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January 11, 2005

You've Got Mortgage!

For all its myriad flaws, the U.S. CAN-SPAM law attempts to address the lying and deception (to both computer systems and humans) that spammers seem to take great pride in practicing. With a year of the law under our belts, we see clearly that it has not had any effect on huge classes of spammers. They'll deceive their way into your inboxes and lie within the limited From: and Subject: lines to get you to read their garbage.

Medz spammers tend to practice most of their deception on the computer level, spending most of their time, it seems, on getting past content-based spam filters. Hence the ads for \/a1iuum and V1@gr@.

The mortgage spammers, however, have absolutely no conscience when it comes to tricking you into opening their messages and visiting a Web site. I see a ton of messages like the following one, whose Subject: line reads, "amazed editor's hand, accompanying":

We have had trouble getting a hold of you by phone. As we promised, your morttgage app was apprroved with 3.9 %
Please correct your info here, so we can start
Thank you
Amber Saldana

Let's count up the lies:

  1. I can assure you they haven't been trying to reach me by phone.
  2. I haven't filled out a mortgage application in nearly four years, the last time I refinanced my home.
  3. No mortgage broker would approve a non-existent application submitted by someone named "Sir."
  4. Since I submitted no info, there is no info to correct.

Those are the lies right in the message. The other lies are between the lines.

When you read this message, doesn't sound as though it is coming from a lender or broker? Who else could "approve" a mortgage application? What you can't tell, however, is that this spammer and the site it would take you to, have nothing to do with granting mortgages. Their business is capturing mortgage leads, that is, names and contact info that mortgage brokers use to initiate the mortgage application process.

Lead generation in many industries is an old business, and there are numerous un-sleazy ways to generate leads. For example, capturing inquiries to advertising and even those magazine "bingo" cards you see to request more information are forms of lead generation.

There seem to be enough mortgage brokers out there who turn a blind eye to the source of the leads (for which they pay handsomely, I might add) that the lead liars continue to spam. It also means that enough recipients are responding to make it economically inviting for the spammers to continue. Unfortunately, it doesn't take too many respondents to make the spamming pay.

The brokers see the list of leads and not (so they'll tell you) the deceptive messages (commonly sent through zombie PCs) used to get those leads. It's what I call the Sargeant Schultz defense.

I recall reading awhile back about some legal prosecutions against this practice, but even if they were successful, they haven't come anywhere close to inhibiting the practice.

By the way, I'm not suggesting that you shouldn't use the Web to obtain a mortgage. I used such a service for my last refinancing and had a favorable experience. But I sought out the service. It didn't barge its way into my inbox with a pack of lies.

Posted on January 11, 2005 at 10:12 AM