Recently I have been finding a great many emails from preditory publishers in my spam box. While I know each of these are almost certainly preditory publications, I am confused as why there are so frequently strange unicode characters in the email body (alphas in place of a's etc). Does any one have any idea why these seemingly outlandish errors are so common in these emails?


2 Answers 2


The reason these "look-alike" characters are used in predatory journal spam is the same reason they are used in all types of spam: it is an attempt to bypass spam filters.

At least historically, spam filters worked by examining the words in the message. For example, if the word bitcoin is associated with spam, if your spam email requests payment in bitcoin, your message is more likely to get blocked by the filter.

Imagine you replace the i with 𝒾 and now have b𝒾tcoin. If the developer of the spam filter failed to take into account all of the i look-alikes in unicode, then your spam message doesn't contain the word bitcoin anymore. Therefore, it is more likely to make it into the recipient's inbox.

Major email providers' spam filters are, of course, much more sophisticated these days; after all, that email ended up in the spam box, right?


Adding to the IT answer "Why do so many spam emails lately contain a lot of unicode characters?" from Infomration Security SE site , there is a sociological answer: when you do a scam, you want to get the easy fish in your net, not the smart one.

Put some obvious errors/dubious things in your text, you can be quite sure that the smart ones will stay away, filtering "in" the gullible ones.

Apart from the initial mass email, most of the scams are then fine tuned on a 1-to-1 basis, so for the scammer it is of the uttermost importance of filtering out potential wasters of their time.

  • 1
    While this may sound plausible, are there any studies showing that scammers indeed intentionally make their messages look easy to identify? Oct 2, 2023 at 15:31
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    @EarlGrey there is a lot of value in studying scammers - it can inform end user education and mitigation strategies like filters or legal enforcement. Would you say the same thing about cybersecurity research in general? Oct 2, 2023 at 17:50
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    That the errors in scam messages are on purpose to find gullible people is an unsubstantiated internet rumor. In fact, I searched for hours trying to find proof, and I found not one shred of evidence to support it. Instead, I came to the conclusion that non-native speakers (like the ones behind many of these scams) don't always produce grammatical, idiomatic texts. (cc @user1079505)
    – Laurel
    Oct 2, 2023 at 17:53
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    @Laurel "not one evidence to support it" it is a bit of hyperbole, since you mention a research paper from Microsoft that has been cited 147 papers. Thanks!
    – EarlGrey
    Oct 2, 2023 at 18:21
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    Is Infomration Security a spoof of spam misspellings?
    – Ben Voigt
    Oct 2, 2023 at 19:15

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