Monday, October 09, 2006

Delete, Delete


ANY journalist worth his notebook relishes feedback from his readers.

It is the ultimate litmus test, a gauge of how those who exist outside the walls of the newsroom judge his work, be he reporter or editor.

There is nothing like what diplomats call a "frank and open" discussion to stir the pot a bit.

Then there is junk mail.

It's bad enough that my mailbox at home is crammed with this stuff. The Internet now brings you an unprecedented avalanche of trash.

Want to feel popular? Just count the number of spam messages you get every day. After all, there are an estimated 84 billion messages sent worldwide each day, according to research, and a lot of them are bound to hit your inbox.

You are not alone. One report says that Microsoft founder Bill Gates receives 4million e-mails per year, most of it being spam.

My first act when signing on to the computer each day is to blast most of my newly arrived e-mail back into cyberspace.

And that's just the solicitations for sexual aids and potions.

Of course, in this business, you get press invitations to the very finest of events, such as the one soliciting my attendance at an appearance by Marie -Osmond who was to be at a special "meet and greet" opportunity to celebrate the release of Disneyland Rose, the resort's exclusive doll. Delete.

Then there is "phishing," sending an e-mail to a user falsely claiming to be an established legitimate enterprise in an attempt to scam the user into surrendering private information that will be used for identity theft.

One from Pay Pal tells me, "We are currently performing regular maintenance of our security measures. Your account has been randomly selected for this maintenance, and you will now be taken through a series of identity verification pages."

Another, from the Alaska USA Federal Credit Union says, "Our new security system will help you to avoid frequently fraud transactions and to keep your investments in safety. Due to technical update we recommend you to reactivate your account."

Mid America Bank notifies me that my account will be immediately deactivated if I don't provide information such as my user name and password.

I have never had a relationship with any of these businesses.

Delete. Delete. Delete.

A personal favorite is the lottery scam. In one month, I was notified by three different e-mails that I had won a $1million lottery in the Netherlands when my e-mail address matched up with the winning numbers in some sort of worldwide draw. Long odds? You bet your sweet powerball.

Of course, there is no lottery and no prize. Those who initiate a dialogue with the scammers by replying to the lottery scam e-mails will eventually be asked for advanced fees to cover expenses associated with delivery of the supposed "winnings."

Delete. Delete. Delete.

I also receive a lot of stock picks. One touts a stock called Everglory International which this solicitation said was trading at "about" $1.15 a share. The authors suggested $3.50 a share was on the horizon. I checked this week. Everglory was trading at 42 cents.

Another stock recommended to me via spam was soaring along at 6 cents a share last I checked.

Some of these are what are called "pump and dumb" issues. According to Newsweek magazine, a large shareholder hires a promoter to help publicize, or pump, the stock. The promoter hires spammers who blitz the Internet with millions of messages about "the home run stock of the year." If only a small percentage of the recipients bite, the effort may jack up the price whereupon the shareholder dumps his investment and pockets a profit.

Delete. Delete. Delete.

Once you get all that out of the way, you may find a message from a business associate or friend.

At least one executive hit upon a solution to the problem. Jeremy Burton, then a vice president of marketing at Veritas Software, was so tired of wading through e-mails that he enacted a Friday ban on e-mail in his department. Violators would be fined $1, and the first was also forced to wear a scarlet "E" emblazoned on his chest. Months later, the company merged with Symantec, and the ban "didn't survive," says a spokeswoman.

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