From the June 2009 Issue
I was originally planning on writing my column about a particular type of advertisement I’ve seen online lately that I’ve found to be particularly annoying. Specifically, I’m referring to one that says, “This is not a joke, you’re the 10,000th visitor!” while blinking incessantly. I am not advocating the establishment of advertising content police, but when I see a blatantly misleading ad like this on Yahoo!, Google and other reputable websites, it makes me think such websites have abandoned some of their principles.
Quite obviously, Yahoo! has had more than 10,000 visitors (Yahoo! actually averages nearly 20 million visits per day). Perhaps it’s a sign of the challenging economic times, but there are plenty of websites and other media outlets, like ours, whose advertisers are respectful to their potential customers.
Then I started thinking about abusive and even potentially threatening emails that we are subjected to every day. According to Microsoft, unsolicited email (spam) “accounts for more than 85 percent of all email sent each day.” This isn’t really news, I guess. I am not talking about all commercial email, which is, of course, a vital part of many legitimate marketing strategies. And I’m not even talking about all unsolicited email, since most of it is legitimate in messaging, content and intent. Instead, I’m referring to the worst of the bad junk mail, the contents of which are often offensive and promote a hoax or inciting illegal actions. Of course, anybody that has used email for more than a month knows that these messages aren’t worth the paper they aren’t written on. But it can be cumbersome to try to manage and separate the good from the bad, the worthwhile from the trash.
For many recipients, the problem is compounded based on the length of time you’ve had a particular email address and even the number of email accounts you have (I have about 10), because no matter what security measures you take, your email address will end up on one of the lists used by a corrupt spammer. And once it’s on one of those abused lists, it might as well be on them all … and essentially it is.
Legitimate commercial email is regulated to some extent, with senders required to include a legitimate physical mailing address, accurate “from” identification and simple “unsubscribe” options. All reputable companies abide by these rules because the penalties can be significant. But if you don’t know who or what the company is that sent you the email, it very well could be from one of the mass spam abusers, who usually masks its true identity or uses “hijacked” computers to send the email. And they are often located in countries with little Internet regulation. If you try to use the unsubscribe feature on some of these messages, it may actually increase your likelihood of more spam because the action lets them know that they actually have a real and active email address.
But even these bad spam messages don’t really pose a problem to most of us, aside from being an added nuisance. Especially since most are so horribly crafted that they expose their falseness. There are, of course, much more sinister varieties out there, from low-tech variations of old scams, to higher-tech missives that have the potential to actually do harm to your computer or extract personal sensitive data from it.
NIGERIAN SCAM & PHISHING
The oldest of them all is the low-tech Nigerian scam, which predates the Internet, but which has apparently thrived with the advent of email. Even so, it remains low-tech because they invariably ask the user to contact the sender in order to receive a cut of some multi-million dollar fortune for helping relocate it. As such, these scams pose little threat to honest persons or anybody with half a brain.