10/10/2008 05:27 pm ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Confessions of a "Nigerian Email Scam" Spammer

How are you doing? hope all is well with you. I am sorry that i didn't inform you about my traveling to England for a program called Empowering youth to fight racism,Hiv/Aids,and lack of education.

I need a favour from you as soon as you recieve this e-mail because i am presently in United Kingdom and i came accros a very good business offer,If i can secure this offer i will make about $7000 profit when im back in the states, i will like you to assist me with a soft loan urgently with thsum of $2,500 US Dollars to sort-out this business and i will pay you back the money with 10% intrest as soon as im back.

I will realy appreciate whatever you can afford and i'll pay you back as soon as i return,Kindly let me know if you can be of help? so that i can send you the Details to use when sending the money through western union.I look forward to read from you soon.


This was the email that went out under my Hotmail address last week to hundreds of my contacts.

The thing was, I didn't write it.

I first became aware of the fact that someone had hacked into my Hotmail account and used it to perpetrate a version of the "Nigerial Email Scam" when my mom called me, mere seconds after having received the offending email to tell me: "Someone stole your identity! You have to call the police. You have to call the FBI. You have to call the credit bureaus..."

She had to be mistaken. This was not possible. I mean, I was using my Hotmail account just minutes before.

Except that she was not mistaken. When I clicked on my "Sent" messages, there it was. Panic rose in my throat as I considered whether people might believe that I was actually asking them for money. Or whether they would know that it was a fake but deride me for having become vulnerable to a hacking, somehow.

And anyway, how did someone send a message from my account in the first place?

My friend S clicked in, and I hung up on my mom, who as much as I love her, was doing a superb job of pointing out the problems afoot, but not really doing much to help me to arrive at solutions. S, a particularly calm and clever law school friend, calmed me down immediately by pointing out that all was not lost since I was still able to access my account.

What was odd about that was that it soon became apparent that the hacker had already changed my password, which meant that I might not be able to access my account for long.

So, I had to figure out a way to change my password yet again, thus fully wresting control of my account from my hacker. The problem was that in order to change my password, I needed the current password. And only the hacker could help me with that. And he wasn't talking (except to ask for money from my friends, professional contacts and others who had made the seeming mistake of entrusting me with their email addresses).

So, I had to go through the "Forgotten Password" procedure, which offered me two choices. One was to have my password sent to me at my "alternate email address". Unfortunately, this was out of the question, since I quickly discovered that my hacker had already changed the "alternate email address" to his own. The other choice was to use my "secret question".

I held my breath as I typed the answer to my "secret question". What was the name of my first pet anyway? When I opened my Hotmail account 10 years ago, was I thinking of my first dog? Or was I thinking of a pet turtle that I had before that? If I had been thinking of the dog, would I have typed her full name? Or her nickname? And what if my hacker had already changed the answer to my "secret question"?

Somehow, by some miracle, I typed the magic words, and Hotmail allowed me to create a new password. (Now that I think about it, it is actually quite disturbing how easy it was to do so, which goes a long way to explaining how my account got hacked in the first place.)

You might be wondering why I didn't call someone at Hotmail to help me with this. Well, let me tell you: I tried. But apparently, Hotmail doesn't have an emergency fraud line, or for that matter, any sort of help line. All you can do is email them and wait for a response, which in my case came many hours later in the form of a list of ways to avoid being hacked in the first place.

But anyway, after rejoicing at having gotten my account back and after drafting an apologetic email to all of my contacts ("Please send no money, and please accept my apologies..."), which I could not even send until nearly 24 hours later because my hacker had used up all of my emailing privileges for the day (who knew there was a limit on how many emails you could send out in a day on Hotmail?), I was finally able to sit back and enjoy the hilarity of some of the email replies my hacker's handiwork had wrought.

Here are my favorites:

-- "Thanks for writing me about this. I'm really interested in this offer. Can you send me more details after you kindly go fuck yourself?"

-- "What's going on there? Does your husband know about this? Do you really need money? If you're in some kind of trouble, I can help you."

-- "I don't get it. What do the children w/aids have to do with the business opportunity that will make you $7000 and for which you're requesting a loan?" (the friend who wrote this later told me that he was just "messin' with the hacker"... but I wonder... was he really just considering an irresistible business deal? Hmmmm).

Another friend wrote only after I sent my apology: "We just sent $10,000. We thought you needed it. Please let me know who to call to get it back."

But my favorite reply was from a friend who assumed that I had, in fact, written the initial email, but that I had intended it as a satire. He commented that while it was "mildly funny", it contained "insufficient pathos." When I explained the actual circumstances, he was the one who told me that I need to write about this experience.

And so, in honor of A, who made me laugh the hardest on a most unpleasant day, I give you the following "Nigerian Email Scam" that, if I were so inclined, I would really write:

"Dear Beloved Freind or Email contact,

I am Miss Lauren Cahn from Westchester. I come from living in New YOrk City for 20 years and now find myselff to be stranded in small town oppression by gas prices extortion and road kill, and with no use for my stilettos because all of the ladies are wearing Uggs instead. What disturbs me most is my allergies, and I fear for the welfare of my nosejob.

I have learned recently of an opportunity that I might purchase an handbag in one Store in city. That handbag is one that my doctor say may make me suffer less the agonies of being strended in not the big city. It is called "BIRKIN" and your kindliness could help me to put it to a good usage.

I only will set out to utilize the Birkin for godly purposes like taking it with me to visit orphans who are sick with the hiv/aids and lack of education.

Unfortunately, the Store will not release the bag into my possession wtihout the payment by me of the sum of $4,000. I do not want to ask you for this sum. But I am going to ask you for this sum.

As soon as I receive your reply I shall give you the contact of a BANK in Kumbaya. I will also issue you a letter of authority that will give you absolutely no power over this money in the future.

Your reward is my happiness. My happiness is my reward. Your happiness is not really a part of this, but your money is. So send some please and I shall send prayers for you to my alma mother. Please be always prayerful and send me the money so that I may get my Birkin bag and help the orphans with aids and lack of education.

Please assure me that you will act accordingly as I so stated in this letter to which I wrote to you in the hobnestest recesses of my material desires. Remain blessed my beloved friend amd send me your money as soon as possible/.

Blessed be Birkin Bags,

Miss Lauren C"