I got tons of “wrong number” spam, and I don’t hate it?

The text that arrived at 3:51 p.m. on Monday, March 28 seemed innocent at first glance.

“Mr. Steven,” it read, “I’m so sorry, after our communication and understanding during this time, I feel we are not suitable in some ways.”

That’s strange, I thought, it must be a wrong number. But who was this mysterious Mr. Steven? What was the nature of the disagreement? What did Mr. Steven do to offend this person? I was intrigued, but not enough to answer.

Several weeks later, I received another text, this time from someone named “Amy” asking for “a place to have coffee.” A few days later, “Irene from Vietnam” contacted me to ask if I was still living in New York. And then “Sophia” texted me, calling me “Laura” and asking me about a party we both attended over the weekend.

These “wrong number” texts are clearly the work of a fraudster, but honestly, I don’t really mind. To me, they’re more sublime than boring, hinting at a possible missed match or mistaken identity. The fact that they don’t openly solicit me for money or outright phish me helps relieve some of that. They are certainly more tolerable than the torrent of emails I received from irresponsible Democratic politicians begging for more money in the wake of Roe vs. Wade being overthrown.

Max Read wrote about this “wrong issue” text spam phenomenon in his latest Substack, calling it a “rich world, alive with detail and alive with mystery”, and I tend to agree. Spam is more prevalent than ever – a recent study found that Americans receive an average of 3.7 fraudulent calls and 1.5 fraudulent text messages per day – and practically all of it is banal and forgettable.

This new kind of spam is not. And that’s probably what makes it more pernicious, but I can’t get myself upset about it.

Read takes a deep dive — I encourage you to read his essay — into what are likely “romance scams,” also known in China as “pig butchering” scams. They play on the loneliness, sympathy or general ignorance of the recipients to lure them into a kind of fraud which usually results in a scam with a lot of money. We all love a good scam story, but honestly, these types of scams aren’t good because they mostly prey on low-income people.

The way they do it is quite simple. The sender is meant to be wealthy – or at least outgoing, outgoing, and fun-loving – which helps lure the brand into a whole world of fake personas and fraudulent events. There are charity galas, steak dinners, and high-end business trips.

But Read notes that the opposite is likely to be true, as the scammers are most likely “an abused, captive worker using multiple phones and attempting to scam multiple people from a compound operated by shady gambling networks somewhere in South East Asia”.

It’s certainly a bummer, but if I had to choose, I’d take these oddly literary text messages on any call to renew my car’s extended warranty. (And they’re definitely preferable to those spam emails of your own phone number, like The edgereported Chris Welch.)

If you’re not like me and prefer your phone to be spam-free, the Better Business Bureau recommends that you take three steps to prevent it: ignore messages; block numbers; and never give your personal information to strangers. The edge also published a detailed guide on how to completely avoid these types of messages. It all seems pretty obvious, but again, it’s America, where a TikTok video about “normalized scams” has gone so viral that people are begging it to stop.

These erroneous messages seem to reflect a growing desperation among the world’s scammers. They’re running out of gullible baby boomers to cheat on, so their tactics are getting more sophisticated — or at least less boring. For my part, I do not really manage to arouse too much indignation on this subject. It seems like a small price to pay for carrying all the knowledge in the world in your pocket.


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