Spam scam copywriting secrets

I get them. You get them. We all get them. E-mail scam spam. And you probably just delete them like most people do.

But did you ever take a few minutes to read these messages and consider why some of them work?

There are some key copywriting lessons to be learned here. Let’s look at one short scam spam e-mail I received a few months after tax season a couple years back (I collect these things).

Subject Line:

IRS Notification – Tax refund (Internal Revenue Service)


After the last annual calculations of your fiscal activity we have determined that you are eligible to receive a tax refund of $249.30.

Please submit the tax refund request and allow us 3-6 days in order to process it.

A refund can be delayed for a variety of reasons. For example submitting invalid records or applying after the deadline.

To access the form for your tax refund, please click here

Note: For security reasons, we will record your ip-address, the date and time. Deliberate wrong inputs are criminally pursued and indicated.

Internal Revenue Service

Copyright 2007, Internal Revenue Service U.S.A. All rights reserved.

First, the subject line gets your attention. It says it’s from the IRS, which is a government department everyone is familiar with. There are no wild claims, just the suggestion that you may have a tax refund, something everyone wants.

When you open the e-mail, you see a small IRS logo at the top of the message. It looks real, and it is. See for yourself. This adds a touch of credibility.

Then the copy begins without a salutation or any wordy introduction. It simply states a few “facts” bluntly, which create an official tone. It also uses official-sounding words and phrases, such as “calculations,” “fiscal activity,” and “eligible.”

The “offer” is specific and believable: $249.30.

Then comes the call to action: “submit the tax refund request.” It’s simple and direct.

Next comes this: “A refund can be delayed for a variety of reasons. For example submitting invalid records or applying after the deadline.” This suggests a deadline to encourage a prompt response.

Finally, there’s another call to action and, since this is an e-mail, a direct link to the “form” you are supposed to fill out.

Obviously it’s a scam. The IRS doesn’t communicate by e-mail. They don’t calculate your “fiscal activity.” And you don’t interact with the IRS about your tax return with online forms.

That said, the copy works:

That’s a pretty good copywriting formula.

E-mail scams work in part because some people are gullible and because the messages are sent to so many people odds are there will be enough response to justify the effort.

But they also work because the low lifes who blast them out test lots of messages and see what works and what doesn’t. So the next time you get an e-mail spam scam, read it before you hit the delete button. It’s amazing what you might learn.

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