How to Get a Doctorate in Six Weeks

I assume this is only a coincidence but still, it’s a good one.

Shortly after putting out the first half of our “Freakonomics Goes to College” podcast, which included a segment on the market for fake diplomas from counterfeiters and diploma mills, I got the following piece of spam. It appears to be from a Norwegian e-mail domain:

And here’s the offer:

I hope they also give you a fake grammar course to go with the fake diploma. This is one of the worst-written pieces of spam I’ve ever read — and it’s not even from Nigeria!


I think that's actually very well written for spam. Heck, it's better written than some work emails I've received.


That's actually one of the best written and most comprehensible pieces of spam I've ever read.

Seminymous Coward

What makes you think it isn't from Nigeria? The from address on an email is exactly as certain as the return address on a letter.


Not to mention the phone number is a US number! So quit giving Norway a hard time.


It is a bold move for the clothing company stormberg to go into the (fake) university business, but if you are standing still, you are falling behind, and it seems to be lucrative business =) (on a more serious the note: the Norwegian terrorist Anders Bering Breivik actually financed part of his operation with false diplomas.)


A quick search for the address reveals that, although the name of the "owner" seems to change frequently, he/she should be able to provide with a Rolex replica as well to go with the increased salary.


What about the recent research that suggests that (contrary to intuition) spam tends to be poorly written and outlandish because it's more effective that way? e.g. Spam works because the most gullible people respond to it. People who would discount an offer because of grammatical errors or seemingly ludicrous claims are not in the target demographic -- they need to be weeded out.

If you were NOT a college graduate, and were a person who believed that you could get a university degree in just four weeks, would you even notice spelling/grammar issues? The spam author would get the most lucrative results by getting those people to self identify.


School starts next week-- only three years left until my PhD. For one glorious second, I hoped Dubner had found a shortcut. If I've learned anything from reading Dubner's articles, though, it's to read to the end of the article before deciding to quit your job and withdraw from all your classes. Then again, maybe Australia has discovered a trans-poo-sion that will make me smarter...


The poor grammar is likely deliberate. It helps filter out the people who respond to the spam but are too smart to go through the entire process. The cost of sending more spam is infitesimal, but the cost of dealing with a potential customer who doesn't fall for the whole scam is very high. Given what a large industry spam now represents, the spammers clearly have the knowledge and the means to create good grammar when they want to. Another related point - phishing attacks, such as the ones pretending to be your bank or PayPal, usually have exceedingly good grammar.


That you mention Nigeria is reprehensible. I don't doubt that such have come from dat land but far more scam/spam/fraud emanates from the US. When media and reports show otherwise, I start to wonder who d bigger scammers are.


There are plenty of incompetent college graduates, in fact, since virtually everyone who's anyone these days usually is, it's exceedingly difficult for employers to weed out the nincompoops. There will come a day whereby through the use of sophisticated computer programs, stripped down curriculums, and a return to apprenticeships a college degree will not be the end-all-be-all guarantee of gainful employment that it is today. And, frankly, the concept that making it through a bunch of generic courses will make you special and entitled to a good job is stunningly stupid anyway. Of course there are fields of endeavor that benefit from higher learning, but let's face it most kids going to college just want to nab a degree, any degree, as quickly and painlessly as possible. The system is ridiculously archaic and the only ones truly benefiting are the colleges who are already showing signs of pricing themselves out of the market.


Ian M

Now this is badly written. I was stringing along a scammer for a while. This is one of the last responses I received.

Thanks for getting back to me, I agree with the price,
concerning the payment, i will be paying you via bank to bank transfer
or PayPal.. if you don't have PayPal you can create one
( The reason why is that i don't have access to any
other means payment than Bank transfer or PayPal because am on the sea
right now,So let me know the mode of payment you will prefer in the
option, Concerning the pick up, You need not worry yourself as i
have a contact of shipping company that will be handling the pick up
and all the paper work.i have already contact the shipping company and
they are ready to come and pick it up after i have pay you.

Hope to hear from you soonest...

Have a nice day


The writer of this segment refers to "Do not you think that it is time...." as being the "worst written pieces of spam..." he has ever read. Unfortunately for the writer of this segment, the grammar written in the 'email spam is perfect. 'Do not' is short for 'Don't' which in common usage would be read as 'Don't you't think that [it's] it is time...", but anyone with proper grammatical skills would know that we, who are properly educated, do not use contractions in the written form and do so only when we are speaking. Just to be clear, the email is in fact, absolutely grammatically correct.