The text that arrived at 3:51 PM on Monday, March 28, initially seemed harmless.
“Mr. Steven,” it read, “I am very sorry, after our communication and understanding during this period, I feel we are not suitable in some respects.”
That’s strange, I thought, must be a wrong number. But who was this mysterious Mr Steven? What was the nature of the disagreement? What the hell has Mr. Steven done to offend this person? I was intrigued – but not enough to react.
A few weeks later, I received another text message, this time from someone named “Amy” asking about “a location for coffee.” A few days later, “Irene from Vietnam” asked if I still lived in New York. And then “Sophia” texted me, called me “Laura” and asked about a party we both attended over the weekend.
These “wrong number” lyrics are clearly the work of some fraudster, but frankly I don’t mind. To me they are more sublime than annoying, hinting at a possible missed connection or mistaken identity. The fact that they don’t openly ask me for money or just phishing me outright helps take some of the sting out of it. They are certainly more bearable than the deluge of emails I’ve received from gullible Democratic politicians begging for more money in the wake of Roe v. Wade is overthrown.
I’m 100 percent sure this text with the wrong number is some kind of a scam, but I appreciate that criminals have finally moved from selling car warranties to whatever this is pic.twitter.com/ltSoJmpwGz
— Casey Newton (@CaseyNewton) May 2, 2022
Max Read wrote about this phenomenon of “wrong number” text spam in his most recent Substack, calling it “a rich world, animated by details and alive with mystery,” and I tend to agree. Spam is ubiquitous than ever – a recent survey found that Americans receive an average of 3.7 scam calls and 1.5 scam messages per day – and practically everything is banal and forgettable.
This new spam genre is not. And that’s probably what makes it more harmful, but I can’t worry too much about it.
Read takes a deep dive – I encourage you to read his essay – into what is probably “romantic scams”, otherwise known in China as “pig slaughterhouse”. They play on the loneliness, sympathy, or general ignorance of the recipients to trick them into a type of fraud that usually leads to them being ripped off out of a ton of money. We all love a good scam story, but frankly, these types of scams are not good because they mainly prey on low-income people.
The way they do that is quite simple. The sender is implied to be rich – or at least outgoing, sociable and fun – which helps set the mark in a whole world of fake characters and fraudulent events. There are charity galas, steak dinners and luxury business trips.
But Read notes that the opposite is likely true, as the scammers are most likely “an abused and imprisoned employee who operates multiple telephones and tries to scam several people from a compound run by shady gambling circles somewhere in Southeast Asia.”
That’s a shame, sure, but if I had to choose, I’d give these weird literary text messages more importance than any appeal to extend my car’s extended warranty. (And they’re definitely preferable to those spam messages from your own phone number, like The edgeChris Welch reported.)
If you’re not like me and you’d rather your phone be spam-free, the Better Business Bureau recommends taking three actions to avoid them: ignore the messages; block the numbers; and never give out your personal information to strangers. The edge has also published a detailed guide on how to avoid these types of posts altogether. It all seems pretty obvious, but then again, this is America, where a TikTok video about “normalized scams” went so viral that people are begging him to stop.
These wrong message texts seem to indicate a growing desperation among the scammers of the world. They’re running out of gullible boomers to defraud, so their tactics are getting more sophisticated — or at least less annoying. For example, I can’t muster too much indignation about it. It seems a small price to pay to have all the knowledge of the world in your pocket.