Thursday, December 7, 2006

Wilson, Carroll and Other New Members of My Spamily

Someone allegedly named Wilson Becker, with an email ID of PattoniSalvatoreketchup, sent me a nice note the other day (FW: Hi!). The opening line:

“When he saw us, he started to cry,” he said, and finally added: “He kept calling me David.”

Mr. Becker/ketchup’s salvo was intriguing. And so was the email I got that same day from “Carroll Floyd”—email ID GuerreroABryantflatulent. Her prose had something to do with a “child’s drawing of rock walls.”

I didn’t know either of these people, so I ultimately determined that the messages were spam. But can somebody tell me: What’s the deal with spam these days?

Used to be all the spam I got had a pretty clear-cut purpose. They’d try to sell me porn or cheap loans, and they’d let me know right in the subject line with a series of big XXXs and whatnot. Or sometimes someone of Nigerian royal lineage needed my help ...

But now, much of the spam—or rather, “unsolicited commercial email” (UCEs) —is meandering and nonsensical. I understand that today’s audiences are savvy and cynical, and one has to approach them surreptitiously. But a bunch of words strung together in a crazy rant, followed by NO CALL TO ACTION?

I don’t see the point. But maybe that is the point—to confuse. Turns out there are these gangs out there hijacking everyone’s computers (note to Wilson and Carroll: run Norton now!) and using them to send out spam. The messages tend to get by spam filters because the sender addresses are often legit. The e-thugs get the addresses for free, so they can afford to send as many emails as they wish. One hit in a million equals success.

In further trickery, the spam gangs are imbedding their scammy pitches about weight-loss pills or knockoff watches in image files attached to the emails, where the red-flag words are harder for filters to find. On a second glance, I realized that Wilson and Carroll had attached images to their messages, as well. But I never opened the pictures to find out more (a small victory over the spam syndicate).

With UCEs back, big time, people everywhere are treating just about every email they get with great suspicion. That’s why, for those of us trying to engage in legitimate email marketing, it’s best to be on the level: Build databases of people who are actually interested in what you have to offer and be clear when you’re contacting them about who you are and what it is you’re offering.

Otherwise, they’ll send your more earnest marketing email to the spam folder just the same.

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