spam

Did you ever wonder why those annoying unsolicited emails are called spam? According to the website Sticky Branding, the term originated with gamers who were also fans of the British comedy troupe Monty Python. In one famous sketch from the 1970s, a visit to a restaurant ends up in chaos as a “waitress” annoyingly describes the SPAM-heavy menu, and a group of Vikings chimes in with a chorus extolling the canned meat product. Bedlam ensues as everyone’s voice is drowned out.

Picking up on the repetitive use of the word spam in the sketch, 1980s gamers used the term to describe any act of flooding a website with traffic or trying to crash a database by overwhelming it with requests. The name stuck, and soon it spread into popular culture as a description for the flood of unsolicited emails.

Spam today is a fact of life that every email user knows. Most spam gets caught up in filters, but spammers use a variety of tricks to get through the gauntlet. Common tricks include spacing out the letters in words, substituting numbers and symbols for letters and creating alarming subject lines to get your attention. It may seem as though spam is only increasing, but back in February, the internet traffic site Spamlaws reported that the number of spam messages has been steadily decreasing the past couple of years.

Still, according to statistics provided by Talos Intelligence, spam makes up about 85 percent of all email traffic. About 122 billion spam messages are sent out every day, contrasted with just about 22 billion legitimate emails sent out daily. Of course, most of that traffic is advertising, and a small percentage is malicious (intended to harm people or data). As you might guess, most of that advertising is sexual in nature.

And, lest you think that no one ever responds to that “Nigerian prince” email and related scams, enough people do respond to make it worth the while of the criminal gangs that perpetrate much of the spam traffic. According to security site ADT, Americans sent at least $703,000 to Nigerian Prince scams in 2019.

The threat is real; by clicking on spam messages, you can open the door to fraud. So, the internet security company Norton suggests reporting that a message has escaped detection by clicking on the “spam” button on your email program to report it. This should keep future messages from getting through. Also, clear out your spam folder regularly, and set your email program to automatically delete known spam.

If you think a legitimate message is improperly flagged as spam, be careful.

If you aren’t sure whether a message is legitimate, watch for emails that request personal information; are from irregular email addresses (perhaps known organizations are slightly misspelled, for example); contain poor grammar or usage; or those which implore you to act quickly.

Here are a few examples of spam messages I got recently:

» One was supposedly from an outfit called “CREDITscoreOK”; the manipulation of the upper and lower case characters was a dead giveaway.

» Another, purportedly from Sam’s Wholesale Club, featured cartoonish symbols of gift boxes in the text.

» One informed me I had gotten an “exclusive reward” from Walgreens, but used the word “congratulation” instead of “congratulations”.

» Others were trying to sell keto products, PlayStation game consoles, skin tag cures, “bust-a-cheater” services and others.

These are just a few examples; perhaps the best thing to do is to be vigilant and consider each message on its own. By not clicking on links and thinking about the message content, we could potentially avoid being victimized by scammers.

» Contact Bill Moak at moakconsumer@gmail.com.

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