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A Dispatch

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February 13, 2005

Free Vacation Slime

As much as I jump up and down to proclaim that the spam problem is about consent, and not content, it's the content that gets unsuspecting recipients into trouble. When I see the content of a spam message ooze with lies and deception, it makes my blood boil. I know that there will be people out there who will not only believe the garbage, but will respond. Yikes!

Today's thorn in my side is a message whose subject reads: "RE: Your Trip". The From: field lists only an email address, someone named "Anoush" at a domain I've never heard of (freshly minted in late January of 2005).

The message body tells me that I had signed up for a free Florida trip last year (trust me, I didn't), but the trip had to be cancelled due to the hurricanes. Wonder of wonders, they are going to give me a new free trip—10 days with tickets to various brand name attractions.

The message is signed by "Pete" (what happened to Anoush?). Clicking a link will let me redeem my tickets.

The link is to yet another domain name. This one was minted just a few days ago. I guess the hurricanes blew away their old domains (where I supposedly signed up last year).

Anyone who falls for this bait finds him/herself facing a Web page form asking for complete name, address, email address, income range, and other personal info, including credit card type (but not the number on this form). Oh, yeah, and the fine print suddenly advises that filling out this form (in its entirety, or else) lets one "qualify" for the trip. And you agree to receive additional contact by email or phone.

So what gives here? I'm not about to give up my golden info to find out for sure, but this looks a lot like an all-too-common data gathering scheme. By filling out this form, you not only supply these guys with fresh demographic data, but you'll assist services that try to link up geographic addresses with email addresses (called "email appending"). This turns your email address into veritable gold (not for you, mind you) because it lets your email address be sold (and sold and sold and...) as a demographically targeted piece of data.

In return, here's what you get: 1) More spam to your email address because you registered with an outfit that will have hundreds of "partners"; 2) Telemarketing calls because you gave them permission.

The free trip? If you get there, send me a postcard. I won't be sitting by my mailbox in anticipation.

Other than open source software (like the Firefox Web browser), there isn't much in the way of a Free Lunch on the Internet. I mean even my little Web site here—assuming you find something here of value—relentlessly hammers you with a "Buy Today" ad in the upper left corner. Any spam message that promises something for free will make you pay one way or another. If you have to give up even the slightest bit of personal information in the process, you should consider the price way too high.

Posted on February 13, 2005 at 05:39 PM