The Best Of Spam, The Worst Of Spam

By Ara C. Trembly

Ever since Adam sunk his choppers into the wrong apple and got humanity kicked out of what had to be the greatest vacation resort of all time, people have been making bad decisions that have had far-reaching implications.

Literature and film are rife with examples of nattering nabobs, innocent children or na?ve adults choosing the wrong door, feeding the wrong pet, messing with forbidden forces of nature, or trusting the wrong people.

Of course, there was the legendary Pandora, who opened that box and allowed a spate of ills to flood our world. Thanks a bunch, Pandy.

And what “Twilight Zone” devotee can forget the episode in which the kindly space aliens book of knowledge, “To Serve Man,” is discovered to be a cookbook, just as the hero is dragged off into their spaceship and, presumably, trussed up for some human barbecuin?

Then there was the destruction of a town due to the misfeeding of some cute little pets that turned into malevolent green monsters in the 1984 film, “Gremlins.” No water, no food after midnight–how hard can that be?

The point here is that when people mess up, it can cost them, and the rest of us, in spades. Yet, a one-time mishap is often understandable–nobodys perfect, right? Its the repetition of such unwise choices, however, that takes us from the arena of the accidental to the realm of the ridiculous.

For example, in the film “Hellraiser,” all hell literally breaks loose when humans start playing with a satanic puzzle cube that ultimately spews forth demons who delight in the pain of said humans. After much hurting and bloodshed, and a battle with a demon whose head is entirely covered with what look like acupuncture needles, the forces of evil are eventually contained at the films end.

But wouldnt you know it, we foolish humans are again seen opening the gates of hell by messing around with that same cube in the five or six sequels to the first pinhead epic. When will we ever learn?

This same kind of scenario can be applied to another kind of evil–the kind most of us experience when our computer tells us “youve got mail.” Im talking about spam, which is basically unsolicited commercial e-mail or the cyber-equivalent of telemarketing.

According to SurfControl, a Scotts Valley, Calif.-based maker of anti-spam software, last year spam cost American companies nearly $9 billion in lost productivity as well as increased staff and operational costs, with IT having to deal with clogged networks, compromised storage and other problems.

Nobody likes these unwelcome commercial interruptions. In fact, according to a recent article in Information Week, every demographic group in a Harris poll on spam favors, by at least 70%, a government ban on spam.

So if spam clogs our systems and most people want it stopped, why does it continue? Why do marketers–including some insurance marketers (you know who you are)–insist on continuing to bombard us with spam?

The answer, quite simply, is that it works. And the reason it works is because we open those spam messages.

Think about it. Spam must be profitable or companies wouldnt keep sending it. To these companies, it is worth engendering some bad will, because someone is responding to their spam and buying their products or services.

Yes, I know some of those spam subject lines are hard to resist–like the one from a Nigerian diplomat who needs your help in transferring billions of dollars out of his country and into a U.S. bank. Only you can help him, and he will let you skim 1% off the top, no questions asked.

Uh-huh.

Then there are the “meet singles” and “get out of debt” spam messages. And we wont even get into the pornography come-ons that are fueling a multibillion-dollar industry that is growing exponentially each year.

The sad fact is that every time you open a spam message, you are helping to feed the very beast you so abhor. Most spammers know when their messages have been opened, even if you dont respond, so you are at the very least encouraging them.

So what can be done? Anti-spam software can definitely cut down on the amount of garbage that gets through, but it can also exclude important business or personal messages you actually want to receive. It does work, but it also takes some work to keep it current.

Most Internet Service Providers also give you the option of blocking mail from a given e-mail address. Spammers have gotten wise to that, however, and will often change their e-mail addresses on the fly to get past your defenses. In addition, most ISPs will only allow a limited number of blocked addresses, and there are literally thousands of spammer addresses out there.

I do recommend you block addresses (or whole domains, where possible) and that you use anti-spamming software, assuming you have the time and resources to keep it current.

My best advice, however, is to not open the box. Dont play with the hellish puzzle cube. Dont listen to strangers with get-rich-quick schemes. Dont bite into that funny looking apple. Dont feed the beast.

In other words, do not open any unsolicited e-mail, even if it seems to be from someone you know. Some spammers are not above gleaning information about you and your address book while you are online. If an e-mail from someone you know looks suspicious, go the Alexander Graham Bell route and call your friend first. It could save you a lot of electronic aggravation.

Spam may never vanish completely from the Internet landscape, but it need not grow like an unchecked virus. If each of us is more responsible about opening and responding to unsolicited e-mail, we can at least keep the beast in its cage.


Reproduced from National Underwriter Edition, February 10, 2003. Copyright 2003 by The National Underwriter Company in the serial publication. All rights reserved.Copyright in this article as an independent work may be held by the author.