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  • Spammers Love iPods

    April 2nd, 2005

    How much junk mail do you get these days? Let me tell you that it used to reach several thousand a week for me, but the onslaught seems to have lessened somewhat since then. And I'm talking about what my ISP captures. A pretty hefty amount is still captured by the junk filters on my Mac.

    Now I don't pay attention to the daily offerings about cheap cellular phones, sexual enhancements, payday loans, porn and all the rest. That's pretty much the standard run. No, I've paid particular notice to another product that's caught the attention of spammers, and that's the iPod.

    So why would the iPod deserve such attention? Well, consider it's popularity, which is why it's become a popular gimmick to entice you to sign up for some of shady products and services those junk mail marketers want you to buy. It starts with an offer for a free iPod. Free? Well, if you're prepared to jump through lots of hoops, and even then, don't bet on it.

    Before I go further, I do see free iPod ads from marketers that appear legitimate, or at least they don't use illegal means to get their messages across. But I will tell you that I haven't spent much time exploring the offers all that much. I'm just focusing in the spam version.

    If you fall for one of these offers, you'll be taken to a site where you must show that you are "serious" about getting something for nothing. Through several pages, you'll be asked to sign up for "free" offers and mailings, and perhaps a product or two with cheap introductory prices, such as a music club. Of course you can always cancel those memberships after you get your cheap merchandise, right? But you still end up paying something for the privilege. The iPod may be free at the end of this online rainbow, but it costs to get there.

    Now the offers vary from one scammer to another, but at the end of the day, some require that you give the name of five of your friends. And if they sign up for the same thing, you get your iPod. Such a deal! It's not that your friends are going to appreciate being forced to endure the same process, and I don't know if they will remain friends after the ordeal, so maybe you should pick your enemies instead.

    Or just ignore this Ponzi scheme in the first place, even if you do desperately want a free iPod. Find a friend or relative instead and convince them to buy you one. You see, the reason the torrent of junk mail doesn't let up is because some of you out there, a very few I'm sure, actually open the messages and go ahead and place orders. Now by way of comparison, in the old days, junk snail mail was the marketing tool of choice, but you can see how expensive it got what with designing your promotional material, printing and mailing it. It might cost upwards of $1.00 per letter, when you count postage, printing and processing. Depending on the potential income from each order, you'd have to sell a lot of product to make a profit.

    (In case you've tuned in late, a Ponzi scheme, named after a swindler by the name of Charles Ponzi, is "an investment swindle in which some early investors are paid off with money put up by later ones in order to encourage more and bigger risks." It has come to apply to most any offering that requires you to sign up other customers to earn a profit.)

    On the other hand, a junk mail campaign is dirt cheap. After the initial setup charge to put the ad online, it doesn't cost very much to send millions of messages to unwary recipients. So the vendor doesn't need many orders to make a good profit, which is why laws against the practice have had only minimal success. Yes, there have been stories about some of the more notorious spammers being caught by the authorities. But most of the offenders reside below the radar.

    How so? Well, their real identities are kept secret, hidden by dummy corporations of one sort or another. Many of the actual mailings are done offshore, in countries that don't seem to care about stopping such activities. Before the authorities can get a handle on the source of those mailings, they usually move to other servers, in other countries. Yes, they can run and, alas, they usually hide.

    In addition, some of those home PCs that are inundated with spyware are hijacked, and used as spambots or zombies, quietly sending out tons of the stuff before an ISP finds out and pulls the plug on the unwary offender. And that's innocent owner of the PC who didn't realize what was really happening.

    As for me, I do not expect the load to lessen any time soon. Laws won't stop it, and junk mail filters will simply hide most of it from your tired eyes. Spam is just too cheap and too profitable to stop, and it's too easy to hide the sources of all the misery.

    Of course, some laws with teeth might help. But it won't stop until people stop placing those orders. Yes, the free iPod sounds attractive, but if you think you're getting junk now, you don't want to know how much more of it you'll receive if you sign up for any of the schemes in those junk messages.



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