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The Social Plague That Is SPAM
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EMAIL SPAM

Almost every day I get some form of "spam" email or paper mail. Spam, as we all know, is unsolicited correspondence from people, typically trying to sell us something. It's evil, and in a perfect world would not exist. There are several threads of spam going around right now that are not only spam, but sexually offensive spam.

First off, what should/can you do about it? My suggestion is just to delete it. Do not click the "unsubscribe me" button. Don't forward it anybody. It is simply an annoyance of modern life.

After much research into the bulk-email market place, let me describe what I think happens, so you'll have a better understanding. In the world wide web, there is a necessary service called the Domain Name Service (DNS). This service lists every domain known to the world as having an active computer on it.

Spammers use the DNS to "find you". They do this by using typical login names (of particular interest to us, initials) and then send their filth out to "aaa@mydomain.com, aaa@yahoo.com, aaa@msn.com, aaa@lycos.com, aaa@cs.com, ...." ad nauseum trying to find you. When you click those "unsubscribe me" buttons/links in the spammer's mail, you are caught. What typically happens is that you are given assurances that you'll be removed from their list in say 72 hours. Most of the more reputable spammers (if such an oxymoron can be used) will take you off their list. However, in the interim (72 hours in this case), they will sell your email address as a validated user to all of the second tier spammers as a known user at a given address. Then the process repeats and intensifies and you become inundated.

Unethical, I would argue yes. Practiced, almost certainly. Avoidable, yes (don't reply).

JUNK MAIL

Paper mail is another form of spam. Many of us get more catalogs, flyers, "trade rags", and other trash than we want to. Such things, sometimes in duplicates, only serve to weigh down the mail delivery system. There are things that you can do about paper mail, thanks in part to legislation that has been passed over the last few years.

Junk mailers are supposed to honor your request to be taken off their lists. However, they use demographic data from some of the larger "address list" sellers. There is a wonderful site called "JunkBusters" that is a bit confusing but very rewarding.

http://www.junkbusters.com/

They have approached this plague of modern life with a novel set of tools. Using their web application, you formally declare what you are willing to receive and not receive in the way of junk mail. They then prepare a statement that you can formally copyright as your wishes (maybe you have seen my own personal information page). Technically you can then sue any violators (ok, nobody really does, but it's an interesting idea).

The real gem of the JunkBusters site however is that they also provide a set of form letters (about 27 in all) to the major address list sellers to take your address off of their lists. You don't have to find all of the appropriate addresses, etc. You just print them out (one per page), fold them, put a stamp on them and mail them Most of the services are supposed to keep your preferences (that you do not want to get junk mail from them) on file for five years.

I have used this process for a number of years and I will attest that it works wondrously. I very seldom get any junk mail at home. Give it a whirl.

COLD CALLING

We have all been sitting down to dinner and had the phone ring, just to get some sales pitch for some stupid product that we do not want. Congress has heard the gripes of many people and recently acted. There is a phone number here in Oklahoma that you can call to get your phone number taken off of most of the telemarketing company's lists. The Oklahoma Attorney General maintains a list that you want to get on. It can be reached at:

http://www.oag.state.ok.us/oagweb.nsf/DoNotCall!OpenPage

On the right of the screen there is a link to "Register a telephone number". Click on that link, enter your data, and most cold call organizations should remove your phone number.

PRODUCT REGISTRATION CARDS

Sadly, another "gotcha" is the realm of product registration cards. Very typically, there is a survey form attached to the card that asks, among other things:

  • How many are in your household
  • What is your average income
  • What hobbies do you have

These bits of seemingly stupid information are part of what feeds the demographic databases around the country that then re target you for further spam. If you answer these things, they can derive target groups that might be of interest to you. Say you answer "3" to the number in your household. They can then say "you must have a child" (after all, mom, dad, and kid equal three) and then try to market your address information off to folks trying to sell children's clothes, toys, etc. to you.

When filling out these cards, I would suggest adding only the minimal amount of information necessary to meet the general requirements of the warranty. These are typically only your address, the model and serial number of the item you purchased and the purchase date. I typically don't even fill in "what store" I bought the item from. It's just unnecessary.

Fight Spam! Join CAUCE!
In Assoication with Half.Com, an eBay company
In Association with Amazon.com

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The website "Redline" by Roland J. Stolfa is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.
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