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Spam is more than a food
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Randy's Corner

About North Georgia's publisher Randy Golden contributes a look into life in north Georgia, the Web, or anything that's on his mind.

Hello, friends
Spam is unwanted e-mail and I get a lot of it. Anybody who owns a domain name (like aboutnorthgeorgia.com) has their email available to anybody with a little know-how and a computer. Literally hundreds of spam e-mails arrive each week. Stuff for new wonder drugs, old wonder drugs, stock tips and porn inundate my in-basket. Its the last one that concerns me, because if I'm getting porn e-mails it means that the same e-mail is probably getting to kids, and that's wrong.

Congress needs to takes some positive action to eliminate unsolicited e-mail from our mailboxes. There are means in existence today to block these unwanted mails. There are proposals on improving the ability to track e-mail and both of these must be required by law if we ever intend to get a grip on this problem. Unfortunately, many of the ISP's are resistant to the new technology because of the cost involved and Congress doesn't really understand the problem. What can be done to combat this issued?

Well the first thing we could do is have congressmen and senators answer their own e-mail. These guys are sealed in an ivory tower, away from the day to day issues that their constituents face.

The second thing to do is for everybody to make people aware of companies from which they receive spam. Then, use other products where available!

My list, which I began when I started writing this in May, 2002 includes:

  • 1-800-Flowers - This one was especially irritating because it said I had signed up to receive the spam, yet they suppressed the e-mail address, a classic indication of spam -- this came through spammers known as Email Direct. I called 1-800-flowers and told them to take me off their e-mail list, but the spam keeps coming. I have used these guys in the past and been satisfied with their product. Now I just look up a local florist and call them directly.
  • Heineken Beer - They may make classy beer, but they advertised it on a spam e-mail from mp3.com
  • Frederick's of Hollywood - I would think business would be good for these guys, but alas, they did send spam. I wouldn't want my 14-year-old niece to see this one!
  • Bell South Fast Access - also through mp3.com
  • DeVry Institute - through a new spammer called virtumundo

So here is my challenge to these companies: Resolve at a corporate level to quit sending spam, then make all your customers agree to do the same thing. It is the only way to stop this madness.

Here are some other proposed solutions to reduce the amount of spam email that everybody gets::

  • E-mails with invalid from addresses aren't processed.
  • Have every outgoing email server registered with the ISP. Servers that aren't registered can't send mail. Charge $.10 for every e-mail after the first 1,000 per day.
  • The government would run an email verification bank for foreign mail servers to register with. Off-shore email would then have to go to these servers for verification.
  • Unverified e-mail from mail servers is not processed.
  • Hard-code the sender's email address into every e-mail.

Once these changes are in place, pass a law that says "You may not send a commercial e-mail to another party unless you have an established relationship with that party. If you do you can be charged with a misdemeanor and fined up to $1000.00." What can you do in the meantime? Well, somebody must be buying the stuff advertised in them. If you get spam email, delete it. Actually, opening a spam e-mail can have disastrous effects, even if they don't contain a virus. Some spammers put images in their e-mails. By opening the e-mail you actually call a program on the spammer's server that tells them you looked at the e-mail, verifying your e-mail address and making it worth more when the spammer resells his e-mail address list (which is a major source of income for any spammer). If you have problems telling spam e-mail from regular e-mail, here are some ways to look at the from address/to address/subject line and detect spam e-mail:

  • Look for subjects with a meaningless number/letter combination at the end (or begriming). The spam-scammers do this so that if you filter on the subject, they can just change the number/letter combination to get past your filter.
  • Look for subjects with a * in a key word. (Same reason)
  • Look at the from address. Spam-scammers put in bogus email addresses so that you can't return them to the sender or complain to the person sending the email. They will also add random letters and numbers to the address so that you can't filter successfully based on the address
  • If your email address is not in the to: line, then its probably a scam. I have been working with my vendors that send out email to a "withheld" list (hence the blank To: address) since I don't receive them. Also, check the To: address for your exact email address. If its sent to an address that only contains the last 4 letters of your name, chances are its spam.
  • Never open any unsolicited e-mail!
  • You've been added to a list! This one I hate. If the list is managed by a third party, I contact the third party to let them know the owner of the list added me illegally. If the list is managed independently, I watch the e-mails for ads, then contact the advertiser to let them know they purchased an ad on a spam email. When the advertisers dry up, the spam email they support will dry up as well. If you are added to a list illegally, don't try to cancel your subscription. This only tells the spam-scam artists that your email address is good. Normally, though, if you are illegally added to a semi-legitimate list, the From address is always the same, so you can add it to your filters and be rid of it.

I laugh at the e-mails that say "This is not spam," a dead giveaway that the e-mail is unsolicited, hence spam. I just wish there was something you and I could do about this, but it is really out of our hands. We need the government to take control of this and work to eliminate the spam. California is working on getting spam under control; we support each of their initiatives.

Randy Golden, Publisher

Randy's Corner
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