You've Got SPAM!I am an e-mail junkie. I can't get enough of those stories circulated endlessly with a click of the Forward button--urban legends people swear are true, like the couple who adopted a dog that turned out to be a rat, or (my favorite) the guy who woke up in a bathtub full of ice with a kidney missing. And don't even get me started on the Neiman Marcus cookie recipe. My in-box is filled with this stuff--along with an occasional message from my editor reminding me about an overdue story.
But spam--now that's something else altogether. Spam is truly obnoxious. Yet intriguing. I've seen offers for everything from Porsche lotteries to cigar humidors, Australian wildlife refuges, no-interest home mortgages, virtual girlfriends, Beanie Babies, and Wyoming land perfect for militia maneuvers. I've even seen spam about how to stop spam. So when I got this assignment--to respond to as many spam offers as came my way, on PC Computing's dime, of course--I junped at it. Here's my diary.
Day 1: The Setup
Enter Moorloch I cranked up my PC and opened an America Online account using the name L. L. Moorloch. First I filled out the AOL profile form, then I dropped into chat rooms specializing in finance and posted comments virtually begging someone to roll me. And to show I was willing to spend big-time, I ordered a Marvin the Martian T-shirt from the Warner Bros. Web site--$22.
Day 2: Skin Land
Intriguing Appointment The very first spam to hit my platter was smut. The most interesting thing about porn offers is the tricks they use to get you to open the messages. I just had to read one from Sally Long about "our appointment," but Sally's idea of an appointment is something I wouldn't write down in my day planner. And I could never get more out of messages like Sally's: Whenever I clicked on an X-rated link, I usually got a message from some straight-arrow Internet provider telling me the sex site had already been jerked. So to speak.
Day 7: ID Required
Card Shop "Pssst," the next piece of spam whispered. "Need a new driver's license? Want ID for night clubs or hotel checkin?" I left a message at the phone number provided. The next day a droopy-sounding man named Sam called back. He said the offer was legit because of some United Nations treaty. Was I (1) 18 or older and (2) alive? Yes and yes. For $185, he would send me a very official-looking document someone might be stupid enough to fall for. All he needed was my bank account number--to make sure I could cover the check.
A week later a package arrived from the International Licensing Bureau in Middlesex, England. It included a driver's license with my fake name spelled wrong. Instructions told me where to sign and where to paste a mug shot before I laminated it. But there was also something that said $185 had already been withdrawn from my checking account that said $185 had already been withdrawn from my checking account, thank you. I checked, and the bank told me all anyone needs to get money from me is an account number. I don't even have to give permission. The bank will handle the dispute, and I'll probably get my money back. But I still felt violated.
Day 15: Something Smelly
Babe Magnet I couldn't ignore this one: "Sexually attract women easily with nature's secret weapon." This offer was hawking pheromones, which purportedly drive women wild--for just $40. I bit. A few days later, Moorloch got an e-mail message: His seductive smells were delayed because of high demand. After a couple weeks, the spammer's ISP kicked back my inquiry about my pheromones' whereabouts as an invalid address. And what am I going to do? Call Visa to complain about the charge on my bill--and have to tell some nice customer-service rep that I'm such a pathetic specimen of manhood that I need the aid of chemistry to get lucky? Right.
Day 30: Just Call Me Doc
Instant Ph.D. After a month, I was getting pretty tired of the same old come-ons. But here was something more cerebral: an offer for diplomas from "non-accredited universities based on your life experience. No tests, no classes. No one is turned down." The "university placement counselor" I talked to said I could get a Ph.D. in electrical engineering for $425--an additional $90 for summa cum laude--despite the fact that I have problems installing many types of lightbulbs. The university would also supply a transcript for $200 more, and for another $100 would include a letter of recommendation from my favorite prof. That's just great--after I spent 15 years and thousands of dollars getting a degree, I could have had it all for less than a grand.
Day 45: Don't Look Now
Internet Undercover Finally--a message that didn't slobber over sex or money. "Are you being investigated?" the subject line asked provocatively. Something calling itself the Kennedy Center for the Free would sell me a report, Sleuthing the Internet, filled with tricks for cleaning up my credit and for legal and illegal snooping. How could I resist? I ran up another $55 on the plastic. A week later I received 30 photocopied pages, mostly on the secrecy level of the Library of Congress. Believe me, PC Computing's regular roundups of Web secrets are a lot more revealing.
Day 47: Bosom Buddy
Uplifting Offer Maybe I've given you the idea that all Internet spam is at best junk and at worst an outright con game. But not all spam is worthless. Responding to a message promising "fuller, firmer breasts," I plunked down $50 for a jar of Wonder Cream. And I must report that my breasts have never been fuller or lovelier.
Crossing the Line Something put me over the edge. I was tired of offers for crispy microwave bacon cookers, affordable dental care, and screen savers that divine the future. When I got the next spam message, well, I guess I kinda cracked. This message was from a group at moveon.org, whose mantra was essentially "Chew out Clinton real good, drop impeachment, and let's get on with our lives." The spam wanted petition signatures and people to spread the word. Before you knew it, I went over to the other side. I crossed that delicate line between journalism and Geraldo. I sent copies of the message to the entire PC Computing staff. The victim turned predator. I became a spammer. No going back. In the end, spam won.
|HOME | Computer Related | Fun Stuff | Pix & Places | Viet Nam | Deals | Site Map|