Spammers and Miners

Written and published November 24, 1999

After you've been on the Internet for some period of time, you are bound to start receiving unsolicited e-mail. Unsolicited e-mail is spam. And unlike its namesake meat, there's not even a vague possibility that this spam is good for you -- spam is bad. And spam begets more spam -- if you enable it to. And that's the topic of the week.

Don't reply to spam

The message to take away this week is simple: Don't respond to unsolicited email.

Easy, eh? Just take those messages about making a million dollars in your spare time, buying cable boxes, and visiting the new site of some luscious but innocent teen, or checking out a new web site -- and trash them.

I can bet some of you are thinking, "Awe Deb ... that's mean. They're so nice about sending the message and they specifically ask me to unsubscribe if I don't want to get more mail from them."

So here's the tip: they want you to reply! When you send that unsubscribe message -- from your valid email account -- you validate your address. Rather than getting yourself off a list, you've opened the door to having your name sold, passed on, shared. You have now left yourself open for even more spam.

Actually, it's not just the obvious messages to be wary of. Spammers are getting more creative and trickier about getting you to respond. A few weeks ago about 40 women on a women's list I subscribe to received a message from a woman (if it really was a woman) claiming to be a job recruiter. She encouraged you to submit the names of friends who might be seeking a great new job, or to pass the message onward. After much discussion about this post, the conclusion was that she was mining names.

[Miners are people who gather names and e-mail addresses so they can use of sell your name.]

Other Mining techniques

With spam, someone has already mined your name and they are now using it. When you respond you're validating the address they've collected. But miners are always seeking new names as well. A miner's goal is to get you to his/her site and then get you to provide you name and email. Their trick is two-fold: first, to get you to the site and second, to get you to tell others and send others to their site for you. And it works!

Remember the age-old wisdom that if something seems too good to be true then it probably is? Bear that wisdom in mind and be wary before you give away your contact info. I'm not suggesting this to panic you. There are many, many legitimate sites that request your name for honest purposes; to send you product information or a site newsletter. Also great contest sites need your address to inform you when you win. Just use your common sense and think twice about offers of quick riches, free stock or other such offers. Remember, you can always check the hoax pages to see if an offer is known to be false. The hoax verification site, once again, is Urban Legends ( and CIAC (

Next Week

Attachments and the fun stuff are still ahead. And I hope to hear from more of your about your favorite emoticons and abbreviations. UNW (until next week)

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