Fraud and Fairy Tales: Storytelling and Linguistic Indexicals in Scam E-mails


  • Florian Hiß University of Tromsø - The Arctic University of Norway



Narratives, Indexicality, Scam, Spam, Identity, E-mail


Most of us receive numerous spam e-mails, texts that in one or the other way try to convince us to engage in the transaction of enormous sums of money, promising enormous benefits. In reality, such scam e-mails are fraudulent attempts to swindle money from unsuspecting Internet users. Language, its social contexts, and the composition of texts play a crucial role in the scammers’ strategies to approach their victims. This article uncovers and discusses some of the linguistic strategies by which scammers try to shape a sense of identity and mutual relationship – in the face of virtual anonymity –, and to involve their readers personally. In their attempts to get the recipients involved, scammers combine cultural indexicals, interactional roles, and narrative strategies. The analysis distinguishes three different narrative strategies in scam e-mails: Based on first, second, and third person stories, scammers establish links with the recipients by combining fictional content with real-world contexts. Some of the narratives display quite elaborate and artful traits and involve prototypical functions of traditional fairy tales. Hereby they implicitly connect the story content with the interactional roles of e-mail communication.

Author Biography

Florian Hiß, University of Tromsø - The Arctic University of Norway

Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Department of Language and Linguistics, Faculty of Humanities, Social Sciences and Education