Sunday, December 03, 2006


One of the curses of our information age is all the unwanted email that arrives in just about everyone’s online mailbox. This time of the year seems to be especially bad: on any given day I get over 300 of these nuisance messages. I have developed a rather efficient double filtering system and hardly anything unwanted ends in my inbox. Sometimes this method can be too efficient and ‘good’ email may end up among the bad. So, I have to quickly glance through the list of senders, before deleting everything for good. Once in a while my eyes stop on something. ‘Jesus’ has remembered me with quite a few spams. I also noticed an email from toxic sounding ‘R.M. Chlorine’, a name that somehow seemed familiar. Quick glance at the sender’s ‘’ domain cleared any doubts and made me quickly delete the message without opening it. ‘Are you looking your best?’ asked another message from a ‘J. Adair’ which passed through the filter because of a name in an old address book.

It is very easy to adapt a fake identity, or to put someone else’s email address as the return address. Right now one of my accounts is being used by someone outside of the U.S. sending spam to India and Japan. At least my name doesn’t show up as the sender but quite of few bounced emails come back to that account’s inbox. A more serious issue is real identity theft. A couple months ago I purchased a new iPod for my youngest daughter, billing it on a credit card that I only seldom use and even then for large purchases. The person at the other end, working for a big national chain, must have sold my information to some creepy mass marketer, as I was soon sent stuff that I certainly have no interest in, such as diet pills, ‘Windows Professor’ software and various memberships, all of them without invoices. Tiny test charges soon grew in size but fortunately I checked the account activity online before a statement was printed. Chase was very helpful and their fraud unit got to work instantly, but knowing that there are people who would steal such confidential personal information left a bad taste. Of course, this wasn’t the first time false charges have appeared on an account of mine, but never before has someone actually ordered merchandise to be sent here. Since no bill was enclosed, shipments gave an impression of being nothing but free samples, a common marketing tactic.

Clearly something will have to be done with electronic spamming. Costing nothing, it has however reduced the amount of junk mail carried by the mailman. I’m willing to bet most users of email would be ready to pay a small ‘postage’ fee if that was made mandatory. Certainly a spammer would think twice before being charged a few cents for each of the million mailings that at present are free. Why we call this unwanted stuff ‘spam’ is strange, and probably insulting to at least the people of Hawaii where spam is almost a national food. And it is hard to claim all of these solicitations are without a merit. Perhaps there is more truth in a claim of a penny stock will quintuple its value in a week than in a moronic dilettante’s art critique on a paper's website that someone forwarded this way. Personally, of course, I put both in the ‘Junk’ file in a hurry and click ‘Delete’.