E-mail scams and out-of-band article notices

419 bank scam emails have an annoying tendency to link to news and reference sites like CNN, BBC News, and Wikipedia to make their phony claims sound more legitimate by linking them with some actual event. For example:

I am HARRYZAN BIN ABDULLAH.an attorney at law, A deceased client of mine,who here in after shall be referred to as my late client,died as the result of a heart-related condition on March 12th 2005.His heart condition was due to the death of allthe members of his family in the tsunami disaster on the 26thDecember 2004 in Sumatra

Indonesia .http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2004_Indian_Ocean_earthquake

I have contacted you to assist in distributing the money left behind by my client before it is confiscated or declared unserviceable by the bank where this deposit valued at Seventeen million five hundrend thousand dollars(US$17.5 million dollars) is lodged. This bank has issued me a notice to contact the next of kin,or the account will be confiscated.

We tend to get a number of automated responses to such spams along the lines of “This email was received which is advertising a web site that appears to be hosted by you, please review the message and investigate this site”. It’s kind of annoying. :)

One thing we could do with frequently-targeted articles like this is put a template at the top warning that the reader may have been linked from a 419 scam mail; but this would be annoying to everyone who didn’t click on it from an e-mail, and the template would be hardcoded into the page and thus could show up in exports, printouts, PDFs, etc.

When I’ve tried this in the past, someone ended up removing the templates… didn’t seem worth getting in a wheel war over. :)

Even if we want to show this sort of warning, it should be handled as out-of-band information to keep from mucking up the article content itself. Similarly, notices about page protection and other such transitory editorial issues don’t really belong embedded into the core text.

What seems like a good way to allow these out-of-band notices to be easily added to a page and edited without being a core part of the page, or an overall performance drag when no notice is present?

6 thoughts on “E-mail scams and out-of-band article notices”

  1. If you can display the site-notice on every page, is it possible to display something extra with the page-dependent notices you want? Could you trigger off something on the talk-page?

    I’ve been thinking for a while that the content/talkpage duo should be expanded to a trio: content/description/discussion. That would allow for something to be entered on the “description” page which could trigger the display of something on the “content” page: something like the “featured article” status or whatever.

    Obviously I’m thinking on the hoof here, am I making any sense?

  2. Could the use the http referer be a possibility? it would still annoy people coming to these articles from legitimate emails, and it would only cover a handful of webmail providers (which cover close to 100% of people anyway), but I guess it would be better than showing the notice on every page.

  3. NotACat — that’s an idea with some promise. Long ago we also played a bit with breaking out “metadata” (categories, interlanguage links) to a separate edit box, but still keeping them in the actual core article text internally… that never really took off though I think it’s still available in the software. Just seemed a little squirrelly and fragile. Breaking meta-information out more firmly could have some benefits though.

    Waldir — Referers are a tricky question… if you’re clicking from your regular email program you probably won’t have a referrer at all — or if you just type the URL in directly.

    If you came from a webmail reader, you may or may not have a clear referrer… what do gmail/yahoo/hotmail/etc tend to do with links these days? Are they linking direct or using redirectors to sanitize the referrer? (You don’t want to be revealing session info etc when you link out…)

    But if you’re linking around within the wiki, you’ll have something specifically recognizable, so that’s a case where we could easily discard a “you came from outside” notice…

  4. 1) All of the usual page-top templates ([[template:ambox]] and variants) are using css class=”metadata” which means they don’t get printed or exported. (see [[MediaWiki:Print.css]] for that), so that aspect should not be a problem. However I have no suggestions on how to avoid displaying it to the people who didn’t arrive at an article because of a spam link..

    2) Magnus’ “less edit clutter.js” http://www.magnusmanske.de/wikipedia/less_page_clutter.png
    was first mentioned here: http://article.gmane.org/gmane.science.linguistics.wikipedia.english/91785

    (your blog’s comment form has no preview, so hopefully those words and links work/appear correctly ;)

Comments are closed.