How to spot mail written by a robot


I wonder what it feels like to be a producer of, essentially, attention-piercing munitions, continually refining your deceptions as people try ever more desperately to ignore you.

Does it get to you after a while, or does the industry attract people who get off on that sort of thing?


A couple months ago I tracked down the head of marketing of Bonobos via LinkedIn to let them know that their email system was a little too aggressive. What I got in response was a handwritten (I think) response via snail mail, which included an apology and a coupon for my next pair of pants. I have to say, it was incredibly effective, even it wasn’t real.

Now what made it seem real to me was the reference to the problem, the fact that he mentioned that obviously emailing me would only make the problem worse, and most importantly the natural handwriting both on the envelope and in the letter. I wish I still had it to go back to because I am now realizing that my problem with Bonobos was probably not unique, and their response could be pretty much canned. I still think it was real, but who knows? Either way, I’m still a Bonobos fan.


Just cross your eyes and look for identical letters.

1 Like

There are indeed many identical letters in the robot stuff. That would take a clever algorithm to solve. I’m sure that if the marketers wanted to solve it, they would. But they may not feel the need to.

I learned the hard way about the public’s inattention to font details when those fake Bush National Guard memos came out of 60 Minutes in 2004. I could tell instantly that they were done in Microsoft Word, but an army of supposedly investigative reporters were completely clueless as to what a typewriter’s typing looked like.

Whatever… the best hand-written letter I ever got from a stranger was a Jehovah’s Witness who seemed to be bothered by my refusal to accept her diety at my front door, and sent me a penned missive explaining how the words in the Bible prove that the Bible is the word of God.

1 Like

I also wonder how effective this strategy even is. When I get the regular, printed fake-handwriting junk mail, that actually enrages me, as there’s such an obvious element of a deliberate attempt to deceive involved. My response to something like this would be even worse. i can’t be alone in this.


Fake handwriting doesn’t bother me as much as those fake auto warranty things and sweepstakes notices that have almost no identifying information on them. I don’t get enraged so much, but those things automatically go to the burn pile for use as future kindling. For extra enjoyment, I roll one up to use as my torch to light the wadded up credit card application layer of the kindling pile.


Yeah–it’s why I can’t figure out how spam is successful enough to make it worthwhile. In this case, they presumably think that the number of people who’ll be put off (likely non-customers anyway) will be offset by the number of people who won’t be able to tell (or won’t care) and will buy something.

Or the ones from companies you already do business with–I’m looking at you, Comcast–that say something like “IMPORTANT ACCOUNT INFORMATION ENCLOSED.” Thanks to letters like these, if I ever did forget a payment and they tried to notify me by letter, I’d never know.


Humans almost all print these days. They dropped cursive from schools.

I just looked through 5 pages of notes. I only dotted one i and I did it with a line.

This is all just a trick to get people to open things. The biggest tell is the content.

All the tells discussed here will get fixed.

1 Like

Based on the number of people I know who write by hand (very few, mostly relatives, and not getting any younger) I have to wonder what percentage of the robo-writing business is accounted for by more-and-less overtly slimy scams against old people. Those are a popular target as it is, and probably also skew substantially toward seeing handwriting as an authenticity marker, at least compared to other demographics. I would certainly be struck by the novelty of something handwritten; but in much the same way that I’d be struck by the novelty of an email allegedly from the fraud department of a bank I don’t do business with.


I’m imagining a whole new scam; “Sorry you forgot my birthday Grandma” cards, with an address where to send the $5 would rake in sooooo much money…


Great. Now they know what to fix. Thanks for nothing.

You need to look at this the other way- While it could well propel slimy scams against old people… It could also employ old people to propel slimy scams. Just think of the hordes of little old ladies that could be writing about the money they need to get out of Nigeria…


Answer: I receive a “handwritten” letter that isn’t from a septuagenarian I know.


Decades ago a friend of mine worked for a company that made not X-Y CNC machines, but polar coordinate machines; they made custom fresnel lenses…

As a demonstration to show the accuracy & resolution, they mounted a pen to it and programmed it to write the company president’s signature.

Of course when someone realized that the paper they were writing on could be replaced by blank company checks their demo was quickly halted.


The junk mail I get with fake handwriting is also devoid of identifying information, as part of their dishonest attempt to get me to open it up. I do open it anyways, even though I know it’s junk, to see who I’m never going to do business with. Lately it seems to be Dish network, who send me one of those a week, in addition to all the other enticements to “come back” to them (I never was with them to begin with…). If sending me three or four pieces of junk mail a week is what they do to random non-customers, I sure as heck don’t want to find out what they do with their actual customers…

1 Like

I wonder if they have any data, or it’s all just hopeful marketing. I get the impression that there’s a lot of money being spent on various forms of marketing that just don’t work at all, but they’ve become things that businesses continue to do out of a combination of tradition and blind faith.

Hmm, I hadn’t thought of that because I guess I’m old enough that I, on some level, still expect to see hand-addressed letters from friends, family and (small) businesses, even though I suppose I really haven’t gotten many of those for quite a few years. Mostly the robo-written letters I get are from large (but, if we’re going to be honest, scam-y) businesses like cable and satellite companies, but I have also gotten them from “charities” that had robo-written “letters” for probably that very reason.

HP provided the mechanism to do this 40 years ago. It’s called a 7470A plotter and was an inexpensive peripheral for a personal computer. Still available on eBay for under $100US, it only needs little software to make it do almost anything.