computer-mediated discourse is language use in computer-based environments.

Deception: The act of deceiving someone or deliberately making someone believe what is to false.

Phishing: A cybercrime in which someone is contacted by email or phone by someone who disguises as a trustworthy entity and tries to gain their confidence in an attempt to obtain sensitive information from them such as usernames, passwords and credit card details in order to defraud them.

Email: Short form for “electronic mail.”

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