As someone who regularly dispenses sage and, if I do say so myself, invaluable advice on technology to the masses, you would think that minor inconveniences like dealing with spam would be “a mere bag o shells,” to quote the redoubtable Ralph Kramden of “The Honeymooners.”

Yet, truth be told, I struggle just like the rest of you to rid my screen of the daily annoyance of these unsolicited commercial e-mail messages. Of course, our network at National Underwriter Company screens for spam, and I use a spam filter in addition to that, yet a surprising amount of this detritus filters through. The disturbing part is that, over time, it seems the spam filters become less and less effective, as spammers find new and ingenious ways to bypass them.

At a seminar during last years Comdex conference in Las Vegas, Michael Osterman, president of Osterman Research Inc., Black Diamond, Wash., said spam is a significant problem for businesses in that employees may each spend more than 6 days a year dealing with the spam they receive.

Osterman added that, for most people, between 50% and 65% of all e-mail is spam.
While some 80% of organizations have some form of anti-spam technology in place, even protected employees will spend as much as 80 minutes per 1,000 e-mails (about 2.4 work days a year) dealing with spam, he emphasized. Unprotected employees will spend about 200 minutes per 1,000 e-mails (6.1 work days per year).

Troubling as these figures are, there is something that troubles me even more, and that is the amount of spam coming from insurance companies or agentsor fronts for them. Having to deal with porn site come-ons, pain pill pitches and male enhancement messages is one thing, but when the assaults come from within our own industry, this “friendly fire” is doubly hurtful. Hardly a day goes by when I dont receive e-mail from agents urging me to purchase homeowners insurance, life insurance, long term care insurance, or a variety of related financial products.

Just yesterday, I received an e-mail from someone named Brian Williams (a stranger to me), who assumes that I am an agent. He promises in his subject line that I can be “up to [my] arse in annuity apps!” Williams, it seems, is willing to sell me a “breakthrough” marketing and advertising package for annuities that will deliver “a boatload of affluent or wealthy” seniors for a mere $89.95, instead of the full retail price of $289.95 (but only in the next 2 days). When the pile of applications reaches my “arse,” I suppose Ill know what to do with them.

Of course, not everyone who sends insurance spam is so brazen, but God help you if youre a consumer. A recent e-mail from Angel Hicks (who, surprisingly, I also do not know) says, “We offer term life coverage at up to 70% off.” It doesnt say who “we” is, or “off” what, but when you click the link for your “free quote,” you are taken to a site that says “Term Quotes Life Insurance Companies of America,” who claim they represent the “top 200″ life insurance carriers. You are then asked for a lot of personal informationlike whether youve ever had a heart attack, stroke, diabetes or cancer. But who is this company? Where are they located? Who are their officers? The site does not say, but if you want that “70% off” quote, youd better part with that personal, private information. HIPAA monitors, are you listening?

Certainly Williams and Hicks are entitled to sell their wares. Likewise, I am entitled to object to vulgarities being heaved over my cyber-transom, or to mystery marketers who shove their way into my electronic mailbox with no apparent link to reality. But if this is to be the standard, insurance companies, and agents in particular, should stop whining about their spam problems. In the war on spam, these entities are not only complicit with the enemy, they are the enemy.

I am amazed that an industry as conservative and risk-averse as insurance would shoot itself in the foot by utilizing the same vulgar, invasive and irritating tactics as Internet smut purveyors and drug traffickers. In case you havent noticed, our industrys image with the public is not exactly warm and fuzzygood hands, Snoopy and good neighbors notwithstanding. Can we really afford to irritate consumers further by sending these bothersome messages?

In many quarters, the insurance industry is considered a joke and often not a very funny one. In fact, I managed to find 15 Web sites that carry insurance jokes, most of them the same tired material slamming the industry.

Wouldnt it be great, though, if the industry was the first to stand up and say, “Were mad as hell and were not going to take it anymore!”? Wouldnt it bolster your faith in industry associations if they actually spoke out against the use of spam? It certainly would be a popular stand with consumers, and lets face it, how often does the insurance industry get to be popular with consumers?

How about it? Does this industry have the gumption to join the war against spamor are we destined to be perennially silent co-conspirators?

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I am amazed that an industry as conservative and risk-averse as insurance would shoot itself in the foot by utilizing the same vulgar, invasive and irritating tactics as Internet smut purveyors and drug traffickers.


Reproduced from National Underwriter Edition, May 14, 2004. Copyright 2004 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.