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The Freeware Hall Of Fame

Presents:

When Common Sense Fails
The Guide to using Email

by Rey Barry

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"Come kick the football, Charlie Brown," says Lucy.
Charlie runs to kick it, Lucy pulls it away. Brown falls on his butt.
Happens to Charlie again and again. Every time Lucy
holds the ball, Charlie runs to kick it.

The Charlie Browns of this world never learn.
Pardon me for asking, but are you a Charlie Brown?

The email world is full of Charlie Browns. They are the people who forward dire email warnings and alerts again and again without checking to see if they're true, and fall on their butt.

No one told them they should check. No one told them how.

Are there signs showing that a Warning coming to you in email is a hoax and should be deleted?

Yes, and common sense is the starting point to see them.

1. Common sense should tell you big companies would NEVER do business by chain letter; Bill Gates is not handing out $1000 to everyone who asks; Microsoft or Disney are not giving everyone free vacations or running lotteries.

No one awarded your email address a prize, or needs to take you in their confidence. There is no free lunch.

There is no justification EVER for passing on a preposterous offer "in case it's true." It's never true. It's always a snare for the foolish.

A telltale sign reliable 99.9% of the time that an email claim is bogus is when it says "we checked it out and it's legit." Another telltale sign reliable 9 times in 10: a string of question marks or exclamation points in the subject line. (I've done the research to prove those.)

2. There is no kidney theft ring in New Orleans, NYC, or anywhere else on the planet. No one is waking up in a bathtub full of ice, even if a friend of a friend swears it happened to their cousin. It's an urban legend easily disproved.

The National Kidney Foundation has repeatedly issued requests for victims of organ thieves or doctors or hospitals to come forward and confirm one of these. None has. That's none, as in zero. Not even your friend's cousin. Like most gee whiz email it's a hoax.

When you were a kid did anyone ever play a trick on you? Some folks get their kicks making fools of others, and the Internet gives them an international audience. That's the origin of email hoaxes.

You can check out claims reported in emails and anywhere else. My first choice for checking out email warnings is snopes. Another good one is urban legends. Additional hoaxes common in cyberspace can be disproven (or occasionally proven) at Don't Spread That Hoax.

3. One of the most seen examples: Neiman Marcus doesn't sell a $200 cookie recipe. Never did. The story was made up in fun and it's been traveling the Internet picking up believers since the early 90s. I tried the recipe. It makes OK cookies. At a charity bazaar you can charge several bucks per cookie because everyone has heard of them and wants to try one.

4. Other "fun" messages. No one over 12, or sane, or keeping up with his meds needs or wants to know 500 ways to drive a roommate crazy, irritate co-workers, gross out bathroom stall neighbors, and creep out people on elevators.

We all heard how many engineers, college students, Usenet posters, and people from every world ethnicity it takes to change a light bulb. Did you laugh? Neither did anyone else. DELETE UNFUNNY JOKES. Don't be the airhead who passes them on.

5. Reality check. Is anyone home? Even if NASA rocket disasters HAD contained plutonium that rained down over the eastern seaboard, do you really think this - or other astonishing news - would reach the public via an AOL chain letter? Someone wrote it in fun, sent it out, and knee-jerk mail forwarders did the rest. Let such email die!

6. There is no "Good Times" virus. In fact 99% of the email virus warnings since email began are hoaxes. You should never, ever, EVER forward an email virus warning until you first confirm it at an actual site of an actual company that deals with viruses. One reliable, free site is Symantec which handles viruses for IBM: http://www.symantec.com/avcenter/hoax.html

Another is Norton anti-virus http://www.norton.com.

If the sites are busy and you can't get in, keep trying until you can. You don't want to be the boy who cried wolf so often no one listened when a real wolf showed up. After all, one virus warning out of 100 (like the "I Love You" virus) is real.

7. If your CC: mail forwarding list is more than just a few close friends, you are a menace to cyberspace and are going to hell. There you will be assigned to send 10 copies of the Good Luck chain letter to yourself and follow the instructions exactly - never breaking the chain - by sending 10 more copies to yourself for eternity. Your only food will be Neiman Marcus cookies.

8. When writing email don't use HTML. Genuine email calls for plain text. HTML is for spammers, advertisers, and bogus charities. The AOL version 6 mail reader forced the use of HTML code in email. There is no way to turn it off. One has to wonder what those fools were thinking. Things went back to normal in Version 7. AOL's Version 6 is not acceptable over the Internet and should never be used.

9. Never forward charity requests. Sorry, but ALL those sob stories are clever cons to line the pockets of swindlers. They look so real because con artists copy real charity appeals, substituting their own made up charity name and address. Of course the message looks super-genuine. Con artists aren't fools. Anything but. The fools are the people who circulate their appeals, or send money.

10. No one ever reaped rewards off an email chain letter because virtually no one sends money. They circulate because hope springs eternal in each year's new crop of adolescents. When these people grow up, they will be taken in by Ponzi schemes.

11. Craig Shergold was born in 1979, is not a kid, is not dying of a brain tumor, and does not want business cards, get well cards, phonecards, trading cards, Get Out of Jail Free cards, the St. Louis Cards, or ANY cards.

Billionaire John Kluge bought him an operation in March, 1991, at the Univ. of VA Medical Center a few blocks from me. (I met Craig.) The operation was a success. The tumor is gone. Even Ann Landers said STOP year after year but still the appeal for cards appears in clueless church newsletters.

12. Help Get Money Out of [name a country] And Grow Rich. Everyone gets these emails. The US Secret Service calls them 419 schemes, named for a Nigerian law they break. They are all frauds. Thanks to greed and gullibility it's a successful international con.

Since the 1980s foolish Americans and others have lost hundreds of millions to this scam! The Secret Service devotes a web page to explaining how the scam works at http://www.secretservice.gov/alert419.shtml. There are also web sites devoted to them such as http://home.rica.net/alphae/419coal/ .

But the sad laugh comes from news stories exposing simpletons like the longtime treasurer of Alcona County, MI, Thomas Katona, who admitted in court in January 2007 that he had lost $1.25 million of taxpayer money, plus his own life's savings, in a Nigerian scam that people in his bank warned him about over and over!

Or the Californian (described as "Reagan's neuroscientist") who, according to his son, gave the swindlers $3 million and still believes "just another payment" will free up his windfall. Or the Harvard research doctor who, after costing himself and friends hundreds of thousands of dollars, is incapable of admitting he was taken.

It is my belief that anyone egotistic enough, or foolish enough, to believe he was singled out via email from across the world to be offered great wealth deserves to lose every penny he has. This scam exists for the amusement of the rest of us.

Especially pathetic are the protestations of hypocrites whining that greed had nothing to do with suckering them in.

It's understandable this scam can happen to people who, in the 21st century, still believe in gods and devils and astrology, werewolves, virgin births, chants, prayer, and that they "deserve rewards." If someone you hope to inherit money from fits any of those, peek in their checkbook periodically. Chances are you will not find a Nigerian scammer, but you may well find checks to a greedy pastor from the neighborhood church.

The effect is the same as a foreign scammer, and you better find it before they drain the tank.

13. The vast majority of SPAM does not come from legitimate business. When you find email in your mailbox from a stranger the chances are better than 10-to-1 it's a swindler who sent it. NEVER RESPOND! DELETE IT!

If there is just one thing you take away from reading this guide, it's this: NEVER click on a web site link in your email! No matter how -real- that email looks and no matter what the link says, it may take you to a spoof site in Rumania copied byte-for-byte from an actual site you do business with. Only an expert can tell.

Real email from legitimate sites, unless they are run by fools, will never email you a link. Instead they tell you to log on to your account from your browser, so you provide the link, thereby proving it's legitimate.

Run by fools? TDAmeritrade, which has paid thousands in SEC fines for Internet security failures, insists on putting a login link in their customer email, making their email look exactly like email from crooks who copy TDAmeritrade sites byte-for-byte. I and others cannot get the SEC to do anything about it.

Is there danger at these bogus web sites in addition to giving the world's crooks what they need to clean out your account? How about triggering an invisible download of spyware which hides in your computer and sends the crooks your other passwords and logins. The ones they harvest are the ones you use at your bank, at PayPal, at Amazon, etc.

Because spam is designed to look harmless, and because there are fools like the people running TDAmeritrade, identity theft is the fastest growing crime in the world. By far.

If people NEVER clicked on links coming to them in email, a substantial portion, probably most, identity theft could not happen. That's why this is the most important warning here.

Spam is also a way to part fools from their money. It's a fact: half the world has two-digit IQs, and naivety and senility know no bounds. Spammers have good pickings. Don't fall for too-good-to-be-true offers, or even those that "sound reasonable." Don't respond to spam. Delete it.

In 2005 approx. 795,000 US recipients responded to an email offer and sent money. Nearly all got nothing in return and lost every dime. Spam is sent by experienced professional swindlers who know how to entice you. Ignore what it looks like. It looks that way because they tested it and worked. There is no way to get your money back and no defense except common sense and warnings like this.

Here's something amazing about spam in the United States: the US Congress eliminated all effective controls. You read that right. Responding to bogus claims of 1st Amendment rights, and well-placed campaign contributions, Congress gave spammers the go-ahead.

First there is the essential warning that was with us from the start: every time you click REMOVE in a spam, you register your email address on a list of "People who responded" revealing your address is active. The more you click REMOVE, the more spam you get.

YAHOO has been telling us this for years. In one test I ran, clicking each REMOVE in spam for one week increased daily spam 400% within two months. Like YAHOO and everyone else knowledgeable says, ignore REMOVE.

Did you know that spam is outlawed in Austria, Denmark, Finland, Italy, and Germany? So it can be controlled, if government wants to. Did you know that 22 states in the US had laws against spam, some we could have acted on?

Well forget it. In late fall of 2003 the US Congress passed a law nullifying all state anti-spam laws. Congress's law is PRO spam, and it's the only law we can have.

Now you know why my cars have bumper stickers reading Congress is the Enemy

Most, though not all, spam is international white collar crime, crime that escapes prosecution because it rocks only small boats like you. When asked to do something about it, the US Congress said no. It went the other way. Because a miniscule part of spam is legitimate marketing, it gave its blessing to spammers.

How come? The DMA (Direct Marketing Association, a major congressional campaign donor) complained that its members were being harmed by state anti-spam laws. So in 2003 Congress let them write a federal law to their liking, and passed it. The game is over and we lost.

Every corner of society has its swindlers, cheats, and thieves. In the email world these folks become spammers. They may be claiming to sell life insurance, merchant credit card accounts, debt consolidation, Viagra, whatever. What they are really after is your credit card number and a chance for identity theft.

How do they get your email address? They steal it legitimately.

Congress permitted the owners of web sites to sell advertising space to outsiders, including space that is totally hidden from us and we are never told of. These people will hide programs on web sites you visit, good sites like department stores, stock brokers, banks, and in some states even the DMV and other state agencies. After all, everyone can use an extra buck these days.

When you go to the site, hidden programs there search your computer for information about you that's readily available, like your email name and address. Then you get spam from site "partners," the industry term for anyone who is paying for this information.

The DMV or bank or department store or whatever site you went to was given YOUR permission to sell your personal data when you clicked "I Agree" to their Terms of Use. You didn't know because the language is intentionally obscure legalese, and Terms of Use are often 50,000 words or more, as long as a novelette.

We aren't intended to read them.

Congress, when given a chance to do something about that, gave it their blessing.

According to Congress, you opted to get that spam, and there should be a link in the message to opt out. But the advertiser has no incentive to seeing you go, and he's on the honor system. Do you think he takes you off his list? Do you think he removes you from the list of contacts he sells to other marketers?

Our enemies in the US Congress care not. They didn't bother to provide a means to check!

Spam doesn't always come directly from swindlers. We also get spam from multi-level market dupes conned into believing they're promoting a real service. They are working for crooks, sometimes even for crooks inside prisons, and don't know it.

These are the messages that say, "Here is the information you requested" when you didn't. Who write the spam to look like it comes from a friend, or a stranger saying Hi. The girl who is "lonely, sad, and needs to talk to someone" is never that. It's a clever career criminal who knows how to exploit weaknesses to pull a scam.

Spammers forge return addresses showing MSN or YAHOO or AOL accounts that don't exist. They forge headers to blame innocent carriers for the spam, and hide everyone really responsible. Some use a trick to make it appear the receiver was the sender. Many crooks now mis-spell words in the Subject line or the message itself to fool spam filters.

Users of on-line sites like eBay or PayPal, and people who bank on-line, will receive messages (I get a few every day) that look exactly like they come from the on-line service, and request registration confirmation for one logical reason or another. The link they supply to click on SAYS it's the URL of your on-line service.

But it's actually not. It's a clever ruse and if you fall for it you have given your ID, password, and credit card number to someone who will waste no time using them to steal every dime they can get.

If you're a crook it's a great line of work to be in. Practically no one gets caught. Tracking down the perpetrator is too expensive for law enforcers even if it's in your own country, and usually it's not. Even if they find who did it the chance of coming up with the evidence to convict is slim. This makes credit card fraud and identity theft very attractive to anyone so inclined.

Congress responded with a law that claims to offer protection, while in fact makes protection impossible. It "outlawed" again what was already outlawed, things spammers do anyway, then removed or crippled the enforcement powers.

Congress gave spammers free access to us. They said spammers can legally send us anything unless we "opt out."

Thus Congress required us to do what everyone knows we must NEVER do: contact a spammer and request to be removed. REMOVE is an automated email address collector. It tells the spammer yours is a working address to sell to other spammers. That is what's now required by the bastards in Congress.

"Can-Spam," as the law is termed, was approved by the Senate Commerce Committee. A similar bill came out of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. The two bills went back and forth several times before the final draft was approved by both houses.

Members of Congress insulated themselves from the enormous problems spam is causing. How?

Testimony before both committees was very limited. They did not allow testimony from anti-spam activists, the people with first-hand information who did research on the subject. The committees invited testimony from the lobbyists for the Direct Marketing Association. They then asked the DMA lobbyists to draft a bill, and with a few minor changes that's what they passed. It's a bill setting super generous rules for legitimate advertisers.

Authorities tell us that today approximately 85% of all emails are spam, thanks to Can-Spam. Of that, approximately 2% come from legitimate advertisers who follow the law. So the 98% who operate outside the law weren't hurt by the bill. They were helped.

In the unlikely event you can actually identify someone who is abusing the law, Can-Spam gives you one tool: you can complain to a government mailbox at a short-handed agency, the Federal Trade Commission, that has far more important things to do than read 12 million spam complaints a day at SPAM@ftc.gov .

Some state laws gave us the right to sue spammers, and there were successful suits. Congress took that away. It killed all those state laws. Direct Marketing Association members didn't like them.

The only protection left for you and I against spammers is ... almost nothing. Spam will flow in every day and, if you don't clear it, will fill your mailbox to capacity and all email including important email will be refused.

Real email can be of serious importance in this day of e-commerce. Many people use on-line billing for car and home insurance, and mortgage payments. When spam fills your mailbox to capacity, you won't receive those bills, or the notices your payment is overdue. Congress says that's your problem. Thus no one aware of this signs up to get important insurance or mortgage notices exclusively by email.

I said almost nothing protects us from spam. The exception is getting email through Google's gmail.com and a few other huge enterprises. Unlike smaller Internet Service Providers, the big guys spent the big bucks to filter out spam before it clutters our mail box.

If you're annoyed at being badly treated by Congress there are ways to show it. You can phone, snail mail, and email to complain, and you can put them on spam lists so they see what they did to us. If they're in the same boat they might keep it from sinking. Let them learn what happens when they Reply to spam and ask to be taken off the list, as they require us to do.

This is perfectly legal; Congress itself saw to that. Their email addresses are available at www.webslingerz.com/jhoffman/congress-email.html and what you do with them is no one's business but your own.

Moving on ...

14. There is no "pending House Bill xxxx" threatening a modem tax nor do specific names and numbers in that hoax ever check out, but email forwarders are people who never check. That's why email hoaxes are successful.

There has never been a "warning from the FCC" about modems or the Internet or anything else. The Federal Communications Commission is not a consumer office and does not "warn." This modem tax hoax fooled so many people the FCC put up a Web page to respond and explain. From time to time they take the page down, but when it's up you can read it here.

15. The Post Office is not trying to "recoup losses" by seeking a tax on modems or email or the Internet. For years they had a web page denouncing that canard at www.usps.gov/news/email.htm. (Gone now.)

Your state IS part of an international effort to tax e-commerce as part of its sales tax operations, and probably will eventually, and couldn't care less about your opinion unless you're a high roller contributor. If you are, let the recipient of your largesse know you are against sales taxes on the Internet.

The US Congress established a committee to make recommendations pro and con imposing and regulating sales taxes in e-commerce. They made their report. You can read it here. In 2011 California passed an Internet sales tax just the same.

16. When replying to email always include as a quote the part of the message you are replying to. Without that, the recipient may have no idea what you're talking about. Your email software does that with a simple configuration.

But do NOT quote the entire message when it is a long string of message comments. Internet doofuses began the game of tacking a comment atop a long thread (or even AFTER!) and letting the trash build and build ... and build. I've seen messages where there was nothing new for 8 or more screens and the new material consisted of "That's for sure."

It doesn't take brains to be on the Internet.

It doesn't take brains to be on the Internet.

We've all seen messages where you have to click through page after page of headers showing all the people who passed the message along before the person who passed it to you. DELETE THESE, ALL THESE, before forwarding the message.

You be the one who emails intelligently and sends only the rose, not the whole thorny mess and the dirt ball it grew in.


Please forward this guide to whomever emails you garbage. It might do some good.

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Page last updated Jan. 23, 2012