John McCormick

By John McCormick

If you're not pleased to make acquaintance of spam, strike back

Spam, spam and more spam arrives daily in my e-mail in-boxes. No longer does the spam come mostly from complete strangers who troll the Internet talk groups for fresh targets for their free-money or sex scams. Lots of spam now is coming from shortsighted vendors on whose Web sites I have made an online purchase, registered a product or simply submitted a query.

Most government workers don't surf the Web randomly or chat in newsgroups on agency time. What they do is research potential purchases, register products and buy online. Can a flood of junk e-mail be far behind?

We're used to this sort of thing from the scam artists. Now even legitimate companies are spamming their customers and reselling the e-mail addresses. It could easily mushroom into a big problem for agencies that deal with hundreds of vendors.

Easy targets

Users who do a great deal of online buying or frequently seek online help are fair game for this so-called acquaintance spam. I get so much acquaintance spam that I can assure you it isn't all carefully targeted advertising or notifications about a bug found in a software release. It is nothing but junk mail touting products you would never buy for the office or for yourself.

Now is the time to stop this egregious trend. When you encounter it, I urge you to inform the vendor that you dislike the practice.

Of course, a polite'or even impolite'response sometimes just generates more spam. I don't know how much good it does to complain politely, but the alternative is to fork over growing chunks of your information technology budget to keep upgrading the mail servers.

If you think I'm exaggerating, you haven't done much buying or product browsing online. When that changes, so will the contents of your in-box.

The situation points up my advice to get one or more e-mail accounts not tied to your office server. I now have 11 active e-mail accounts through my Internet provider, Yahoo.com and mail.usa.com. Their servers can and do go down on occasion. But never have all three gone down at the same time.

I keep several user names, mostly so that common misspellings won't result in lost mail, but I also dedicate a dead-letter mailbox to online work that could draw spam. Messages sent to it are held only one day, then deleted automatically. I check it from time to time and see hundreds of spams, so I know the technique works.

As for the multiple user names, many readers have noticed that my e-mail address up until now hasn't spelled poweruser correctly. That came about because of naming restrictions on my e-mail server. My spell checker and my editors can spell just fine.

I have accounts as both powerusr@mail.
usa.com and poweruser@mail.usa.com. It means no extra work for me, as both forward messages to yet another mailbox that I check every few hours. If one mailbox starts to receive a flood of spam, I can filter it or change the forwarding instructions for a few weeks until it clears up.

If this sounds like too much trouble, look out. I predict that the e-mail access and control problems I am experiencing this year will affect most users within five years.

Footnote: My official e-mail address for GCN has changed to poweruser@mail.usa.
com, but don't rush to update your mailing list. The old address still works, too.

John McCormick, a free-lance writer and computer consultant, has been working with computers since the early 1960s. E-mail him at poweruser@mail.usa.com.

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