Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

CYBURBIA

He's Got the Pick of the Litter in His Mailbox

September 14, 1997|DAVID COLKER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Wondrous offers have come to me in the last week.

I have been given the opportunity to obtain great wealth, cure dreaded diseases, get a free luxury automobile, attract the man or woman (or both) of my dreams, add a title to my name, lose weight without dieting or exercise, fly to exotic locales for a pittance and learn the secret of barbecuing brisket.

All of the above was offered without me even having to ask. Am I an extraordinarily lucky person?

No. I just get a lot of junk e-mail.

If you spend a good deal of time on the Internet or belong to an online service such as America Online, you probably do, too. In cyberspace, unsolicited e-mail has become a part of life, and although surveys show that the vast majority of online denizens would prefer not to get junk e-mail--nicknamed spam--it's probably here to stay, at least for the short term.

Numerous legal battles have been fought over spam, including one initiated by the Hormel company--which makes the actual food product, Spam--to try and get the best known junk e-mail company from using the term. Hackers have electronically attacked junk e-mail companies to cripple their operations, and newsgroups and Web pages have been created to spread hints on how to at least curb the junk.

We'll share some of their hints with you, but first, let's take a look at some choice spam.

E-mail I got from the "Christian Brothers" (not the wine makers) claimed the group had found, in the Bible, the secret to curing cancer. They called it Vitamin B17 and if you have not heard of it, don't be surprised. They say the government has plotted to make it illegal to even "talk about" this wondrous vitamin.

The sellers of a drug from a Peruvian plant called "Una de Gato" claimed their capsules cure cancer, AIDS, rheumatism, arthritis and more. All you have to do is send money to a post office box in Miami.

My heartfelt hope is that these purveyors get the very diseases they claim to be able to cure.

I received numerous business propositions, including the opportunity to invest in a company that will surely be "the next Microsoft." I was even given several chances to get on the spam bandwagon, myself, by taking lessons in setting up my own junk e-mail business. One of my favorite messages of this ilk noted that it was sent to me via a "bulk e-mail software" program. Yet, the second line of the message assured me that it was "not meant to be a spam nor an invasion of your time, money or privacy."

This is just the type of person with which I want to do business.

I received one message offering "limited edition" postage stamps commemorating Princess Diana's "charitable acts and contributions to humanity." I was also given the chance to obtain my very own English title, choosing among Baron, Lord, Sir, Lady, Baroness or Duchess.

"A title improves your credit rating and social standing," the message promised, not to mention that it would get me free airline upgrades and the best tables in restaurants. Checking the Web page, I found that the title carries no official weight. But hey, if it's going to get me a good table at Denny's, count me in.

How do the spammers get your address? It's not that difficult, according to several Web pages devoted to fighting junk e-mail, if your address appears on a Web page or if you have ever sent a message to a newsgroup, your address can be "harvested" by special software. Or, if you simply surf the Web, a trail of where you have been exists electronically in "cookies" that can be picked up at various sites.

If you are an active Web surfer and you want to try to stop spam from coming your way, you can take a few steps, although some are arduous. To learn how to disguise your mailing address and other tricks, check out an anti-spam site at http://www.cs.ruu.nl/wais/html/nadir/net-abuse-faq/spam-faq.html.

To turn off your "cookie" maker in your net browser, such as Netscape or Internet Explorer, check your browser's help file. One warning--some sites simply won't let you in if your "cookies" are disabled.

If you're a member of America Online, you are given the option of preventing messages reaching you from at least one big junk e-mail company. Go to the Mail Control section, to learn how to do this.

But odds are, if you are an active Web surfer or online service user, at least some spam is going to come your way. It's astonishing that this amazingly sophisticated communications medium--cyberspace--seems to be a haven for the seediest of advertisers. They almost make me wish I was listening to Lillian Zacky.

*

Cyburbia's e-mail address is david.colker@latimes.com.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|