Below is a provisional answer to the question: What are we to do with email scams and phishing? The prince who needs you to wire a temporary loan to Lagos so that he can retrieve his inheritance? The friend who had their wallet stolen in Amsterdam and needs you to send a money order immediately so that they can get back home? The company who needs you to verify your Visa card number and also the password to your email account?

A few years ago, my email life changed when my friend Chris taught me to think of these emails as writing prompts instead of threats or annoyances. He invented an email game that involves balancing two opposite rules at the same time: 1.) extend the conversation as long as possible; and 2.) be as absurd as possible. It's easy to do one or the other, but hard to do both at the same time. The result is a form of collaborative and semi-anonymous art based first upon the lie of the initial email, then on the lies that follow. Phishing meets fiction. 

Below is the result of the fake correspondence that took place over 4 days last October. between a con artist who claimed to be my old friend Ibrahim. His notes are the odd-numbered entries, my replies, in the persona of Steve Jesterman, are even numbered.  




   I Hope you get this on time, my family and I came down here to Hereford,United Kingdom for a short vacation,unfortunately we were mugged at the park of the hotel where we stayed all cash,credit card and mobile phone were stolen off us but luckily we still have our passports with us.We've been to the Embassy and the Police here but they're not helping issues at all the bad news is our flight will be leaving in less than 8-hrs from now but we're having problems settling the hotel bills and the hotel manager won't let us leave until we settle the bills.  I'll need your help (LOAN) financially of 1,850 Pounds. I promise to make the refund once we get back home. Please let me know if you can help and i need you to keep checking your email because it's the only i can reach you.

Ibrahim XX




Dear Ibrahim,  

This is horrible news -- I would very much like to help. Can I wire you money? Which office should I send it too? 

Steve Jesterman




Dear Steve,

I'm so glad to read from you, thanks so much for your concern. I need you to loan me some cash,I need 1,850 Pounds.You can have the money wired to me via Western Union.Have it wired to my name and present location, here are the details you need to have it wired to me..

Name: Ibrahim XX

Location:1 West View Almeley Hereford HR3 6LE United Kingdom

       I still have my passport here with me to claim the funds.Once you are done with the transfer at the western union e-mail me the Confirmation details(MTCN) for the pickup of the funds.Thanks

Waiting to read from you soon




Dear Ibrahim, 

I have great news -- I knew my daughter was in the UK, but I thought she was in London. Guess what? She just called and she is in Hereford right now! Can you believe it? It's an amazing coincidence. Do you remember meeting her in our old cafe? I still have the pictures when you took us to the opium den. I will never forget the picture you guys took of me passed out on the floor. 

She's going to meet you at the Western Union Office -- send me your phone number so I can have her call you right now. 

We're going to help you out, buddy! Anything for you!





Dear Steve,

I need 1,850 Pounds.

Here are the details you need to have it wired to me..

Name: Ibrahim XX

Location:1 West View Almeley Hereford HR3 6LE United Kingdom

       Please kindly locate any western union outlet close to you and have the money wired to me promise to refund it back as soon as i get back home.E-mail me the Confirmation details(MTCN) for pick up of the fund when you are done with the transfer at Western Union.


Let me know when you are heading out to Western Union now.





Hi Ibrahim, 

Mary Jane just went to the bank in Almeley, and they told her it's no problem to withdraw the entire amount. I told her to do so. That's great news -- we won't even have to deal with Western Union at all! Tell me where she can meet you or what your phone number is. The address you gave us is for the post office, by the way. Where's your hotel? 

 We are so glad we can help you. You remain, as always, one of our best friends. 


Steve Jesterman




I'm at a local library trying to get help back home don't have access to phone since the muggers went away with my phone and the hotel management stop me from making use of the hotel facility because of my out standing bill.The hotel management has put a stop to my order,i have not taking anything since last night.Quite honestly it was beyond a dreadful experience for me but looking on the bright side we weren't seriously hurt or injured and we are still alive so that is whats important.

I've reported to the cops here and canceled all my cards,it appeared I had acted quickly enough or they almost would have succeeded in cleaning out my bank account. I'm really having some difficulties clearing my hotel bills and also need to pick up a voucher ticket at the counter for us to catch a flight back home in a couple of hours.

I would have call you immediately or send you a number you can call me on if i have the access to make or receive call.Please i need you to get the money wired to me through western union as soon as possible.





Ibrahim, my good friend,

Mary Jane just called. Apparently the bank did not want to release the funds. So I will have to wire them to you after all. Would you still like me to send the MTCN to you, or did you resolve your problem? 





Dear Steve,

 Thanks for your concern and really appreciate,please instruct her to get the money wired to me through western union.If she can't get it done at western union,then i will be the try and get help from someone.





Dear Ibrahim

Mary Jane just sent me the number. 

(MTCN) number: 5613464654 with serial number 6395-408AK- WESTERN UNION (MTCN)-Reference number 6475677 drew from 

WUNT475KS numbers 58-7-27-46 


Please confirm receipt. I'll look forward to seeing you when you get back. Do you need us to pick you up from the airport? What flight are you on? 


Steve Jesterman





I just came back from the western union office and the cashier told me that there was no transfer made by you at western union and that the (MTCN-561-346-4654) is fake.




Dear Ibrahim, 

I called Mary Jane and she went back to the office. It seems we made a mistake and mixed up the third and fourth numbers. The correct number is: 


 Sorry for the inconvenience. Let me know how it goes!






The cashier at Western Union said that the MONEY IS NOT AVAILABLE FOR PICK UP.

She said the problem is from the western union agent which the money was sent from.

She advice that you should ask Mary Jane to cancel the transfer of the 1,850 Pounds and once the transfer has been cancel,Mary Jane should instruct the western union agent to have the money split into 2 and transfer is separately( 1000 and 750 Pounds ).

she said transfer 1000 Pounds and then transfer 750 Pounds.Once the two transfer is done she should confirmed it that the MONEY IS AVAILABLE FOR PICK UP before leaving the Western Union office.

I will be waiting for the MTCN DETAILS of the Two transfer.





Dear Ibrahim, 

This is confusing. I just contacted Western Union to verify that MTCN number, and they said the money transaction has been completed, and that the funds were released to an individual in Anchorage, Alaska. 

I can't help thinking that someone might have been playing a trick on both of us. In any case, the funds I was attempting to send to you were intercepted by a third party. Fortunately, Western Union's insurance will mean I have not lost these funds and we are preparing to resend them right now. 

Does anyone else have access to your email? Have you been hacked? 

I am worried -- but in any case, will prepare to resend these funds to you to your other email address, which I hope will be more secure. Or would you prefer for me to send the information elsewhere? 

BTW, Mary Jane is at the Almeley library right now looking for you, you old codger!

Your friend, as ever, 

Steve Jesterman





How can someone get access to my private address that i make use of for different and confidential  issue.

I don't know how to explain my present situation to you anymore.I really appreciate your help and concern.





Dear Ibrahim, 

If you are confident that your email is secure, then shall I send the new MTCN details to you? I want to make sure you are able to make your travel connections! Imagine how angry Khadija is going to be if you miss your plane! I want to help!

Yours, as ever,

Steve Jesterman

PS Mary Jane looked everywhere for you in the library and was wondering if that was you who was in the locked bathroom down in the basement. She said it sounded bad in there. 





Yes is secure send me the MTCN.





Dear Ibrahim,

OK, but I'm worried that someone is reading our emails and then they're going to take this information and get the money I am sending you. If your email hasn't been hacked, maybe there is spyware on your computer that is allowing someone to watch the letters you're typing? Maybe there is a camera behind you so that someone can watch the screen? 

Please check to make sure then reply. When you're absolutely sure that no one is monitoring your computer except you, then email me to confirm and I will send you the MTCN. It is all ready to go and just needs you to say yes before I do anything. 

Sincerely, as always, 


PS Mary Jane waited for the person to come out of the bathroom -- and it wasn't you. Just in case you were wondering. 





Yes is secure send me the MTCN.






I turns out my computer is the one that was hacked. Someone installed a small camera behind my desk at work, and they have been following our conversation. I first thought about removing it, but that would only alarm them, right? So I moved my chair slightly and now I don't think they can see what I am typing. 

I contacted Western Union and they will issue me a new MTCN. Shall I send it to you when it arrives, or have you already figured out another solution to your problem. 


Steve Jesterman

PS Mary Jane is sitting at the cafe by the bus station, in case you want to "drop by" and surprise her like you did that time in Rome!





Send me the MTCN.





Dearest Ibrahim, 

I'm sorry for the delay. Right after emailing, I received a phone call from the chief constable of the Almeley police. Apparently, someone abducted Mary Jane while she was sitting in the cafe next to the train station. Yes, right there in broad daylight. Can you fucking believe that shit? 

As they put her into a van, her phone must have dropped into the gutter. The abductors were last seen speeding off in the direction of Shropshire. The police called my number, since I was the last one to talk to her, and I have been on the phone ever since. 

They believe that the kidnappers are part of a gang of protestants who have been terrorizing the local population. In any case, you can imagine the state I am in. What a day this has been. Somehow, given all that you and I have been through together, it somehow seems fitting, doesn't it? Like that time we stumbled onto that meth lab in Kiev. I'll never forget that, even though we killed a few brain cells before the night was through. 

Here are the details -- I am so glad I'm able to help. If you are still in Herford, maybe you wouldn't mind stopping by the local constabulary in Almeley just to check in to see if they have any more information about Mary Jane. Considering that, in all likelihood, she may be more your biological daughter than mine, it would mean a lot to all of us. 

Yours sincerely, 


PS I almost forgot, the new number is: 949-217-3937.