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Spam senders make it easy for us!


In the early days of the history of bulk e-mail commercial marketing (spam), when e-mail still had some credibility, irksome spam was often tricky to spot. Typically you had to reply to it and see if the senders ignored you, thus proving the original message was not genuine. But now (2004), spam senders have made it easy for us, by making spam obviously easy to spot. It's a bit like all burglars deciding to make it easy for the police by wearing striped jerseys, masks, flat caps, and carrying their loot in sacks clearly marked "swag".

What spam senders have done is very similar. They've started using transparently obvious spamlike bogus return addresses, using subject lines which have nothing to do with the content of the message, and including paragraphs of nonsense random words in faint print. Plus, spam senders have made it obvious for anyone with an ounce of sense, by putting furtive shifty-looking misspellings in, for example names of some types of medication with strange dashes in the middle, figures instead of letters, or dots inbetween all the characters. So, for example, when offering to sell you a fake degree, they make it obvious it's bogus by saying U.N.I.V.E.R.S.I.T.Y. D.I.P.L.O.M.A and suchlike. (see fake degrees). Another generous clue given by the senders of spam is to put the word "remove" but spelt with a zero rather than a letter O in it.

Whilst it might seem very honourable of the senders of spam to deliberately craft their messages so as to only effectively target those customers who are of the lowest possible intelligence, there is an alternative explanation for such uncharacteristic honesty: They are trying to fool spam-filters. Spam filters are often unbelievably stupid, and not only do they fail to spot the obviously dishonest messages but they quite often class proper messages as spam. The one used by Yahboo-and-shucks-to-you.com at British Telecom is such a thing, as it allows all kinds of rubbish through and yet banishes the Circular Newsletters from this site as "bulk", a bit perverse of it really.

But we don't need spam filters anymore, in a way, as the solution to spam is transparently obvious. It's easy to recognise, and combining that with the personal ethic of Never Buy Anything From Spam, the problem of bulk e-mail nuisance disappears. It's surprising how quickly it disappears from the conscious and becomes no more of a chore than transferring the glossy junkmail that drops through your physical letterbox into the recycle dustbin. Easy really.

A similar effective honesty is also becoming apparent among Nigerians in a particular line of business. See Rogues Gallery. The stories told in Nigeria Scam letters are now so absurd that they are in effect saying "If you've got any commonsense don't bother getting involved as it's not for you!".

Also, when spam senders are trying to fool you into signing up to a mortgage, they spell such words as "mortgage" , "application", and "loan" incorrectly, and they include random words and partially hidden text. Such mortgage spam is so easy to spot that it's ridiculous.

Another of the ways spam senders have made it easy for us to instantly dismiss their messages is the fact they ignore fact that The Web exists. It's as if they are targeting people who somehow have e-mail but have no access to the vast information resources available on The Internet. For example, if you actually wanted to buy some kind of product, you'd not be fooled by some dodgy-looking advert arriving unsolicited by e-mail, surely? You'd check it out online, do a few search engine searches and see what was available. And, supposing you received a message that said "You've got a virus, and we are Microsoft, honest!" (see Microsoft Hoax), then you'd not just believe it, you'd do a search and see if other people out there in the wider world thought it was a hoax!

It's hard to credit the situation really, as we have good reason to believe people are not as foolish as the spam situation would imply. Here's an example: Supposing a workman knocks on your door and claims to be from the gas company and you let him in to read the gas meter. Then, once inside the house, the gasman strips off his gas company overalls, under which he's wearing a 1980s salesman suit, and he then bizarrely tries to sell you some double-glazing. Do you listen to the sales talk? No, you throw him out of the house immediately! It's obvious that by using a ploy and cheating in order to gain entry, the whole business is instantly recognisable as dodgy. E-mails with misleading subject lines are just the equivalent of this.

By restricting their effective sales market to only those people who have a very low intelligence, spam senders have made it easy for those of us who still have some commonsense to dismiss them without having to waste much energy thinking about it whether it's genuine, because it's obvious it is bogus.

Other references: How to stop annoying pop-ups, how to defeat spyware, more stuff about spam, virus advice, bank hoaxes, the types of stuff on sale in spam, and the Rogues Gallery of Suspicious e-mails and Online Scams