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Typos Give Away a Scam Artist

By Mary Bagg

My husband Bob, who is a poet and a translator of ancient Greek drama, got an email out of the blue yesterday inviting him to speak for an hour on 30 April 2012 at King’s College in London (Strand Campus) about a rather daunting topic, the “Mystery of Life and Death.” The person who wrote the letter, one “Prof. Christopher Orton,” said (among other things) that because Bob’s profile on the Poets & Writers website “was up to standard,” the college would take care of his plane fare, hotel accommodations, and a speaker’s fee.  Orton urged Bob to reply quickly, and state the amount he wished to be paid. All for one hour’s work! This deal, of course, sounded somewhat suspicious, if not in the least because rarely are guest lecturers at an academic symposium chosen on the merits of their web profiles, no matter how spectacular, and, in any case, a symposium such as this one would likely have been booked months and months in advance. But the dead giveaway, at least for the editor in me, was the following: “We will be very glad to have such an outstanding person in our mist.”

London fog notwithstanding, this was a howler, and there were more typos to be found. In one paragraph the “Prof” wrote that arrangements would be discussed as soon as “you honour our invitation.” In the next paragraph he stated: “A formal Letter of invitation and Contract agreement would be sent to you as soon as you honor our Invitation.” Let’s ignore the odd locution and inconsistent capitalization. The difference between British and American spelling (honour and honor) suggests that someone on one side of the Atlantic might have been trying to impersonate someone on the other. The more obvious clue to the scam was that despite an accurate address and postal code for the Strand campus, the Prof sent this official announcement through a gmail account.

So what did the scammer hope to achieve by promising this all-expenses-paid invitation? Evidently a “processing fee” to facilitate the “Contract,” as Bob found out later from another poet friend who found notice of the “prank” on Facebook.

The moral of the story is not a new or terribly exciting one—if you want a letter (or an email) to be taken seriously you had better make a serious attempt to ensure that it is error free.

Which reminds me—and since I am “allowed” to digress in a blog, I will—of the recent fuss about Downton Abbey and some of the language-based gaffs the scriptwriters have let by, things that a person in England during World War I would never have said (for instance, the maid who shrugs her shoulders and says, “I’m just sayin’”). And that reminds me of reading what the British playwright Tom Stoppard said in an interview about Arcadia, a play in which the dialogue of Byron scholars from the nineteenth and twentieth century is juxtaposed: “It’s a great advantage and a bonus to have, really, two different languages—both of them English—in the same play.” That phenomenon, as this and On Point’s recent postings prove, happens in prose all the time, and in the same century, when the two English languages are British and American.

Another line from Arcadia stands out in my memory, and is especially relevant to our mission at Berkshire and to everyone in pursuit of knowledge: “It’s the wanting to know that makes us matter.”

I wonder what the guest speakers at King’s College will have to say about the mysteries of life and death?

8 thoughts on “Typos Give Away a Scam Artist

  1. I just got the exact same e-mail! It looked suspicious to me, so I googled Orton and eventually found your blog, which confirmed my sense that it was a scam. But for what? Didn’t ask (yet) for any money. Anyway, thanks for writing about it.

  2. I received the same letter. I thought all the typos were only because he was in a hurry, so I replied. I thought I was replacing some speaker who had fallen out. It wasn’t until I got the contract that I wondered. The contract stated that the fee I asked for would be sent by moneygram directly into my bank account as soon as they made the travel arrangements. I’m going to call London, to confirm that there really is a Christopher Orton on the faculty, and to see if they do have a conference labeled “A New Dawn”

  3. I wrote the following to King’s College:


    I don’t know whether I should write to you, but I couldn’t find another likely email address on the King’s College web site.
    I received the email below from someone purporting to work for King’s, offering to fly me to London to speak on the topic “Mystery of Life and Death”. The gentleman claims to have found my profile on the poets & writers web site. As a poet, I suppose I may have some rather tangential familiarity with that topic, though probably not enough to warrant such an extravagant invitation. Having taught six times in summer programs at Middlesex University between 1990 and 2001, I wish that the invitation did not seem so obviously bogus, though I would not presume to expatiate on so lofty a subject, especially since I have not experienced its second half and returned to tell the secrets of the crypt.

    I just want to alert King’s College that “Prof. Mark Kennedy” (whose name does not appear among your staff) has sent me–and probably others–this spurious missive.
    Evidently, he takes me for a “mark.” I suspect that his interest lies in the life and death of my bank account.
    Perhaps your IT experts can track the fellow down and encourage him to desist from his buffoonery.


    Daniel Zimmerman, Ph.D.
    Professor of English
    Middlesex County College
    Edison, NJ 08902

  4. May 26, 2012
    I just got the same letter for the same conference – spelling mistakes, et al. The email also said they found me on a Poet’s and Writer’s listing. Thank you for your posting on this scam.

  5. Yep, I just got one too, supposedly from a college in the UK (I’m in Australia). I understand they subsequently ask for Passport and credit card details for ‘visa purposes’…the consequences of which lead to a world of pain.

  6. Mary, Thanks for the warning–it seems there are many variations in this scatter shot scam. My e-mail, just received, was from a “Prof. Harry Stewart,” and the scam crew had apparently read your post and corrected the spelling of “mist”/”midst” However, the rest of that sentence contains yet another grammatical problem: “…for these overwhelming gathering.” “These” for “This” suggests to me a foreign writer–without command of either British or American English. Check out “…include your Speaking fees in your email so IT can be included in ….. Variations on a theme/scheme. –Linda

  7. And they’re still at it as of July 30, although mine came from a Prof. Harry Stewart. Same scam, though. I Googled the college and the alleged program, and your blog came up first. Thanks to you for setting the record straight.

  8. I just received the same email – also via P&W – and was immediately suspicious. Thanks for posting this information. I hope that someone will find a way to stop this sort of foolishness! I shall simply delete the invitation.

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