Fighting Spam

Do you get lots of unsolicited email, that wastes your time and insults your intelligence? You obviously aren't alone. Unsolicited email is a growing problem, and according to reports by the US Federal Trade Commission, the bulk of it appears to be fraudulent.

The fraud has many variations, but the basic story is the same. A stranger contacts you with an offer that sounds too good to be true, you give him a check or your credit card number, and then, in three to six weeks, you receive... absolutely nothing. By that time the guy's fax number has been disconnected, and his "business address", which was really just a slot at Mail Boxes Etc., has already been rented out to somebody else.

An alternative is the stock-pumping scheme, where someone tries to get the world to buy a tiny stock he already owns shares in. If enough people follow his "tip" then the price really will go up - just long enough for him to sell out for a quick profit.

There are federal privacy laws that theoretically make it easy for you to get removed from bulk email lists; but since these guys are crooks, they think breaking the privacy laws is really small potatoes.

The good news is that you can fight back. The next time you get an email that looks suspicious or offends you, forward it to the FTC at uce@ftc.gov. As an alternative, you can try sending it to the attorney general in the state where the spammer is doing business. Include a brief note explaining that this was an unsolicited email, and why you suspect it isn't on the level.

And naturally, you should never trust a stranger who shows up in your in-box offering a stock tip, or asking for money or any personal information. If somebody tries to sell you a diamond necklace in a parking lot, he ain't from Tiffany's.


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