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A Dispatch

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July 26, 2007

Answer to Caller Brian

I was today's guest on Doug Fabrizio's RadioWest program. You can listen to the program (18.8MB .mp3 file), if you like. The subject was one near and dear to my heart: Spam Wars (the book and the wars).

It's fun to take live calls on such shows because you never know what you're going to get. It really keeps me on my toes, while I try to provide a meaningful answer within a few sentences.

One caller had a question that I didn't answer as well as I should have. Allow me to elaborate a bit here because it's an important question that almost every email user faces at one point or another—even if you are spam-savvy.

This caller (I think it was Brian, but I'm not positive) had his own personal dot-com web domain, which he uses for family and friends. He had received an unsolicited message from a domain broker who was inquiring about Brian's copyright of his own domain name and what issue there might be if it were registered by someone else at a dot-cn (.cn) domain, signifying China. Was this a legitimate inquiry? How would one find out?

My immediate advice was to ignore the message, and certainly avoid clicking any link that might be in it. That someone in China would be concerned about a U.S. copyright holder is a bit of a laugh (just ask the copyright police of today's fashionable brand name companies facing Chinese knockoffs).

Without seeing the actual message, I couldn't determine exactly what the goal of the message was. My guess, however, is that it was a domain broker who was trying to scare our caller into registering his domain name in China to avoid being trademark-hijacked. I'll probably get one of these messages wanting me to do the same for spamwars.cn (which does not currently resolve on the web).

Another route to inquiring about the legitimacy of the offering—this is what I didn't mention—is to use Google to search for other references to the firm making the offer. Google is your friend for these kinds of inquiries. If within the first few results pages you see listings (blogs—woohoo!) by other people who have either received the same message or had business dealings with the firm, you can learn a lot. In fact, if absolutely nothing came up on the company (other than its own web site), I'd take that to mean the offer is a fly-by-night deal, and should be avoided.

The bottom line still holds, however. Don't visit the spamvertised web site until you have verified its legitimacy through multiple third parties.

Posted on July 26, 2007 at 01:37 PM