Charlie's Diary

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Sat, 02 Oct 2004

When data mining attacks

Funny what drops through the letter box when you're about to go away for a week, isn't it? Normally spam goes straight into the rubbish bin, but this one slipped through the net because it appeared to be a letter from a publisher and was therefore of some interest. So I opened it up, and this is what I found:

Dear Mr Stross,

My great hobby is researching ancestry.

Over the last few decades, during which I have carried out intensive research using countless genealogical archives, I have repeatedly stumbled across a whole host of sources containing information about the Stross family name. Having collected a great deal of data, I have now decided to publish the fascinating history of your name in book form. In dealing with the hundreds of christenings, marriages and deaths involved, I have restricted myself to the use of recognized sources. The outcome of all my efforts has resulted in a publication which should greatly interest you:

The Stross Family Chronicle

You, yourself -- as a descendant of this old name which goes back centuries -- are also included in this edition!

The chronicle details the historical development of the Stross name. The genealogical index alone covers some 25 pages (approx 1/3 of the book) and dates back several centuries to approx. 1625. I have also included surname variants. Besides dealing with the origin, significance and development of the surnamed in general, the book also deals with the history of heraldry (coats of arms) ...

I'm sure my Jewish ancestors would be fascinated to hear about all these christenings that went on. And I'd very much like to get my hands on whatever time machine "William Pince Publishers" used to edit history, ensuring that the Stross family name did indeed go back to 1625, seeing as how my Polish-Jewish immigrant ancestors changed their name to Stross just three generations ago, round about 1905. (Anglicizing their somewhat less pronouncable name to a mis-spelling of a German name.)

But there's more. For William Pince, Genealogist and Chairman of the S. G. N. Genealogical Foundation (not to mention owner of an offshore company -- registered in Holland -- that uses a secretarial service and fax number in London) goes on to explain:

In addition to this special offer, I have two more bonuses in store for you, if you decide to take up this advance order.

  1. In the course of my research I came across a magnificent Stross coat of arms.
    This coat of arms has been printed onto parchment paper (20x28cm) in the authentic century-old colouring -- a design comparable to expensive hand-painted heraldry. This beautiful coat of arms is yours TOTALLY FREE OF CHARGE when you place an advance order.

Parchment paper would of course be authentic sheepskin made from acid-free wood-pulp, and the authentic century-old colouring would be applied using an authentic centuries-old inkjet printer. But I must say I'm disappointed in Mr Pince's research; for he failed to take note of my address, and I'd be very interested in seeing what his diligent research could dig up by way of a Stross family tartan. Not to mention a Stross family title of nobility, a Stross family tree, and a Stross family motto. (As I am led to understand that my great-grandfather met my great-grandmother on the return leg of a business trip from Brussels to Tehran, on foot through the Balkans in the late 1870's -- yes, my family reproduce at sufficiently long intervals that my grandfather fought in the First World War and my father served in the Second -- I suspect he'd have to do rather a lot of digging. Either that, or make things up out of whole cloth on the assumption that anyone ignorant enough to use such a service is probably not going to realize they're being bilked.)

Anyway, as they say, you get what you pay for. Especially if what you pay for is a copy of the phone book, a mailmerge program, and a scheme evidently aimed at extracting cash from the rootless and vulnerable.

[Discuss scams]

posted at: 11:14 | path: /misc | permanent link to this entry


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