Stop the SPAM!

In the grand scheme of things, an e-mail inbox full of mortgage offers, phony get-rich-quick schemes, erectile dysfunction meds, and the like is a niggle. I mean it’s just not quite on the same order of seriousness as global warming, war in the Middle East, Government’s being for sale to the highest bidder, the widening gap between the haves and have nots, or even the price of gas.

Senses of perspective be damned, though, if you’re reading this, odds are you spend a good deal of your time on-line. I’d also guess there isn’t much that gets your goat as regularly as a mailbox full of spam. When the spam messages outnumber the real messages by as much as 20 to 1, sometimes even more, when you receive multiple attempts at identity theft each day, and when you get the same tired offer of a “commission” on a transfer of funds from an account in Nigeria via your bank account — all you’ll have to do is provide the account information so they can withdraw all your money out of it before their check bounces — it simply gets tiring, and frustrating.

How stupid do these spammers and would be identity thieves think we are? I suppose there must be enough people who are actually gullible enough to fall for this stuff to make it worth the spammers’ whiles, or they’d get real jobs, or just go back to old-style criminal stuff like picking pockets and breaking into houses or something. But, really, if I haven’t fallen for the first few thousand con attempts, haven’t bought E.D. meds after the first year or two worth of offers, haven’t refinanced the home I supposedly have in Iuka, Mississippi (huh? — I didn’t even know such a town existed) after countless offers, and have yet to let the seemingly daily attempted virus attacks compromise my computer, wouldn’t you think they’d start getting the hint? Do they think they’ll eventually wear me down, and I’ll hand over the bank account numbers? “Okay, I give. Here’s the number. Go ahead and bleed me dry.” Give me a break!

Oh yeah, did I mention I’m just talking about the spam that doesn’t get caught by my ISP’s spam filtering? They actually catch somewhere upwards of 90% of the spam that gets sent my way on a daily basis, including pretty much all of the porn. Makes me wonder if there’s a computer somewhere watching all the trapped stuff. Okay, not really, but if they’re so good at consistently getting that stuff, how come it’s so hard to catch the Nigerian money scams when pretty much all of them have the same basic form letter? Or the ones that try to disguise E.D. drugs with names like V*ia*g*ra that we humans can spot in a millisecond?

Of course, we’ve got to take on our part of trying to prevent our e-mail addresses from getting into the spam lists in the first place, but it’s tough for someone who spends a fair amount of time interacting with other people in public or semi-public forums. I mean we’re in those kinds of places in part because we want to make it easy for people to find us. For example, in my case, one of the biggest reasons I got on-line in the first place, back in 1996, was to make it possible for people to find my songs. It wouldn’t do much good for me to get the songs out there, then not leave the people who want to use them some way of contacting me about licenses and such.

On my current web site, I even went so far as to replace use of my e-mail address with one of those mailing forms. I’m not fond of those forms, because, when I fill one out, I don’t have a log of my own message for reference. That seemed to help for awhile in keeping spammers away from the e-mail address on my web server, but lately I’ve been getting batches of messages to the address on that server, even referencing some of the multiple choice entries from the form. Thus, either someone is sitting there filling out the form endlessly just to spam me with totally meaningless messages, or, more likely, they’ve made their web page robots smart enough to figure out what my form is looking for and generate their random crap off that. But, if it were the latter, wouldn’t you think they’d also be smart enough to not send pure gibberish? I mean, we’re not even talking about sending web addresses to porn or E.D. drugs here. An example of one of the latest ones I got, supposedly from someone named Bandeca (no last name), with an e-mail address in Russia, with the subject line of “Co-writing interest” (one of the choices in my web form), has a single line of text that reads, “warloc pic 3.” That’s it. No URL or anything. Now what kind of action could they possibly be asking me to take with that, beyond just deleting their message because it makes no sense?

That leads me to believe some proportion of the spam is purely meant to frustrate us, by making us delete a hundred messages every day or half day, or whatever level of spam you may have reached. (One day recently, I got 48 of these stupid, meaningless messages, in the space of an hour or two!) Maybe the purpose isn’t even to sell us something they know we’re unlikely to buy, but just to get our goats, in the hopes we’ll eventually give up on e-mail and other net communications altogether and go back to watching TV or something? Who knows?

Yes, I’ve got a spam blocker that flags messages as spam so it is fairly easy for me to see and delete those messages relatively quickly. However, it also gives a lot of false positives, and it’s more important for me to not miss valid messages from friends and business associates, or potential business associates, than it is to save the time of having a program filter out spam for me. At least I have never encountered my ISP server’s filters blocking a valid message.

It just seems there isn’t much we can do, other than whine about this stuff, and continue to delete all the spam we are sent on a daily, or hourly, basis. Since I’m a songwriter, though, I can do a bit more than just bitch and moan. I can bitch and moan in song form!

Rob Stoecklein and I have written a new song, called “Spam It”, to let off a bit of steam at, and about, these spammers. You can hear it on MySpace Music, and, at least through the end of June (we’ll see what happens after that), we’re making a free 128 kbps MP3 download available on SoundClick.com.

If you hate spam as much as I do, I’d encourage you to download the song (did I mention it’s free?), put it on your iPod or burn it to a CD, and play it loud (it’s a rocker) and play it often. Send it to your friends who also hate spam (er, but don’t spam them with it!), send it to spammers (feel free to spam them with it!), ask your local radio station to play it, or whatever other creative thoughts you might have to let your friends in on the collective steam release. We might not be able to stop the spam, but at least we can make sure the spammers hear us bitching and moaning about them, and let them know what we’d like to do to them if we ever catch them!