Spam, Goddam!

Remember, you only need to steal a penny from four million people in order to have enough money to buy yourself a brand new Mercedes-Benz! – CAUCE (Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial E-Mail)

Did you ever wonder how a respectable meat product manufactured by Hormel acquired such an irritating double meaning as Unsolicited Commercial E-Mail, (better known as junk e-mail)? Well, wonder no more, but continue to be annoyed.

Like postal junk mail and that lovely telemarketer call in the middle of a meal or important discussion, spam is about as welcome as a nest of invading ants at a picnic. If P.T. Barnum weren’t pushing up daisies for more than one hundred years now, I would have sworn that he was behind this modern, pesky phenomenon. According to a report prepared by Forester Research, online users in North America claim that more than one-third of their e-mail is junk mail, with the average consumer getting bombarded with one hundred and ten unwanted messages every week. Even Microsoft, the world’s largest software company, has filed fifteen lawsuits in the United States and in The United Kingdom against spammers who have sent them mail touting everything from “get rich quick” schemes to pornographic web sites.

There are a few theories as to how this whole thing started. First consider The Acronym Hypothesis. In this case, the initials are all that matters; Self-Propelled Advertising Material. If you don’t like that one, or find it too simple to be true, there’s the Food Theory to consider. This is more subjective and even more obscure. Few people ever want, ask for or appreciate the spiced ham product known as spam; hence unwanted junk e-mail. Then there’s the most popular version of the story: The Monty Python Flying Circus Theory. This refers to a skit in the early 1990s, which follows a British couple struggling to order from a menu consisting entirely of Hormel’s canned ham. Repetition is the key to the skit’s hilarity. The actors cram the word spam into the two and one-half-minute skit more than one hundred and four times! This flood prompted UseNet readers to call unwanted newsgroup postings “spam.” The name stuck.

Regardless of its origins, unsolicited bulk e-mail is a waste of resources and a pain in a place my mother taught me never to mention. Consider the consequences if a telemarketer could call collect without giving the callee a chance to decline the charges! Imagine too that the Postal Service started allowing companies to send junk e-mail for free or worse, with postage due instead of charging the senders. Who do you think would end up paying for all that garbage that’s destined for your trashcan anyway? (Take a guess. I’ll give you a hint. It’s not them.)

According to Beka Ruse, Business Development Manager at Weber Productions, bad spam happens to good people for a number of reasons. Businesses often keep lists of their customer’s e-mail addresses. Sometimes these lists are sold to outside advertisers, which results in a surge of unsolicited e-mail as well as a serious breach of trust. Computer programs called random address generators guess e-mail addresses. Over one hundred million hotmail addresses exist and a good guess, like a picture, can be worth a thousand or moreÃ?¯Ã?¿Ã?½wellÃ?¯Ã?¿Ã?½bucks!

Spammers may also guess at standard addresses like support@domainname or info@domain name. These war mailer programs dispatch an e-mail message to every single variation on their auto-generated list. Most modern Internet mailservers will reject any attempt to send a message to a non-existent recipient address. Spammers use such rejection responses to their advantage by culling their initial mailing lists down to a more manageable size of probably valid e-mail recipients. Web spiders comprise today’s most insidious list-gathering tools. All of the major search engines spider the web and save information about each page. Spammers use tools that do the same and save any e-mail addresses they come across. If your personal web page lists your e-mail address, prepare for an onslaught of spam!

How does one get out of this spam? Aye, therein lies the rub! Unfortunately, once spammers find you, they do not like to say goodbye. Your address is already “out there” and circulating, like that phone number scrawled on the wall of a public bathroom. One possible answer is to set up an alternate e-mail address with a “free mail” website, such as Yahoo or in the hopes that this address will become a disposable spam catcher. Keep the primary address for friends, relatives and business associates only and this may curtail the odds of winding up on a spammer’s mailing list. (If your friends, relatives and business associates are unscrupulous, then you, dear reader, are up the creek without a you know what!)

Help is on the way perhaps, in the form of an E-mail Filter or Message Rule. This can be established within one’s own e-mail program. Using such a device, only e-mail from a particular source (i.e., multiple spam messages from the same sender, with a consistently recognizable word in the Subject or From line) could be automatically deleted or moved to a separate mail folder for later examination. If you add a message to the roster of blocked senders then all future messages coming from that exact address will be blocked. If the spammers change their address, you are back to square one unless you one up them by deleting such phrases as get out of debt or lose weight in the subject line. Hopefully, this will help to nip these annoying advertisements in their irritating buds (butts).

The SpamSquelcher (a trademark of the ePrivacy Group) slows spam down instead of filtering it. This approach has its own unique benefits. First of all, legitimate inbound traffic is delivered faster and is never blocked by false positives. (The rabbit never dies!) Secondly, network resource consumption by spam is greatly reduced, allowing costly server upgrades to be deferred. SpamSquelcher enables the control of bandwidth, server capacity and support costs created by spam. When spammers encounter filters, they find ways to work around them. There is no way, however, for them to work around delayed response times, which block their own servers and messages. The overall effect is that users on a spam squelcher-protected network see very little spam, while their legitimate e-mail arrives faster.

Resist the urge to respond to spam messages, as direct replies are usually fruitless and often treacherous. By replying, you are telling these pests that your address is valid and that you received their message. Bam again! Now they have nothing to lose by sending you even more junk mail! Take a more proactive role in curtailing spam. Don’t stand back and let it accumulate and drive you mad! Do something about it! Contact CAUCE (Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial E-Mail) and learn more about counterspam tactics, such as Spam Cop, Abuse Net and S.P.U.T.U.M (Newsgroup Spam and Counter-Spam Tactics).

Although P.T. Barnum has not drawn a breath, legal or otherwise, for more than a century, his ilk, (cyber-scam artists) still lurk among the pesky, unpatrolled shadows of the Internet. Microsoft’s move to open a legal front can only aid in recognizing spam as a global problem. Better technology via the Internet industry, such as blocking and filtering tools, offer hope to those of us still drowning in junk e-mail. We must all do our part by never buying any product sold via spam. It will only stop flooding our in-boxes when it stops working! Whether your road is political, moral, activist or passive don’t ever buy one million addresses for ten dollars! If the offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is. If after all these admonitions you are still in the market to buy from spammers, give me a call. I’ll be able to put you in touch with someone I used to know before he went to prison. He has his very own bridge to sell even though at one time it used to connect Manhattan with some of the other boroughs in New York!

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