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Why do Spam Emails Have a Lot of Misspellings?

Dana Hinders
Updated May 16, 2024
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Although the Internet has revolutionized the way we live, it has also created a whole new set of annoyances for savvy web surfers. Spam emails, unsolicited junk messages hawking free porn, cheap Viagra, or discount car insurance, can quickly clog up your inbox. In fact, some experts believe that almost 80% of the email sent each day can be classified as spam. If you use email throughout your workday, dealing with spam emails can seem like an overwhelming task.

Companies that send spam to unsuspecting Internet users have several different methods they use to collect email addresses. Some spammers buy customer lists from large corporations, while others use computers that are programmed to automatically harvest email addresses from websites and online newsgroups. In some cases, spammers will merely randomly generate address combinations in hopes of reaching an active email account.

Unfortunately, the companies that send spam emails have developed several different tricks to evade even the most sophisticated spam filters and spam blockers. Anti-spam software works by analyzing the text of an email for keywords that indicate the subject of the message. Purposely misspelling words allows spam emails to slip through the cracks without permanently obscuring the meaning of the text. Another common tactic is to use substitutions such as the number “0” for the letter “o” – spelling “free mortgage quotes” as “free m0rtgage qu0tes.”

If you receive spam emails that appear to be complete gibberish, you can assume the message was originally written in a foreign language. The Internet has opened up new opportunities for global entrepreneurs, including spammers. However, most computers in English-speaking countries can’t display the unique characters used in Chinese or Japanese text. Commonly, email software will simply render these spam emails as a jumble of random letters, boxes, sun symbols, and upside down question marks.

While spam emails are almost impossible to eliminate, you can help reduce the number of unwanted emails you receive by taking a few simple precautions. Learn how your email account handles spam so you can take full advantage of available spam filters and spam blockers. Don’t give your work or school email address to anyone online; set up a separate email account to use for answering online surveys or posting on Internet message boards. Turn off your computer’s auto return receipt acknowledgment feature and never personally respond to a spam email, since you’ll only give the spammer confirmation that your email address is active. Finally, invest in a firewall for additional Internet security.

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Dana Hinders
By Dana Hinders , Writer
With a B.A. in Journalism and Mass Communication from the University of Iowa, Dana Hinders brings a strong foundation to her work as a freelance writer. After discovering her passion for freelance writing following the birth of her son, Dana has been a vital part of the EasyTechJunkie team. She also showcases her versatility by creating sales copy and content for e-courses and blogs.

Discussion Comments

By anon994396 — On Feb 05, 2016

There may be another explanation for bad spelling in spam. A spammer is a con artist and relies on targeting susceptible people. Having a majority of recipients effectively recognizing and trashing misspelled spam is actually a great filter for a spammer. If I were a spammer, sending out millions of spam emails, I certainly wouldn’t want millions of replies from savvy people who would suss out the scam along the way anyway and waste my time. I only want replies from people who are vulnerable to untruths. So, if you are silly or stupid enough to answer a clearly bogus, misspelled spam email, then you fit into my target group.

Scams often take considerable time and effort to get from the starting point of an initial reply to the final sting. It is absolutely necessary to be able to hook the silly, stupid or perceptually challenged.

By anon256928 — On Mar 24, 2012

The type of spam I usually receive (hundreds daily), are not only misspelled or have misleading titles, but have something of what kind of looks like graffiti in the title. They have like stray marks in them. Anyone else get these? I just find it strange.

By orangey03 — On Dec 14, 2011

I started getting spam emails after I registered at a message board and chat room. It got so annoying that I attempted to create my own filters.

I made filters for every email involving certain words that popped up often in spam. This worked for a little while, but then, I started getting the emails with the misspelled subject lines.

There was no possible way for me to create filters for all the different misspellings that could be attempted, so I had to give up. Slowly but surely, my inbox began to receive more spam than my junk folder.

By lighth0se33 — On Dec 13, 2011

I get more spam emails at work than at my personal address. I think this is because the computer tech had to get rid of some filters that were blocking legitimate emails from customers.

I work at a newspaper, and we get a lot of our article ideas and information through email. The filters were tagging too many of them as spam because of certain words used, and this was hindering our efficiency.

Once the filters were removed, everyone at work started getting several misspelled spam emails every night. I would get to work in the morning and have maybe ten emails with variations on the spelling in the subject line. Mostly, the emails were trying to sell various wonder pills aimed at improving sexual performance.

By Perdido — On Dec 13, 2011

@seag47 – That is funny! I have actually used unwanted catalogs for that very purpose before. I don't mind the extra paper, but I hate sorting through unwanted emails.

I always act like I don't have an email address when I order something online, which I know must seem odd to the company. They don't always require one, though, so I just provide them with my physical address. I am trying to convince my sister to do the same.

I have seen tons of misspelled spam emails in my sister's inbox. She registered with an online dating company, and now she gets all these male enhancement and porn emails with strange spellings or letters replaced with characters here and there.

She told me that after the company finds her perfect mate for her, she will get rid of that email address. It would be really embarrassing for her boyfriend to see those emails and think that she really is into that stuff.

By seag47 — On Dec 12, 2011

If you ever read the fine print when you get a new credit card or subscribe to certain magazines, you will see that they say they may share your information with their affiliate companies. Though we wouldn't think of this as a way for spammers to get our email addresses, it could be a way for them to get away with selling our information without getting sued.

As long as they clearly state that they may let some other company see your personal information, they have an out. If you don't want spam coming to your mailbox because of this, then just don't give them your email address.

Opt to get junk snail mail instead. At least you can use that as scrap paper or training paper for your puppy!

By golf07 — On Dec 12, 2011

Do you think most companies who say they are not going to sell your email address really mean what they say?

I think more of that happens than what we realize. I have email spam protection on my main email account, but even then, some of them get through every now and then. Now I understand why they have the misspelled words.

I had a friend who opened up a new email account for every kind of form or company he gave an email address to.

This was a little bit time consuming, but it gave him an idea of which companies were selling his email address.

I don't think I would take the time to take those kind of measures, but it would give you a good idea of who might be sending the spam.

By LisaLou — On Dec 11, 2011

@honeybees - Here is a suggestion I tried in an effort to cut down on the amount of spam I was receiving.

I opened up a completely separate email account that I used for anything online. Anytime I ordered anything from a company, or filled out any kind of form, I would use this separate email address.

My personal email address was used only for friends and family. This made a huge difference in stopping the spam emails I was receiving in my personal email account.

I do think most email providers are doing a better job of filtering out the spam email from the ones you want to read.

Many people say it is good to check your spam folder once in awhile just to make sure you haven't missed anything important.

When I look through the list of emails that have automatically gone to my spam folder, I can't believe how many of them there are.

Another thing to remember is to never open up an attachment in an email unless you trust and know the person it came from. This can really save you from some computer troubles. Spam emails that have attachments are really bad news.

By honeybees — On Dec 10, 2011

Even though I hate spam as much as everybody else, sometimes I can't help but laugh at the way some of them are worded.

This is usually my first clue to know if something is really legitimate or not. Not only are there several words that are misspelled, but the content of the message and words just don't sound right.

More than once I have closed down a personal email account and opened up a new one in an attempt to stop spam emails from cluttering up my inbox.

This seems to work good for awhile, and then it doesn't take long before I feel overwhelmed with them again. It never surprises me the tactics people will use to send you spam.

By discographer — On Dec 10, 2011

@turkay1-- I don't think it's a good excuse to say "oh well, no matter what we do, they're going to make something better." I don't think our anti-spam software companies are on top of things enough. Clearly spammers are working harder than they are and that's why they seem to be one step ahead.

If spammers can evade spam-blockers by misspelling words, why can't we make an email spam filter that weeds out spam by checking for misspelled words? That would solve the problem.

I understand that some emails which are not spam might slip through into the spam box because of this. But that's already happening right now and I've made it a habit to check my spam folder in case anything important is in there.

By candyquilt — On Dec 09, 2011

We all dislike spam and wish we could get rid of it forever but that seems highly unlikely. Every time a new system for blocking spam is made, spammers are going to come up with something new to get past it just like the article said.

For now, I think misspelled words in email subjects is actually a good way to know what is spam or not. I'm a writer and receive over forty emails every day. Sometimes it's hard for me to know what is spam and what is not. But I've noticed that it's much easier to weed them out when I see a misspelled word. I know that none of my colleagues or friends will misspell words when they email me, so it's like a shout out that it's spam.

The other tactic I've noticed that spammers have started using is adding "Re:" in the beginning of spam email subjects. They make it look like they're responding to an email you sent them. And of course there is the usual bunch of "dear friend, I need your help" spamming emails claiming to be from wealthy aristocrats from Africa.

I always pay attention to these things when I open my inbox. But I completely agree with the article that this whole process is just exhaustive. Especially considering that we have to do it several times a day. Otherwise it would be impossible to manage my emails.

By fify — On Dec 09, 2011

This is so interesting! I receive spam emails that are misspelled all the time. I was assuming that either the person sending it has poor vocabulary or is foreign. I had no idea that this is a tactic to evade spam-blockers.

This also explains why I get so many spam emails even though I have a firewall in place and I block spam emails through my email provider daily.

Of course I never reply to spam emails, I don't even open them because I heard that opening them can cause my computer to get a virus.

Dana Hinders

Dana Hinders


With a B.A. in Journalism and Mass Communication from the University of Iowa, Dana Hinders brings a strong foundation to...
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