January 6, 2003
The other day I received no less than three of those proliferating e-mails from various widows, associates, nephews, lieutenants, friends, children and secretaries of assorted dead or imprisoned leaders or wronged royalty from the Congo, Nigeria, Western Arab Emirates and a number of other countries which look like they had been invented for the express purpose of perpetuating this money scam. I was seriously tempted to answer all three of them, detailing the offers the others had made and stating that I would allow them to go away and think about it and accept the bid that gave me at least 50% of at least $30 million. All others need not apply any longer.
Apparently a woman who had had utterly enough of it all did almost exactly that -- her account of scamming the scammer is a hilarious one. (1) But hers is an isolated story -- the rest of us are increasingly under siege by a phenomenon which is rapidly threatening to make cyberspace almost uninhabitable -- spam. The uninvited, unsolicited, often virus-infested detritus that clogs our inboxes and makes us distrust every name we do not know.
My e-mail filters are mind boggling -- there is an endless ream of them. I filter on the obvious -- anything with more than six exclamation marks (why are these people so excitable?) and the usual catchwords, but often somehow the specifics slip past the general and on they come marching forward, offering me multiple mortgages, pleading that I PLEASE READ TO THE END OF THIS E-MAIL (usually in caps) because of how it changed their own life and can now change mine and usually touting some sort of pyramid money-making scheme, and dangling (if I may use the phrase) often no less than unbelievable physiological "improvements" to my physique (I particularly liked the one that covered all its bases by offering breast AND penis enlargement in one sweet package. I have to worry about people who possess both -- they are probably under medication for terminal schizophrenia and should not be on the Net at all...).
Then there are the insurance peddlers, people selling whatever it is that will never come my way again (these are particularly egregious with the exclamation marks, particularly since the never-to-be-repeated offer is back in my mailbox, at a reduced price, the week after the initial approach). I have been offered everything from cut-price software (probably pirated) to Russian mail order brides. There are the Hot Bargains, the Get-Your-Viagra-Here sites, the offers to see Britney Spears or Cher nude (eep!), the offers on failsafe stock options -- Hell, even the Wall Street stockbrokers don't know what they're doing any more, and I should buy stocks via e-mail?
Of course, there are the really creative ones -- like the one trying to sell me an Armageddon Survival Kit. Given the way our planet is currently heading, into an endless spiral of spats and wars and chaos, that last might have been a good bargain -- I don't know. I didn't take it up. In the post-Armageddon scenario, I've even had offers to save my soul. Who says you can't find anything you wanted on the Internet?
I am particularly peeved at the unfilterable ones, the ones whose subject lines make them sound legit -- as if they came from some place which I had sanctioned to send me mail (with a subject line concerning my 'password', my 'contract' or my 'access code') from potential business clients, or from friends. They even tailor such hooks, and I've had spam related to 'publishing' or 'your submission', obvious flags to a working writer, and ones I cannot possibly filter on because of the legitimate messages I sometimes receive with those words in the header. And then there are those with the header 'Your website' -- and, if scanned, reveal an offer to 'increase traffic to your site' instead of responding to the actual material on the website in question.
Anybody who sends me an e-mail with a return address I don't recognise and then expects me to open an attachment, any attachment, especially an .exe one, is an absolute dunder-headed idiot, of course. But still they come; and then there are the even more dunder-headed idiots who seem to think that I won't notice if eleven of the twelve new e-mails in my inbox come from the same person and have the same header. But hey, if they could spam me once, why not eleven times? (We won't even go to the complete and utter lunacy of me receiving spam in German or Italian, or those who thought that a way to get cheaper phone service in the United States would be a great thing for me to have while I was still living in New Zealand a couple of years back...)
There isn't much I can do, other than filter and fume. But others, more web savvy than I, have taken actual action. (2) Adam Ralsky, a self-confessed spammer who has boasted on record that he can send over a billion e-mails a day, has been given a taste of his own medicine -- web activists have ferreted out his home address have signed him up with every imaginable direct-mail company, so that he is now deluged with junk mail. "They're harassing me," bleated Ralsky to the Detroit newspaper that broke the story. The activists on Slashdot, the website which hatched the junk mail campaign, reacted with some glee. It would seem that Adam Ralsky can dish it out but he can't take it -- he is getting a taste of the levels of frustration the tactics of himself and his fellow spammers have given rise to in the e-mail-using population of the world. The sad thing is how little this lesson will mean in the long run. Despite the fact that so many will delete spam on sight, unread, unseen, it would appear that the rate of return is still sufficiently high for a spammer not to be deterred from continuing with the scheme.
It's a brand new year. A new year of battle where I'll build walls of filters and the spammers will climb over one another to tear them down. I'm sure I'll be able to marry more Russian women, buy more stocks or life insurance, and continue to increase the size of my non-existent manhood for the next twelve months. I'm winning small battles; the war goes on.
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Notes and References
1. http://www.geocities.com/wendy_willcox/ (back)
2. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/2580089.stm (back)
See also Fight Spam (UCE) (07/7/02) More Swans' information about Spam and actions you can take.
Alma Hromic, the author with R. A. Deckert of Letters from the Fire, was born in Novi Sad, Yugoslavia. Trained as a microbiologist, she spent some years running a scientific journal, and later worked as an editor for an international educational publisher. Her own publishing record includes her autobiography, Houses in Africa, The Dolphin's Daughter and Other Stories, a bestselling book of three fables published by Longman UK in 1995, as well as numerous pieces of short fiction and non-fiction. Her last novel, the first volume of a fantasy series, Changer of Days: The Oracle, was published in September 2001 by Harper Collins. Hromic is an essential member of Swans. She maintains her own Web site (with Deck Deckert) where she provides information about her work and the professional services she offers: ButterknifeBooks.com
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