An immodest proposal

GCN Insider | Products & trends that affect the way government uses technology

Almost everyone has received some of those spam e-mail messages notifying you that you are eligible to receive a share of a multimillion-dollar inheritance.

You just need to provide the sender with a bank account number where he can deposit the millions. The names, locations and circumstances mentioned in the e-mail vary. Sometimes it's from the grieving widow of an African monarch; other times the proposal is more a purely business transaction, and you've been contacted because of your impeccable reputation as an American businessperson.

A thriving online community has arisen of people who scam the scammers.

Web sites such as www.419eater.com chart the actions of scam-baiters, who persuade the original spammers to perform all sorts of time-consuming, labor-intensive acts such as writing out Harry Potter novels by hand, getting tattoos ' and the most famous scam of all ' carving a polished wood replica of a Commodore 64 keyboard.

The goal is to waste the scammers' time and resources enough to eventually wear them down and prevent them from stealing more money from their victims.

But this raises some age-old questions. Are people who take the bait in the first place ' the supposed innocent victims ' so innocent? Isn't this a little like blaming drug addiction solely on drug dealers? Get rid of the buyers, and the sellers would vanish, the argument goes.

A colleague at GCN proposed what he says is a surefire way to stop spam by stopping it at the level of buy-in. Here is what he proposes: Send everyone an e-mail message notifying them that they have won a cruise. Tell them to meet at the dock at 6 p.m.

When the crowds show up throw an enormous net over the group. Drag them all onto a leaky boat and send them out to sea. No more spammers, no more spam. End of problem.

About the Author

Trudy Walsh is a senior writer for GCN.

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