Another Internet scam that targets — English professors? Or, yet another way that writing well can help you win friends and influence people.

I’ve just received a scam message, purportedly from my friend, Bruce A., a well-respected writing teacher and poet:

How are you doing? I am sorry I didn’t inform you about my traveling for a Missionary program called Empowering Youth to Fight Racism, HIV/AIDS, Poverty and Lack of Education. It is currently held in Nigeria, Sweden and Kenya. I am presently in Nigeria. It as been a very sad and bad moment for me because I got robbed on my way to the hotel where I lodged. My ID, Credit card, cash and other valuables I have with me got stolen, I contacted the embassy here to help me out but it will take some time to get back to me. I urgently need your financial assistance. The total sum of money that i would need would be $2,450 to sort-out my hotel bills and get myself back home. I will appreciate your help, I promise I will pay you back upon my return, Let me know if you can assist me so that i can send you the details to use when sending the money through western union.

Hope to hear from you soon.

Now, even if I hadn’t heard from Bruce a couple of weeks ago, I would have known instantly that he didn’t send this message: he’s far too good a writer to have capitalized credit card and not have capitalized Western Union. Incorrect capitalization is the practice of people who don’t read much in English other than advertising. Also, he would have used a second comma in the list of countries and a third in the ostensible name of the group (EYFRHAPLE is a terrible acronym, isn’t it?), would have known that sort out should not have been hyphenated, and have been aware that the last thing in the world he should have sent to an editor is a sentence containing the phrase the hotel where I lodged.

Any editor in the English-speaking world would have snapped immediately, “Why would you have been going to a hotel where you weren’t lodged?” That’s how our minds work; we’re trained to leap upon even implied redundancy.

I knew right away that this couldn’t possibly be from Bruce, and thus must be a scam. Habitual good grammar and punctuation save the day again!

It only goes to show you: in writing, the little details matter. Please, everybody, watch out for this scam — and Bruce, in case the hackers have locked you out of your account, your address book denizens are receiving some pretty odd e-mails with your name on them.

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