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Today I received the following email which was entitled the same as one of my publications:

Dear Dr. Ian,

I followed your research works which were of extremely high standard. I would like to invite you to the World Pediatrics Webinar 2021 which aims to accelerate scientific discoveries and major milestones in the field of Pediatrics. The conference will be held during June 08-09, 2021.

Conference Website: https://www.▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮-▮▮▮▮▮▮▮.com/

You can directly contact me through Whatsapp: +37▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮

Please let me know your interest so that we can discuss further. Looking forward to hearing from you soon.
Sincerely,
Ian Watson | Program Manger
World Pediatrics Webinar 2021

I get a few of these scam conference or predatory journal emails a week. It takes about 500 milliseconds to recognize the scam. First, that paper was not of extremely high standard. Second, Whatsapp, really? I dutifully report them as junk to my organization's email platform, but they keep coming.

I've found a couple of tangentially related questions:

The first has to do with a specific scam associated with a particular conference and the second is about identifying the scam.

In contrast, my question is about how to deal with the problem once identified, productively.

  1. What arguments can I make to my academic institution's IT department that blocking these emails should be a priority?
  2. If I can't convince my IT department to block the emails for everyone, is there an authority I can complain to? Google? The website's hosting provider? The payment processor?

In addition to the annoyance (which spread over an organization sized number of individuals is considerable and detracts from meaningful academic pursuits), academics fall for prey to deceptive practices all the time [1] [2]. This means potentially hundreds wasted on registration fees, which are frequently paid by funds provided by taxpayers or charitable organizations.

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    There is no more productive solution to spam than simply ignoring it. You can automate the ignoring step somewhat but there is always the cost of false positives. Conference and journal scam is particularly difficult in this regard since good spam is quite similar to legitimate emails. – Roland Apr 6 at 13:38
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    Since nuking from orbit is not an option (I hope), marking as spam in a good email program and never seeing stuff from them again is the simplest path. – Jon Custer Apr 6 at 14:29
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    "Respected professor"/"eminent professor"/"extremely high standard"/etc. are a clear signal that this is not a journal that is used to get voluntary submissions. – Captain Emacs Apr 6 at 15:59
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    Indeed @CaptainEmacs, which is why I question the "creating a high performance filter is too difficult" argument. – Ian Apr 6 at 16:03
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I am going to focus on your point 1:

What arguments can I make to my academic institution's IT department that blocking these emails should be a priority?

Please don't.

If you manage to convince your IT department to make it a priority to block such emails, then it's quite likely that there will be false positives across your institute. You say that it is straightforward to identify these scam emails, and I have no doubt that as a human, indeed, you can. But there will also be humans writing invite emails on behalf of legit conferences or journals. Those humans may not have English as their first language. They may inadvertently use turns of phrase that you find characteristic of spam invites. As a consequence, some legit invites will be discarded along with the spam invites. The cost of these discards is asymmetrical: the cost of manually discarding spam is a slight annoyance, but the cost of having a legit invite discarded could be a missed career opportunity.

Ask yourself: how many colleagues missing out on legit invitations is it worth for you to no longer have to manually discard the spam invitations?

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    I can absolutely sympathize with the risk of false positives negatively affecting legitimate conference organizers. However, the cost is not only that of deleting spam. Ask yourself: how many colleagues wasting hundreds of Euros on a non existent conference registration is it worth for us to protect theoretical up-and-coming conferences? – Ian Apr 6 at 17:09
  • If we can train a spam filter to make this distinction, we can definitely train academic employees to not fall for such scams. If we can't train faculty, postdocs, and PhD students how to do this properly, we cannot possibly hope for the spam filter to do it right. – Wetenschaap Apr 6 at 20:36
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I think the junk folder is the best solution, even if it isn't especially satisfying. I've found that unsubscribing from such lists can be effective sometimes, but not always. And the worst offenders are less likely to actually honor an unsubscribe.

But the institution is probably in a poor position to handle this problem as some judgement is required and false positives could cause issues. It can also be field dependent and the university may not want to deal with all of the possible variations. If a scam outfit learns they are being blocked then they have an incentive to make the appeals more subtle, which makes the problem harder.

You may want a more effective email client. Some can be programmed to automatically trash mails from individual senders or with specific phrasing. Some will learn from your actions and repeat them if new, similar, mail comes in future, though training them may take more that one or two tries.

And if you send out a mass email to your circle of contacts warning about some scam, it might just be treated as additional noise in the inbox of the recipient.


Sadly the problem is like the armor v. ordinance issue of the late middle ages onward. An advance in one generates an advance in the other, resulting ultimately in Mutual Assured Destruction of the atomic era.

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