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Spam names

There was this thing going around awhile ago, the “porn star name,” which you create by taking the name of your childhood pet, followed by the name of the street where you grew up (for example, Blitz Clifton).

But recently I’ve been thinking about spam names. Just in the last two days, I’ve received emails from “Blair Williams” (“I’m sorry to have to tell you this. Tomorrow is the last day that the 40% discount will be available.”), “Audrey Woods” (“I wanted to reach out to you to let you know that we just launched an infographic . . .”), “Steven Harris” (“Part-Time Job – Earn $600/day in your spare-time”), and “Nick Bagnall” (“I sent you an email some weeks ago concerning . . .”). Actually, I think “Nick Bagnall” is probably a real person who’s just spamming me. But the first three names above look fake fake fake. And then there were “George Stoneriver,” Scott Wolfe,” and just plain “Paul,” who were sockpuppeting our discussion on compressed sensing a couple months ago.

And does anyone remember “Alexa Russell,” “Maricel Anderson,” and “Marty McKee” from a couple years back? Apparently Mr. McKee is a real person who just did some spamming on the side (as Kahneman and Tversky might say, “Marty is a real person and is active in the spamanist movement”), but I’m guessing that Alexa Russell and Maricel Anderson are fakes. They look like fake names, don’t they?

So what is it about a spam name? It sounds generic, but not too generic (no John Smiths, surely). “George Stoneriver” and “Audrey Woods” fit the pattern, but “Nick Bagnall” is too quirky. The rules are not so clear. And, of course, if you happen to be named “Audrey Woods” for real, you’re screwed, as everyone will be sending your messages straight to the spam folder. Unfair, I know, but the same thing must happen to people named John Smith who try to register at hotels, no? And a lot of people are named John Smith.

To create a good spammer name, you perhaps need a certain nonchalance, so as to conceal all art and make whatever one does or says appear to be without effort and almost without any thought about it.

Perhaps there is a simple algorithm to come up with a spammer name, e.g. make a first name out of the first two letters of the names each of your first two children, then make a last name out of the first two letters of the names of each of your last two children. Nah, that would never work! Planned chaos, indeed.

P.S. I suppose I should just switch all the way to gmail and then maybe more of my spam would get caught? But I’d like to be able to continue to use the mac email reader, as it allows me to read and write emails while offline.

P.P.S. The people in the above image are not porn stars.

P.P.P.S. Just out of curiosity, I googled Blitz Clifton—maybe there really is a pornstar with that name? But this is the closest I could find:

The headline: “Brides Blitz Clifton Shop After Rumor It Was Closing”

P.P.P.P.S. Speaking of spam, check our this expose from Nenad SEO. The practices it describes are so sleazy, it just makes me want to barf. Although I’m sure there’s nothing special about online scammers, I’d also be repulsed by student-loan scammers, legal double-billers, and other participants in the scam-industrial complex.


  1. Anonymous says:

    “P.P.S. The people in the above image are not porn stars.”

    They look to me like the Stan team, with AG in a tie ;-)

  2. Ike says:

    One issue with the sites that make spam names that I had to point out to my family is, the questions they typically ask to create the names are the EXACT same questions that are used as security questions on banking and other sites. I am surprised how many people don’t realize that “Your Mother’s Madien Name” is pretty much the same as “Your Maternal Grandmother’s Last Name”

    I wouldn’t enter those for anything or post up a spam named based on those, it may be innocent, but it is also a very good vector for a social engineering attack.

    Just saying….

  3. Dan says:

    There is a spammer that appears in the comments section of ESPN articles named “Fay Turner”. She always claims that you can make $7k a month working for some website. She has become so pervasive that commenters will often make Fay Turner-related jokes, even when she hasn’t posted anything. And of course, you’ll often see comments that reference a since-deleted post by her (or it?). ESPN does not catch them all though.

    When your spamming is so thorough that you become a meme, I’d say that you’ve won the internet.

  4. Econometrician says:

    I think the world would benefit greatly from a twitter maintained by you, Professor Gelman. :)

  5. jonathan says:

    My porn name would be Pooh Woodbank, but I’m not gay so the first name doesn’t work.

  6. WB says:

    I think the formula is: soap opera first name + conventional surname = spammer name.

    That, at least, is my reaction to the Audrey Woods and Alexa Russell examples. Doing a quick wiki search of soap opera characters and common family names, I generated the following potential spammers:

    Lila Stevens
    Grace Anderson
    Victor Wilson
    Spencer Hall
    Pierce Walker
    Trent Young
    Gloria Allen
    Chase Morgan

    That was fun. Now back to work!

  7. jrc says:

    So there is actually an algorithm for this. Fake Name Generator even gives you a choice of country, gender, and age, and offers a fake address, job, email, website – the whole Magillah! (reality +1, comedy -1***)

    For instance, I could be:
    Lana Hamilton

    Birthday: November 1, 1971 (42 years old)

    Occupation: Food batchmaker

    Vehicle: 2004 BMW 320

    Blood type: O+

    UPS Tracking Number: 1Z 466 123 88 5250 789 5

    …I have my own GPS Tracking Number!

    ***”The following tale…is true. And by true, I mean false. It’s all lies. But they’re entertaining lies. And in the end, isn’t that the real truth? The answer is: No.” – Simpsons version of Leonard Nimoy

  8. Sounds like it’s time to repeat your dice experiment of “is it fake data or is it real data”? There’s a very very long tail of names. So just have everyone in your next class write down a fake name and a real name and then have them judge whether the name is real or fake.

    And you can go in between. Look at the list of names on IMDB — actor names are fake names that become real names. Sort of like your references to Pinocchio.

    I think the problem is that every word or name sounds fake when you say it enough. For instance, I just got a notice of a book written by “Russ Woody.” Now that’s a porn name if I’ve ever heard one. (I’m on this spamming book list, that I can’t get off of and doesn’t get filtered.)

    • Ken Williams says:

      Everyone knows you can tell the difference between all real things and all fake things using Benford’s Law. =)

      • Andrew says:

        Ken (or, should I say, “Ken”):

        We can apply this principle recursively. Let’s count the number of letters in each of the words of your post:

        8 5 3 3 4 3 10 7 3 4 6 3 3 4 6 5 7 3

        Transforming to the histogram of first digits:

        1 x
        2 xxxxx xx
        3 xxx
        4 xxx
        5 xx
        6 xx
        7 xx
        8 x

        A clear violation of Benford’s law (no chi-squared test needed, the discrepancy is so large). Hence, you’re a bot.

  9. Helen DeWitt says:

    I have a gmail account (along with a couple of older ones), but I can still read and write emails offline; I have Thunderbird download all emails from all three accounts. They also stay on the server, so if I don’t have my laptop I still have access. It’s easier this way, because I can file emails from all three accounts by sender in one place.

    • Bill Jefferys says:

      Yes, I wondered about Andrew’s comment. With gmail you can access emails from Thunderbird and I believe Mac Mail as well. I know I can access it on my iPhone using the iPhone mail program. Set the reader to use iMap and it should work fine; mail that is read will appear to be read no matter what platform you read it on (i.e., if you read it on your phone, then if you access it on your laptop it will be read on that as well.)

  10. G says:

    Don’t you guys realize that your email/facebook accounts can get viruses or bugs? It’s happened to my roommate with his yahoo email. Didn’t even realize anything was going on until he checked the “sent” folder.

    Many times these “fake names” are actually real people!

    • Colin says:

      Viruses or bugs. Lol you buffoon. Neither of those insane paranoid scenarios is possible. What is possible is that you can enter your Facebook/email/whatever username and password on a fake site which then signs in as you and posts whatever spam they want. Viruses and bugs. Ugh people are so unbelievably stupid sometimes.

      “I should have spent the $39.99 a month on McAfee pro”


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