Spam, Spam, Spam

Posted By BrokenClaw on February 5, 2008

Spam is the slang term to describe unsolicited bulk messaging on the Internet. The name likely comes from a Monty Python sketch, which centered on a meat product of the same name. Spam can be directed toward blogs and forums, but the most common form is email spam.

Spam is the online equivalent of junk mail or telemarketing. The difference is that sending junk mail and hiring telemarketers cost money, while bulk email is essentially free to send and re-send, once the sender has a list of email addresses. Even if one in a thousand, or one in ten thousand, people respond, it becomes profitable for spammers, who can easily send a hundred thousand emails a day.

Anyone with an email account is familiar with unsolicited email trying to sell things like prescription drugs, health and financial services, and adult products. Other common tactics of spam are telling you that you’ve won a prize or offer a free gift for completing a survey. All of these tactics are designed to get you to click on a link in the email, whether it’s a normal web link or an image link.

If you actually click on a link and find yourself at their website, it serves several purposes to the spammer:

  1. It confirms that your email address is active.
  2. It confirms that you look at unsolicited email.
  3. It shows that you are the type of person who might click on a link in email, which immediately makes you the target of even more spam.
  4. The link might automatically install some malicious software on your computer without your knowledge.

And finally, if they get you to their website, they can make more claims to convince you that their business is legitimate. In that case, their aim is to get you to give them your credit card information. This ruse may come across as being necessary for processing your free gift or to purchase something at incredible savings. Of course, the old adage applies, If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. In this case, it absolutely is true. The important point to know is:

No one gives away anything for free on the Internet!

In the history of the Internet, none of those chain email letters about someone giving away money have ever been true. None. Ever. Even legitimate businesses that give free gifts require something in return, and usually it’s your personal information like your email address, your home address, and your phone number.

All email programs now offer some type of spam filter, to try and stop the spam before it gets to your inbox. Most of them work by checking the origin of the email and the contents of the email, to see if it contains certain words and phrases. Unfortunately, the spammers are quite adept at staying one step ahead of the filters. One of the easiest ways they do that is by misspelling words, or using numbers that look like letters, or placing spaces between letters in words. Another way they get past the filter is by putting some random sentences in the email to make it look legitimate, and then they put the spam advertisement in an image and make that the link.

Avoid those emails at all costs. Any group that goes to those lengths to deceive you is obviously not conducting an honest business.

In a related matter, have you ever filled out a card at a merchandise show for a free drawing? Quite often, somewhere in the fine print it says that you are giving them permission to use your personal information for “promotional purposes”. In other words, you are agreeing to let them send you email and to receive telemarketing calls. Since no one pays an admission charge just to enter a free drawing, obviously they put enough value on those little entry cards to give away a major prize. In a sense, the free drawing is spam.

Incidentally, when those drawings are conducted by a national company, and they say they are giving away a prize like a car,a boat, a pool, etc. it usually means they are giving away one prize from all the entries they receive from all their shows from across the country. It’s called a multi-market contest, but they don’t always make that clear when you sign up. So don’t expect someone from your show to win.

Read about another annoyance called Phishing.


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