Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Is you is, or is you ain't, spam?

Is you is, or is you ain't, spam?
(with apologies to B.B. King)

Or, how a missing subject line almost destroyed Western civilization.

My ISP, Earthlink, has a very aggressive e-mail filter, so I get very little spam. Hurray! But sometimes the filter grabs a message that isn't spam, such as one from someone who's not in my address book. These are kept in a Suspect Mail folder, which I check daily. I always inspect the suspect messages through Earthlink's web e-mail interface. By doing it this way, I don't need to download the message to my computer and I feel safe looking at it on Earthlink's site. (Also, I use a Mac so I'm not worried about catching a virus or downloading malware.)

If a suspect message is OK, I can transfer it to my Inbox and add the sender to my address book. If it's spam, I delete it. But I need to be very careful. Recently I found a message in the Suspect Mail that was a dead ringer for spam, but wasn't. It was from someone I didn't know, had no subject line, and contained an attachment. Usually this means trouble, but there were several things that made me think the message might not be spam.

First, the sender's address appeared to be legitimate. Bogus e-mail addresses often look like this: Tisha Lassiter or Amalia Pina . The sender's name and the e-mail ID don't match. But the address on this message was: Kim Smith .
Also, spam addresses often end in ".kr," for Korea, or ".de," for Deutschland. This usually means that the message has been rerouted to disguise the original sender.
I felt confident that this message was not spam, so I crossed my fingers and opened it. It was legit! The attachment in the message was a press release for an upcoming concert. I write press releases for the Folkus Project, which sponsors folk music concerts in the Syracuse area, so I often get press kits e-mailed from artists and agents. If the sender had only used a simple subject line, such as "press release for Joe Folksinger" I would have known immediately that it was OK. Because the subject line was empty, the message came very close to being deleted.

When writing a subject line, avoid things like, "Hi," or "How are you?" These are commonly used in spam messages. Choose a few words that describe the content of the message. Not only is this courteous, it may prevent an important message from being tossed in the trash. For more information to help you decide if a message is spam, go to the Spam Home Page of the Federal Trade Commission.


Post a Comment

<< Home