Click Here December 2003: Spam Spam Spam Egg and Spam

Click Here originally published December 2003 in The Panther

By Lee C. Sonko

“Spam, spam, spam, egg and spam.” The comedy troupe Monty Python’s Flying Circus performed a skit some 25 years ago where an unfortunate restaurant goer had no choice but to order a meal that had spam in it because that was pretty much all that was on the menu. If you haven’t seen the skit, I highly recommend it. It’s pretty darn funny. The name of that ham-inspired product has been co-opted by the computer world. Here is a definition of “spam” from the American Heritage Dictionary, “Unsolicited e-mail, often of a commercial nature, sent indiscriminately to multiple mailing lists, individuals, or newsgroups; junk e-mail.”

I get about 25 spams a day. Doing a little math, that’s over 9,000 pieces of junk mail a year! If I got that much paper junk mail, I wouldn’t ever need to turn the heat on in the winter; I’d just burn the junk mail. This is a huge nuisance for most everyone. I get advertising for all manner of things. Mortgage services, debt consolidation services, unmentionable personal services, discount prescription drugs, weight loss products… the list goes on forever. Most of the offers sound way too good to be true. Because they are. If I could give you only one piece of advice, it would be to never respond to an unsolicited email, no matter how enticing. If you respond to one of these shady organizations, even to unsubscribe, they’ll know that you read your email and will start to send you even more spam.

Here is one particular type of email solicitation that I feel I should warn you about. I’ve gotten it 50 times or so in the last 5 years. The email might read something like this, “My name is Mbeki Mbetsu. I was the Minister of Defense in the recently ousted Nigerian government. I have amassed twenty-seven million dollars ($27,000,000) in a bank account but I need your help to get it out of the country. I will gladly give you five million dollars if you help me.” This is a scam run by some very bad people. Every day, the US State Department gets some 600 pieces of correspondence from people that have been taken by these thieves. Approximately $100 million dollars has been stolen from Americans by scams like this. People have lost their entire life savings to these people and, according to the State Department, at least 17 people have been killed trying to get their money back! These are bad people! Scams like this one are the third largest industry in Nigeria. Go ahead and read that last sentence again. There are many ways in which the scam works but the simplest way is that the “Minister of Defense” asks for your bank routing number so he can transfer the money into your account. But instead of putting the money into your account, he transfers all of the money out into his own foreign account. Poof, money gone.

A recent version of this scam talks about a Christian Missionary that needs help getting trunkloads of gold out of Liberia. The wording is different but the idea is the same. How do you protect yourself from these people? Simple, don’t reply to them. Always follow the age-old saying: If it seems too good to be true, it probably is, especially on the internet.

So how do you get rid of spam in general? Unfortunately, there is no perfect way to do it. But there are a few things you can do that help.

  • – Don’t publicize your email address. Spammers scour the web for email addresses to send to. Don’t make yourself an easy target. Try this: go to Google.com and type in your email address. It’s a good sign if Google can’t find your address.
  • – Don’t respond to spammers. Don’t even respond to their “…if you want to be removed…” pleas. Of course, if you are getting email from American Express and want to get off their list, then go ahead and reply.
  • – Before giving your email address (or any contact information at all!) always consider who you are in contact with first. If there is some doubt, consider creating a second, disposable identity with a new email address. Many internet providers let their customers have more than one email address.
  • – See if your internet provider can help you reduce spam. They might have a system that automatically labels suspected spam or stops it altogether. Be warned that sometimes messages from your friends might get marked as spam and you might miss the email. Before you enable a spam stopping tool, think about the possible repercussions. For example, America Online has a system that can block any messages from people that aren’t in your AOL address book. This works great except when a friend that’s not in your address book tries to email you.
  • – Buy a computer program to reduce spam. There are many programs out there. I used to use McAfee Spamkiller. Just recently I’ve become a fan of Cloudmark’s Spamnet but it’s not perfect either. The best “smart” programs stop 80-90% of spam. A “whitelist” system (like that AOL example above) is virtually 100% effective but it also stops friends that aren’t in your address book from emailing you.
  • – Write to your federal congresspersons encouraging them to make spam illegal. They did it with unsolicited faxes and just recently with telemarketing. They can do it with email spam too.

Speaking of that last point, telemarketing, everyone has likely heard about the new federal Do Not Call List. If you don’t want to receive telemarketing calls, then you should go to www.DoNotCall.gov and sign up. It’ll take 3 months for the service to start after you sign up but if you don’t like being pressed to buy vinyl siding that you don’t need during dinner, it’s just the thing!

Another very useful thing is the Direct Marketing Association’s Mail Preference Service. Signing up for this will dramatically reduce the amount of unsolicited junk mail you get in your postal mail box! Go to www.dmaconsumers.org and click on “Remove My Name From Those Lists.” It’s not perfect, but any direct marketer that uses the Direct Marketing Association’s master list will take you off their list.

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