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Your Secret, Official Guide To Internet Marketing Gurus

It’s obvious that the web presents a great way to make money for quite a few people. I buy stuff on the web all the time, and have done a lot of business with some of the well-known sites like Amazon.com and Newegg.com. My experience with both these sites has been very good, and I will continue to do business with them as long as they continue to treat me right.

On the other hand, there is also an endless supply of scammers and other crooks loose on the net that want to extract money from your wallet without providing you with anything of value in return.

When I think of scammers using the Internet, the first things that come to mind are the infamous 419 scams and the all-too-common phishing scams. We all know what those guys are up to, and their tactics are blatantly engineered to rip you off.

The scammers I want to talk about today are a lot more subtle with their tactics, and actually do provide you with a product or service in return for your payment. It is the quality and usefulness of the product or service I am questioning here today.

I’m not going to mention any names here, but with a small amount of effort you can locate the web sites and names of some of these Internet marketing gurus. They make their money by selling information that is supposed to guide you through the process of starting up your own Internet business. Work from the comfort of your own home, of course!

I have not personally purchased packages from any Internet marketing gurus since they tend to be on the expensive side, and the amount of information I would expect to actually use from one of these products would probably be limited. I’ve seen and heard enough regarding these products to know that many of them are simply a course that instructs you on how to set up your own Internet marketing guru business and try selling the same type of stuff they sold to you. Can you say Amway, or perhaps MLM?

Many of these products come in the form of DVDs and training manuals and as I said, can be quite expensive ‘ often $1000 or more. But they justify it by telling you how valuable the information is and how much money you can make by using it to set up your own Internet business. And they are probably right!

I don’t doubt that some people probably do make a great deal of money by selling this Internet marketing material. However, I wonder how easy it is for an honest person to do this and still be able to sleep at night.

It’s quite common for these gurus to use what I consider to be very questionable tactics to market their wares. For example, one of their common tricks is to say something like ‘I’m only going to sell 500 copies of this system and then it’s over!’ Their intent is obvious. They want to create a sense of urgency for potential buyers who begin to think that they are going to ‘miss out’ if they don’t order that product right away!

Are the gurus really selling only 500 copies and then refusing to take any more orders? Maybe they are. There’s no way for me to know. I can well imagine, however, how difficult it must be to stop after selling 500 copies of something that might cost $1000 or more, and then refusing to accept the next batch of 500 orders that may come in!

Or, perhaps they have done enough Internet marketing, and studied it enough to know that they can expect only 500 orders for a product like that and really don’t limit their profits all that much by using a tactic like that.

As much as I am knocking the gurus here, I also want to make the point that some of them really are experts at Internet marketing, and really know their stuff. And what is really interesting (and useful) is that many of these gurus also share a lot of their expertise for free. As a matter-of-fact, I have taken advantage of so much of their free material, that I feel I am hardly missing anything by not buying their high-priced ‘systems.’

Obviously, I don’t approve of many of their methods, and I question their ethics in general. Therefore, much of their material has no value to me. However, I have discovered many little gems buried in the material they give away for free, and some of these little gems have been extremely helpful in my own online businesses.

A lot of the free material the gurus give away comes in the form of recorded conference calls that you can listen to on the Internet or download to your own computer in the form of an MP3 file. Most of these conference calls are free for anyone to listen to, but chances are good that it will require a long-distance call than can last an hour or more. There are also a limited number of callers allowed into the conference call, so it can be difficult to get in on it if thousands of people are competing for the same slots, which is quite common.

I’ve never called into one of these conference calls myself, but I’ve downloaded and listened to quite a few of them. As I said, much of the information is of no value to me, since I am not interested in selling the same kind of material the gurus are selling, but more often than not, I pick up an excellent tip or two from the call.

I have very mixed feelings about some of these gurus, since some of them seem like genuinely nice guys. After all, they are marketing gurus, so they know how to write e-mail messages that make it sound like you are their best buddy. And they do that a lot!

But there’s also the fact that I have seen a few of them do certain things that they had previously claimed they would never do. I guess when you spend so much of your time blabbing about your business on the Internet, you are bound to slip up from time to time.

There’s no question that the Internet can be a great place to do business. But what disturbs me, and prompted me to write this, is the fact that some of these gurus are encouraging people to start up Internet businesses using questionable ethics.

Although I find the questionable ethics the most disturbing aspect of this subject, there’s also an increasing irritation factor on my part due to the amount of garbage that is being spewed all around the net.

A significant portion of this garbage is made up of sites like computer-generated web directories and sites that are commonly referred to as ‘mini sites.’ You have probably come across some of these mini sites yourself. They all look pretty much the same. Here’s a pretty typical (but fictional) example.

The straw that broke the camel’s back for me was a site I visited this morning. It was so poorly-conceived and written that I could hardly believe my eyes. It was centered around a man by the name of Cory Rudl. He was one of the best-known Internet marketing gurus and was well-known by almost everyone in the Internet marketing world.

I mention him in the past tense because he was killed in an automobile accident a few months back while riding in a very expensive, high-performance car on a race track. When I saw an advertisement featuring his name on a web site this morning, I clicked on the ad to see what it was all about.

It’s clear that the author of the ad and the web page the ad led me to is a product of yet another aspiring Internet marketing guru. His pitch was focused mainly around the claim that he is not a typical Internet marketing guru, and is just an honest guy wanting to share his opinion of the Internet marketing guru material he himself had purchased.

Overall, he did not feel like he got a very good deal (surprise, surprise!) and was mainly provided with a lot of material that was primarily designed to sell him more material. He singled out Cory Rudl as a guru that sold him this type of material, and although he questioned the usefulness of it, there was one particular package he valued greatly, and supposedly had used very successfully himself.

I think you know where this is going now. Yes, as you might expect, clicking the link for more information on this one package he considers useful takes you off to a lengthy page where he does his best to sell the package to you!

But the thing that really got me was how he includes this paragraph near the beginning of the original page that the advertisement led me to:

‘Looking back, my opinion of Cory has changed a lot. I now think he was a very good marketer. I say “Was” because Cory has recently passed away in an automobile racing accident. ‘

And then, at the very end of the page he writes:

‘This is called doing something without getting paid, and I think Cory Rudl needs to apply this idea to his writing more often.’

Huh? I thought you said the guy was dead! This is the kind of garbage I am talking about. Was this wanna-be Internet marketing guru even AWAKE when he wrote this? And to think he is paying for an advertisement on the Internet that leads people to that page!

This is the kind of garbage that also tends to create a bad impression in people’s minds about anything being sold on the Internet. Like everything else in life, when you have something good (the net), there are always plenty of people lining up trying to ruin it for everyone else. What else is new?

I’m hoping the vast majority of the Internet-surfing public has, or soon will, be able to recognize this crap for what it really is. It seems like we’re getting to the point now where everyone and their grandmother is coming up with an e-book about something and trying to hawk it on the net. I mean how many OfficialNosePicking.com and SquareDancingSecrets.com sites do we need?

Are there really an adequate number of people out there gullible enough to fall for the same kind of crap they used back in the 1950’s in those junk mail letters they used to sell the latest-and-greatest new widget via mail order?

One rather striking example is a couple of marketers who happen to be working in the same small niche market one of my sites is focused on. Before I lambaste them, first let me say that I don’t use these ‘standard’ Internet marketing guru methods. I take a much more straight-forward approach and provide as much information as I can about my products and conduct my business in an honest manner. No “secrets” and no white lies. Period.

Two of these other sites that I am talking about use methods that I consider a bit more questionable. There is one of them that incorporates the word ‘secrets’ in the name of their product and their web site, and of course, another that uses the word ‘official.’

Now I’m talking about a subject that is considered a hobby by most people, and has been around for hundreds or perhaps even thousands of years. How anyone could believe there are any ‘secrets’ to an ancient and enduring pastime like this is beyond me.

As for ‘official,’ well, I have to wonder who the governing body is that could possibly bestow such a lofty title on any product. Quite an ego at work there, apparently.

No matter what the medium, whether it’s the door-to-door magazine salesman or a web site selling a product that claims to provide you with ‘secrets’ you can use to make a fortune on the net, just be careful and always remember: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

[If you are interested in getting some free material from some of these gurus, go to this site, and you’ll find a gold mine of guru names. Go to one of the guru’s web sites (they often have many!) and sign up for information on one of their offers.

This usually involves putting in your name and e-mail address. Hint: They’ll never know if the name you put in is your real name, and you might want to set up a dedicated e-mail account to use first, for all the spam that may be coming your way.]

Careful What You Say To A Spammer

Or perhaps more importantly, watch how you say something to spammers.

Once upon a time, I used to reply to spammers every so often. I would send them a piece of spam for one of my services and ask them how they liked being spammed in return.

Naturally, since the vast majority of spam is sent with bogus return addresses, I was only able to reply to a few of them (but there are other tactics one can use to respond to most spammers) that would actually use a legitimate return address. These tended to be sites that were advertising various real estate services ‘ most of them useless.

The mistake I made was replying to them using my actual e-mail address. Most of them I never heard anything from. Some of them actually wrote back and said they understood my position, and thought my spamming them back was a fair thing to do.

And some of them obviously did not appreciate my comments, and decided to attempt to exact a little revenge for my having the nerve to object to their wonderful spam! How could I be so bold?

I began to see bounced messages showing up in the inbox belonging to the e-mail address I had used to respond to the spammers. Not a whole lot, just a few. That can usually mean a couple of things.

Most commonly, it means that someone who has your e-mail address in their address book has had their computer infected with a virus. Many of these viruses will pick random e-mail addresses from the victim’s address book and use these as the ‘From:’ address when they send copies of the virus out to other addresses in the address book.

It’s not unusual to see a few bounced messages come back out of the blue since the virus has attempted to send itself out to other people using my e-mail address as the ‘From:’ address. The mail server has no way to tell that the e-mail has a forged ‘From:’ address, so I end up with the bounced message informing me that the message could not be delivered because a particular destination mailbox no longer exists. Sometimes the server will detect the virus in the e-mail message and refuse to deliver it to the intended mailbox and bounce it back to whatever “From:” address is on the message.

It works pretty much the same way if I were to send a traditional letter through the mail to an address that does not really exist. Before I send it, however, I put my neighbor’s return address on the envelope instead of mine. When the post office on the receiving end discovers that the delivery address is nonexistent, they are likely to return it to my neighbor since I used his address for the return address. He, of course, has no idea how or why he ended up with a returned letter that he has never seen before.

With a virus, I will sometimes see a flurry of these bounced messages over a period of days or maybe even a week or so. Eventually, the person whose computer has been infected with a virus discovers the virus and eliminates it, and the bounced messages stop arriving.

The circumstances with the bounced messages I was receiving was different, and did not fit the typical profile of virus-borne e-mail messages. They arrived sporadically and over quite a long period of time.

Another tip-off was that I had received one or two messages indicating that I had signed up for access to some particular kinds of web sites, that might, ah, be considered ‘questionable’ by some people, if you know what I mean. Obviously, someone was using my e-mail address as their ‘From:’ address and sending out spam, viruses and who-knows-what-else.

I guess their intent was to cause me some grief, but that never really happened. I never received anything from anyone who had received any of the bogus messages, so perhaps their campaign was limited in scope. And with hundreds of e-mail addresses available for me to create, and circumstances that made that particular e-mail address quite expendable, the obviously amateur attempt to harass me actually just served to amuse me and teach me a few things about spammers.

I’m sure that not everyone who has, or ever will send a spam message is the scum of the Earth. But I do firmly believe, you will find a disproportionate number of scumbags in a group of spammers when compared with other segments of the population. Murderers and child molesters excepted of course!

The lesson here is that if you intend to respond to a spam message with the intent of informing the spammer just what you think of them, be sure to use a bogus e-mail address yourself. You do not want them to begin a campaign of harassment against you using an e-mail address that you value and would like to continue using.

I feel a little hesitant about advising anyone to send e-mail using a bogus address, but with the ruthless, relentless tactics in use by spammers, and an understanding of just how ticked off you can get from receiving a seemingly endless supply of their crap, I feel that spammers deserve whatever anonynous revenge anyone is capable of dishing out.

I handle this by setting up a dedicated e-mail account in my e-mail client application for replying to spammers. The address is of course a bogus one. I won’t make the mistake of turning a legitimate e-mail address over to a spammer again by replying to their spam messages from a valid e-mail account.

The easiest thing to do is probably to just set up an e-mail address on one of the free web-based e-mail services, and use that to send your compliments and kind words to the spammers of your choice.

Also, if you are going to hit ‘reply’ and direct the reply back out through your dedicated bogus e-mail account, be sure you ‘scrub’ the message first. Most people have their e-mail client application configured so that it sends the original message as part of the reply when you hit ‘Reply’ to an e-mail message.

Make sure you remove any references to your name, e-mail address and anything that looks like it could be a tracking code of some kind before the message is actually sent. Many times spam will arrive in HTML or ‘rich text’ format and these formats can easily hide things from you. As a result, your e-mail address, name or some other piece of code could reside inside the message that will give you away as the sender of the message and you would never see it.

A quick way around this is to change the format of the message to ‘Plain Text’ before you hit the ‘Send’ button. This will reveal the message’s entire contents and you can check it to make sure it has nothing that will allow the spammer to trace it back to you.

Sure, a message that was originally formatted with HTML looks pretty ugly after you change the format to plain text, but who cares? The point is to prevent the spammer from finding out who really sent the message and they will surely recognize the text version of their original HTML spam message.

I’m sure the vast majority of spammers don’t bother taking the time to figure out who sent them a nasty message, but obviously, my experience suggests that some of them are more deranged than others and may try to get back at you if they get hold of your e-mail address.

I actually responded to a spam e-mail message from China once and the spammer responded back to me, which led to an exchange of messages for a short time. He was a real piece of work. He Was quite condescending and cocky and threatened to hack my web site.

After a quick check of his web server, I saw that his web site was hosted on the same type of server that hosted my site. I informed him of this discovery and reminded him that he certainly was not the only person on the planet that knows how to hack a web site. I also took note of the fact that his was a much larger site that obviously did much more business than my little site that was esentially little more than a hobby at that time. In other words, he had a lot more to lose than I did.

After a short time I suggested that we both go our separate ways and forget that we had ever been in touch and he readily agreed. I don’t know much about how he spends his time, but I certainly did not care to spend much more of my time trading threats with him.

As I’ve pointed out many times, not many people hate spam much more than I do. And some will argue that replying to spammers with a bogus e-mail address is a complete waste of time. It does however, make me feel like I at least had a chance to inconvenience them slightly or perhaps tick them off a little bit. So it is something I will continue to do, and feel a bit better as a result.

Work At Home? Yeah, Right!

They’re everywhere. If you spend time surfing around the Internet to visit various web sites, chances are good that you have seen the work-at-home ads. Maybe it is just the sites I tend to visit, but I see them all the time.

Now who doesn’t want to work at home? Granted, there are some people who probably aren’t that crazy about the idea, but for many others, it is a very appealing idea. And when there’s something with that much emotional appeal, you can bet there are plenty of sharks out there circling around anyone willing to click on their ad and visit their web site to check out the fabulous offer.

The sad fact of the matter is that the vast majority of these work-at-home offers are scams. The idea is to bait you in with all kinds of claims about how ‘legitimate’ their offer is and how their offer is not just another one of those work-at-home scams, when in fact is!

There are actually some legitimate work-at-home opportunities out there, but theyare quite rare. The only situations I would consider legitimate are actual job offers you might see from well-known companies. I have known a few people that are fortunate enough to have actual work-at-home jobs, but again, these are ‘real’ jobs for companies whose name you would probably recognize.

How To Spot The Scammers

It’s pretty easy to spot the work-at-home scams and you really only need to look for one thing. If they are trying to sell you something, it is not a legitimate work-at-home opportunity. Let me make it even more clear. If they are asking you to pay them for anything, it is not a legitimate work-at-home opportunity.

The typical work-at-home scam works something like this: You see an ad on the Internet somewhere for a ‘legitimate,’ ‘genuine’ or ‘real’ work-at-home opportunity. These scammers know that many people are wary about these kinds of deals since most of them (and I am tempted to say all of them!) are well-known to be scams.

The ads will often say things like ‘Tired of wasting time on work-at-home scams? We offer real work-at-home opportunities with well-known companies.’ I’m sure there are many variations, but their main goal is to convince you that their particular work-at-home scam isn’t just another one of those work-at-home scams!

Their web site will tell you all about the benefits of working at home and how much freedom it provides and how happy you will be when you are working at home. They also love to inject as much emotion into it by reminding you that working at home will give you more time to spend with your family — particularly your children. They might even include a list of well-known companies ‘ companies whose names you will recognize ‘ that have current work-at-home openings you can apply for.

The Punchline

After they tell you all about how wonderful it will be to work at home and how theirs is the only legitimate work-at-home opportunity out there, they will deliver the punch line. And it always comes in the form of a dollar amount.

They are usually offering some kind of list of work-at-home openings or some kind of indispensable guide on how to land yourself a great work-at-home job. This is what their offer is all about: Getting you to give them some of your money.

What you receive in return is usually worth about as much as the paper that was used to print it on. It may be a list of stale job openings from legitimate companies that were filled months ago or it may be a list of web sites or other resources where you can supposedly find work-at-home job opportunities.

It really is as simple as that. As soon as you see that they are tying to sell you something, you’ll know it is a work-at-home scam. Since when did any company advertising any kind of job opening ask applicants to pay for the information need to apply for the job?

Where Are The Real Work-At-Home Jobs?

Like I said, there are legitimate work-at-home jobs out there. My advice to you if you are seeking one is to check the well-known, large job sites like Monster.com and HotJobs.com and look for openings for home-based or telecommuting positions from legitimate, well-known companies. If they are inviting you to apply, and not asking you for money, chances are good that it is a legitimate work-at-home opportunity.

The New Breed of Work-At-Home Scams

While I mention large, well-known job sites as a good place to seek out legitimate work-at-home opportunities, don’t make the mistake of assuming that every work-at-home ‘opportunity’ there is a legitimate one.

At least one of the large, well-known job sites allow many of these work-at-home scammers to advertise on their site regularly. In fact, their listings appear every single day and sometimes multiple times a day.

These too, are pretty easy to spot. Their ads often stand out among the other listings because they tend to use bold text and contain claims with dollar amounts included. For example, the ad might read something like this:

‘Make $6,450.00 a month working at home using your own home computer”

These work-at-home scams are a new twist on the older scams, and don’t feature the usual list of work-at-home jobs for sale or the fabulous guide to finding a work-at-home job.

They are often offering you a specific service or a number of services to ‘help’ you get your new work-at-home business started. This could be anything from providing ‘training’ to helping you set up your own web site that you can use to make thousands of dollars selling stuff to people.

Their ads will often mention how much money one of their ‘associates’ is making. For example:

‘Our number one associate made $26,432 last month selling purple widgets from his home computer!’

Internet Marketing Is Not “Easy”

That may in fact be true, but what they don’t tell you is that their ‘number one associate’ is a seasoned Internet marketer who already had a web site that was being visited by 50,000 different people every day.

The key to making money with a web site is getting people to visit your site. Not only that, getting the right people to visit your web site! That takes experience and that takes time ‘ usually lot’s of time. I’ve got some experience in that area, so I know what I am talking about.

Oh, they have anticipated all the realities of the business and will be prepared to tell you how their ‘service’ will drive thousands of people to your web site in no time! Think about it a little bit. How many other people have they sold their ‘service’ to? Won’t they be helping drive traffic to their web sites as well? Other people that are trying to sell the exact same product or service you are trying to sell?

No matter what you are trying to sell on the Internet, chances are that there are other people out there trying to sell the same thing. And if you are new to the idea of creating a web site, you are already at a huge disadvantage due to all the experienced people who are already out there selling that very same thing.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not trying to discourage anyone from getting into Internet marketing. You could put in the time and effort to learn it and may end up a millionaire a few years down the road. But that is the key! Realize that it is a job like anything else that must be learned.

You would not go out and expect to become a carpenter or electrician in a month’s time, so don’t expect to create a new web site and start making tons of money that quickly either. It may not sound like it, but there is a lot of hard work involved in building a successful Internet business.

Again, I speak from experience here since I run a few web sites, one of them being a site that sells products to a small and very specific market. Is it successful? Yes. Am I making tons of money from it. No, not yet, but I continue to improve on it and add new products and I hope to build it into something more profitable with time.

My point is that I don’t want people to fall for all the fantastic claims these scammers are making. Despite what they tell you, there is no way they can drive thousands of visitors to your new web site. Especially when they are doing the same thing for thousands of other new victims that have fallen for their scam.

I don’t know why these large, well-known job sites allow these scammers to advertise on their sites. I actually e-mailed one of them to ask them this very question, and all I got back was a form letter that did not answer my question. Not that I was surprised! The obvious answer is that these work-at-home scammers are paying these job sites to list their scams right alongside all the other legitimate job openings.

Bottom Line: Legitimate Employers Don’t Charge You To Apply For A Job!

Keep your eyes open and stay aware. If you have skipped through all of my ramblings to the end of the article, just take this tidbit with you regarding work-at-home opportunities:

If they are asking you to pay them for anything regarding a work-at-home opportunity, it is not a legitimate work-at-home opportunity. End of story.

Thank You Nokia

It’s so refreshing to see a manufacturer do something sensible for a change. In this case I am talking about Nokia, a manufacturer of cell phones and probably other things I am not aware of.

We recently decided to get my son a cell phone for his birthday. He’s 16 now, has a job, and is starting to drive, so we thought it would be good for him to be able to keep in touch when he is out and about, especially in the case of an emergency.

Although we had no experience with them, we decided to get him one of those pre-paid cell phone plans. More on that at a later date, but we ended up getting him a new Nokia phone that was purchased at Wal-Mart.

I’ve had a cell phone from my local provider for about the last 5 years or so. The first phone I bought with that plan was a Nokia and when I got a new phone about 3 years ago, that was also a Nokia.

When I saw how well my son’s pre-paid phone worked out, I started to think about getting in on that myself. But, having bought an accessory or two for my phone, I figured that they would become useless with the new phone.

After all, who would expect to be able to use an accessory purchased 3 years ago with a brand-new phone? Not that it’s a bad idea, just something I would not expect. In this age of throw-away consumerism, who would expect an ancient (3 years or so) accessory to work with the latest whiz-bang model, hot off the assembly line?

To my surprise, the accessories from my 3-year old phone worked just fine with my son’s new phone. Not only that, they were still compatible with my original Nokia phone which is about 5 years old now. Imagine that!

I don’t have any experience with other brands of cell phones, but if they have managed to maintain compatibility for accessories for that long in a line of phones, kudos to them as well.

My compliments to Nokia for thinking about the needs of the consumer more than I have come to expect these days, and not submitting to the temptation to completely re-design their product every year (can you hear me automobile manufacturers?) for the sake of the gee-whiz factor.

The end result is money saved for the manufacturer and consumer as well. After all, if something isn’t broke, why fix (or re-design) it?

One Way Spammers Ruin Things For Everyone

I have to admit that is difficult for me to come up with a sufficient number of nasty things to say about spammers. They are very near the bottom of the heap of those that lurk on the Internet in my opinion.

It’s bad enough that these low-life clog up millions of in-boxes with useless crap that must be waded through and deleted. What’s worse is the effect that they have on others that are using e-mail for legitimate purposes.

I’d be the last guy on Earth to criticize someone for using some kind of spam filter on their e-mail. Heck, I use them on some of my e-mail addresses as well. Although any spam filter (other than a ‘white list’) is unlikely to stop all spam from arriving, some filters do a marvelous job of reducing it quite dramatically.

The problem with these filters however, is that they inevitably end up stopping some legitimate e-mail messages as well. This is not meant as a criticism of the folks who write the filters, since it has to be an enormously difficult task trying to separate out the good stuff from the crap, and lord knows, the spammers are highly motivated ($) in their attempts to stay one step ahead of the latest filters.

I ran into this problem head-on recently, and had to simply chalk it up as just another of the seemingly endless circumstances in life where something good (the Internet and e-mail) is ruined by a small minority of idiots (spammers) and everyone else ends up paying the price.

I run another site that sells informational products (original products, not some regurgitated Internet marketing crap concocted by some ‘Internet marketing guru’) and some of them are offered in downloadable form. The customer visits the site, selects the products they want, pays via credit card and is then given access to the download files on our web site. Usually, things work very well and there are no problems.

One day however, a gentlemen purchased one of our products, and for one reason or another (I strongly suspect it was a poor Internet connection on his end), was not able to download a usable copy of the product he wanted. He contacted me via e-mail and informed me about the problem.

As always, I replied to him in a very timely fashion to let him know I would set the files up for him to download on another one of our servers to see if that would help. I did not hear anything back from him again that day, which is not unusual since I often don’t hear back from customers once I provide them with a solution to their problem. So, I assumed he was all set unless I heard otherwise from him.

The next day I received another e-mail from him and this time he is starting to sound a bit agitated, and is threatening to contact the credit card company to dispute the payment since he has not heard anything back from us. It was at this point that I began to understand what was going on.

I suspected that the e-mail message that I sent him was being blocked by an aggressive spam filter. We usually don’t have problems like that, and I don’t know why any spam filter would block one of my messages since we do NOT spam anyone, ever (could you have guessed?) and should not be on anyone’s spam ‘black list.’

The next e-mail message I sent to him was from my personal e-mail account, which is hosted on another domain. I explained to him what I thought was happening and that I had indeed responded to his first message.

As it turned out, that was indeed the problem. The e-mail I sent from my personal account was the first message he had received from me. To his credit, he was very polite and understanding about the whole issue, and actually turned out to be a very pleasant and reasonable person to deal with as we worked through his problems and eventually provided him with a solution he was happy with.

Thanks to spammers, one of our customers had to endure needless problems and frustration, and we wasted time and effort working around a communication problem that should have never happened in the first place.

If you think spam is harmless, minor aggravation, maybe this story will help you understand that it is actually more than just that. Beyond the traffic congestion caused by millions upon millions of spam messages traversing the Internet and the inconvenience of having your in-box clogged with their garbage, spammers can also take credit for actually preventing Internet communication from working the way it was intended.

Take a bow, spammers, you should be very proud of yourselves.

How Not To Run A Business

If you have read my entry here from August 10 about the vitamin company that I will no longer be doing business with, you might find this update interesting.

You may recall that I sent them an e-mail message informing that I will no longer be doing business with them and why. Up until today I had not received a reply. Well, today I received a message from them, but I would not call it a reply.

Today I received what was obviously an automated message asking me if I would go to their web site and fill out a survey regarding what I thought of the service I received. No, this message was not a response to my e-mail message. It was the standard automated message that is programmed to be sent out a certain number of days after you have placed your order.

I view this as an excellent example of how not to run a business. I took the time to send them a personal e-mail message telling them exactly what I thought of there service a day or two after I placed my order. Instead of receiving a reply to my message, I get the standard, automated “tell us what you think of our service” message.

That pretty much tells me what they do with the information they do get from people who take the time to share their opinion with them. Apparently, they simply ignore it. Just like they ignored my e-mail message them. I guess they just want to put on a good front with their surveys to make people think they actually care about customer service when they obviously do not.

This just confirms my decision to stop doing business with them. I don’t know exactly how big a company this vitamin outfit is, but they surely give me the impression that they are a large, impersonal corporate entity that cares only about the bottom line and good customer service be damned. As long as the profits are holding the line, everything is just fine.

As someone who runs an online business or two myself, I see this is as a perfect example of the way I never want to run my business.

Worrying About A Leaky Roof As A Tsunami Approaches

Living in New Hampshire, all the recent hubbub about small town police chiefs arresting illegal immigrants on charges of trespassing has me pondering the situation. If you are not sure what I am talking about, do a Google search and include the words: New Ipswich, Hudson and illegal and you’ll find all you ever wanted to know about it.

What has me a bit worked up is the fact that our government seems intent on clamping down on trivial issues and letting the important stuff slide. The reason, in case you are not familiar with the situation, that these small town police chiefs have been arresting illegal immigrants on trespassing charges is that they have been not been able to convince the feds to come out and do their job when the cops happen upon illegal immigrants in the normal performance of their duties.

My attention was directed towards this issue lately since I run another web site which is used to sell a modest number of products to a small, very narrowly focused market. We do all of our own product creation and shipping and have used the U.S. Postal Service for all our shipping since our outgoing packages are quite small, and we don’t ship a high volume. Besides, with a post office in just about every town, it is quite convenient.

The vast majority of our orders come from within the U.S., but occasionally we get international orders, and that is where this story ties in with illegal immigration. I bet you were wondering, weren’t you?

When we ship an international order, we are required by the postal service to fill out a special form each time. This form, called a ‘Customs Declaration’ is required even though the only international orders we ship are to Europe and Australia ‘ you know, countries that are long-time friends and allies of the U.S. I mean it’s not like we are shipping items to Afghanistan or Iran.

We were told by our friendly post office personnel that these forms are a new requirement that were mandated since the attack on 9/11/01. The particular version of this form that I have in front of me is dated January, 2004, and it requires that we fill in what the contents of the package are, the weight, approximate value, senders address, addressee and of course, it must be dated and signed — in two places, no less.

I’m not sure what these forms have to do with fighting terrorism, but like so many other things after 9/11/01, ‘fighting terrorism’ makes a great excuse for filling out an extra form or surrendering your fingernail clippers prior to boarding a commercial flight.

It’s not the form, or the fingernail clippers, that have me worked up however. It’s the fact that we are expected to accept things like filling out extra forms to send a small package to England or giving up our nail clippers at the airport while calls from local police to the feds regarding the apprehension of people in this country illegally go unanswered.

Yeah, that’s right. The local police who made calls to the feds after taking illegal immigrants into custody were told that it was not worth their (the feds) time to come out and take custody of the illegals. That’s not an exact quote, but that was the message that was conveyed when these local chiefs called expecting the folks from ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) to come out and do their job.

So, while I fill out extra forms to send products to Australia and Joe Air Traveler dutifully surrenders his nail clippers at the airport, the feds obviously have better things to do than come out and take custody of people who are in this country illegally.

I’m sure it will be explained away as a manpower or funding shortage, but with all the manpower and billions being poured into our efforts to ‘fight terrorism’ in Iraq, it would be hard for me to believe that we don’t have the resources to fight terrorism right here in the homeland. Compared to what is being poured into the war effort in Iraq, I’m sure the cost for a few thousand extra ICE personnel would pale dramatically in comparison.

Not that I expect much in the way of logic when something is coming from the direction of Washington, D.C., but for heaven’s sake, if you are going to fight terrorism, it seems to me that securing the borders and dealing with illegal immigrants should be rather high on the list of priorities.

Maybe the folks at ICE and USPS who sit around and dream up new forms for us to fill out could better serve their country stationed along the border somewhere with a pair of binoculars. After all, where terrorism is concerned, shouldn’t we be a tad more concerned with who is coming into this country than we are about what is being shipped out?

SPAM: Can It Be Stopped?

SPAM: The word makes me cringe each time I hear it. No, it’s not because I dislike canned meat products. It’s because I hate unwanted, uninvited crap invading my e-mail inbox. I don’t know if it is just me, but it seems that SPAM is on the increase lately and it is more annoying than ever.

Is there a way to stop SPAM? Other than changing your e-mail address regularly, I know of only one anti-SPAM method that actually works well and stops 100% of SPAM. The solution I am talking about is known as a ‘white list’ and as you might suspect, it is the opposite of a blacklist.

A white list is a list of e-mail addresses or domains that you will accept e-mail messages from. Anyone who sends you e-mail that is not on your white list will not reach you and depending on the white list solution, may get a message back that requires them to perform some steps to generate an e-mail message to you (that will actually reach you) that requests you add them to your white list.

Spammers send millions of messages and cannot possibly deal with all the return messages they get back to see why their messages were not delivered. And since most spammers use bogus return e-mail addresses when they send out their crap, they will never see any return messages anyway.

White lists do work great. I used one that my former ISP offered and I loved it. It was a bit of a pain to log into their web site and make new additions to the white list, but to me it was worth it to be able to shut SPAM down 100%. Unfortunately, my current ISP does not offer a white list option, but if they ever do, I will begin using it again for sure.

There are a multitude of other SPAM-fighting options that will help cut down on the SPAM you receive, but none that I am aware of that are as effective as a white list. I hope to include a lot more information in SPAM and how to fight it in the future.

Now that we have established that it can be nearly impossible to stop SPAM from invading your mailbox, how about we take another approach?

I’d be hard pressed to find someone who gets any more annoyed over SPAM than myself and, that being the case, I decided that since I can’t seem to stop SPAM from arriving in my e-mail, maybe I can get back at them somehow. Before you jump to conclusions, this does not involve hacking anyone’s site or taking out contracts on spammer’s lives!

The spammers have one very significant weakness that they can do nothing about. Since they are trying to sell you something, they must give you a way to order the product they are trying to sell to you. Most often, it is a web site that they are trying to direct you to. And in a lot of cases, these web sites have a ‘Contact Us’ page. Do you see where I am going with this?

I don’t do this in response to every SPAM message I receive since I don’t want to spend too much time getting back at spammers. However, when I get a particularly annoying SPAM message, I will often visit the ‘contact us’ page of the web site they are promoting and share a few, ah, choice words with them. At the very least, it makes me feel a little better being able to ‘SPAM’ them back.

Now before you start visiting spammer’s web sites, there are a few things to consider. You do NOT want to simply click the link that the spammer has included for you inside the SPAM message you have received. These often contain codes that can tell the spammer that they have reached a valid e-mail address and may even include a code to include information on your e-mail address in their web logs when you click the link they include inside the SPAM e-mail messages. This is not something I have ever confirmed, but I suspect it is possible.

Instead, you want to separate their code from the web site address they are trying to get you to visit. Depending on your e-mail software, you may be able to right-click anywhere inside and e-mail message and select ‘view source’ to look at the actual code that is used behind the scenes to make up the e-mail message that appears on your screen while hiding nasty little secrets from you. Most often, HTML e-mail is used for this purpose.

If you are able to view the source of the e-mail message, examine the code to find their link. It may look something like this:

http://www.spammersite.com/en932jnf4329iunmljkn9080923

That meaningless looking code that comes right after http://www.spammersite.com is what you want to avoid. So, open your web browser and visit the address without the code:

http://www.spammersite.com

You can then determine if they do indeed have a ‘Contact Us’ page on their site and if so, you will be able to tell them how happy you are about receiving their SPAM. Be sure to leave a bogus address in spot they expect you to include your e-mail address on their web site. After all, one good turn deserves another!

If enough people do this, it may actually become a bit of a problem for the spammers, and at the very least, annoy them a bit. Then at least they will know how we feel to be on the receiving end of their crap!

Good luck and happy SPAM fighting!

Slow Down And Read The Fine Print! Always!

A lot of people seem as though they have just entered some kind of race as they sit down in front of their computer and begin to browse around the web. Maybe it is just the immediate nature of the medium that makes people keep the virtual pedal to the metal as they speed from one site to the next in search of the next great thing.

Don’t think that clever marketers have not taken notice of this behavior. I saw an interesting demonstration of that today and I was a little surprised today to see one way they are hoping to take advantage of it.

I was placing an order for some vitamins on a site I have been using now for a number of years and have done a lot of business with. I have always been quite satisfied with their service and up until today, saw no reason to look elsewhere for a place to purchase vitamins.

I had selected the products I wanted to purchase and completed the checkout process and was about ready to leave the site when I noticed a message on the page asking me if I was interested in getting $10 cash back on my next order. Well, of course I am interested in saving $10, so I clicked on the ‘Yes’ button. That’s when things got interesting.

It is not at all unusual for online stores to offer various discounts and coupons to regular customers, so I was rather expecting to be brought to a page that would congratulate me for being smart enough to save $10 and provide me with a coupon code or some other incantation that I could use for that $10 cash back when I made my next purchase. That’s not what I got at all.

I became suspicious immediately when I was taken to a page that seemed to have a lot more content on it than I would have expected for the simple purpose of providing me with a discount coupon code. And to pique my suspicions even further, I was ‘greeted’ by a rather obnoxious voice that said something like ‘Congratulations (thank goodness I got my expected ‘congratulations!’). Get your $10 cash back on your next purchase, plus money-saving discounts. Click yes below now.’

Hmmmm, that leaves little doubt about whether they wanted me click ‘Yes.’ And to do it ‘now,’ no less. Now red flags are going up left and right so I know I need to hit the brakes and take a long, hard look at that page.

It turned out I had been taken away from the vitamin store site where I placed my order and had been shuttled off to a site called ‘one-time-offer.com’ which apparently has something to do with a program called ‘Reservation Rewards,’ ‘The premier online travel discounts & protection club.’ Yeah, I’m sure.

Appearing prominently at the top of the page is a representation of my $10 cash back coupon. Basically a graphic intended to mimic a coupon that one would cut from a newspaper or magazine. Pretty typical-looking stuff.

To the left was a couple of paragraphs duplicating what the obnoxious voice had already told me and under that, a paragraph that thanked me for my purchase at the vitamin store and yet again encourages me to click ‘Yes’ below to get $10 cash back on my next order at the vitamin store, plus (and this is where is gets interesting!) sign up for all the money-saving benefits of Reservation Rewards, our premier online travel discounts and protection club! Plus enjoy all this FREE for the next 30 days and only $9 per month thereafter…

Aha! Therein lies the inevitable catch! Sure enough, down toward the bottom of the page just to the left of the big ‘Yes’ button is a blue box of small text explaining that you will be signed up for ‘Reservation Rewards’ free for 30 days and then they will start charging $9 per month after that. And for ‘my convenience,’ they will happily sign me up right then and there using contact and credit card information that I just used to make my purchase on the vitamin store site! My goodness, how can I possibly resist such convenience?

Quite easily, actually. So, what’s wrong with this picture? Many things in my opinion and I’ll be happy to share them with you now.

Firstly, I am rather ticked off at the vitamin store site for pulling what I consider a sneaky bait-and-switch type deal on me. Their original link to the $10 cash back said nothing about being enrolled in any kind of ‘club.’ And then they have the nerve to just offer up my contact and credit card info to this other outfit so it will be more ‘convenient’ for me to sign up? Bad move, vitamin store, bad move.

Secondly, the web page with the offer is obviously written to prompt the reader into action without taking the time to read the fine print. Heck, the extra lazy web surfer who is in a hurry to get to the next web site doesn’t have to read any of it. The obnoxious voice tells you what you should do as soon as you arrive! Who needs to read all that small print anyway? It takes too long!

Needless to say, I did not end up clicking ‘Yes,’ despite their double-barreled dose of encouragement. In fact, not only do I refuse to do business with anyone using shady tactics like this, I will be contacting the vitamin store to let them know that despite my many years of satisfactory service I have received from them, I will be looking elsewhere to purchase my vitamins in the future because I do not appreciate their being part of something I consider misleading and sneaky.

Why, you might ask, would the vitamin store want me to sign up for the ‘Reservation Rewards’ deal? Chances are very good that the vitamin store is acting as an affiliate for whomever is behind the ‘Reservation Rewards’ deal and the vitamin store will get a cut of the profits from each person that signs up on the ‘Reservation Rewards’ site that arrives through the link on the vitamin store site.

The affiliate business is huge on the Internet and there’s a lot more to it than what I just outlined above ‘ both good and bad. I hope to address that issue another day because it is something a lot of Internet users know nothing about.

The bottom line is simply this: Always read the fine print before you agree to anything on any web site. On the surface it may sound like a good deal, but you can never be sure until you know all the details. Sure, it takes a little extra time, but it just might save you a lot of time and aggravation in the future.

Some Consumers Never Forget

It was the early 1990’s. The car I was driving at the time was a 1991 Ford Taurus.

I had really done my research before purchasing that particular model. I had read all the consumer reports and reviews and I could find nothing but good stuff. Even though the price of that particular model was a little out of my price range at the time, I had my heart set on a Taurus and was determined to find one I could afford. I knew it would be a used car, but I had hoped to find one no more than a couple of years old.

It took a while but I finally found one that I fell in love with immediately. It was on the showroom floor of a Chrysler dealer in Acton, Massachusetts. As expected, it was used, but you would never have known it by looking at it. I guess that explains why it was selected for the showroom floor instead of being left out in the lot with the rest of the used cars. If I had not known better, I would have presumed this was a brand-new car. It was about a year old at the time and had 34,000 miles on the odometer. I knew I had found the car I had been searching for.

I had not had the opportunity to drive the car even for a full year when a curious thing happened early one morning on the way to work. After stopping at a stop sign and attempting to continue on my way, the car did not seem too willing. I barely made it out into traffic and immediately pulled over because something was definitely wrong with the car and it was serious. I managed to get it home and called a local dealer to make an appointment to have it checked.

A week or so later, I was writing a check for $1023.56 to the dealership for the repair of a faulty transmission. Basically, the transmission had completely failed. This on a car that had 51,540 miles on the odometer. A magic 1,540 miles over the 50,000- mile powertrain warranty. I had not even had the opportunity to drive the car for 20,000 miles before it died on me.

Since my neighbor at the time owned a 1990 Taurus, I talked with him about it and discovered that his car had a 5-year/60,000 powertrain warranty which had me believing that the dealer that sold me the car must have been mistaken when they told me that my car was covered by a 4-year/50,000 powertrain warranty. After all, my car was a year younger than his, and with all the improvements in quality Ford had been advertising, what sense would it make to degrade the warranty coverage on a newer model with quality that certainly must have improved with the passing of a year?

Well, to my surprise, a little investigation confirmed that my car did in fact have a 4-year/50,000 mile powertrain warranty. I found it interesting that the complete failure of the transmission in my car came 1,540 miles after the warranty expired. Perhaps it was no accident that they picked 50,000 miles as the cut-off point. I was, of course, denied any coverage under warranty and had to foot the entire bill myself.

Having retired my trusty 1982 Chevrolet Monte Carlo less than a year earlier with 186,000 miles on the odometer and no, I repeat no, major repair bills beyond the usual expected repairs (brakes, muffler, etc.), to say I was disappointed with the quality of my new car was an understatement. Surely, I thought, a big car company like Ford Motor Company would stand behind it’s product after such a serious failure just barely over the 50,000 mile mark! I guess I was too naive to appreciate the intent of the 50,000-mile powertrain warranty at the time.

I decided to hit the Internet and do a little research. Before you think I’m nuts for using the Internet before it existed, I assure you, it did exist at the time but was not as available to the general public in 1993. It was still mostly restricted to access by computer companies, universities and the military at the time and since I worked for a local computer company we had access to it and I regularly used the newgroups for research with excellent results.

It didn’t take long to discover that I was not the only one to have this experience. There were many others around the country reporting this exact same problem with the Ford Taurus. And this was when the Internet was not as available to the public! This problem was very obviously a serious design flaw and the company had to have known all about it.

I decided to write a letter to the Ford Headquarters and share my experience with them. I was not happy that a problem this serious was being ignored by them and I thought I might shame them into doing something about it with one of my long-winded consumer complaint letters that had often served me well in the past. I was mistaken.

I received a canned response from Ford telling me how “sorry” they were, blah, blah, blah. They kindly reminded me that my car was not under warranty at the time and there was nothing they could do. Yeah, right.

The point of this article is that I have not forgotten this experience and I don’t think I ever will. To this day, and likely for the rest of my life, my reaction to hearing the name Ford is to think “junk.” I have sworn to myself that I will never again own another Ford again as long as I live. Period.

What prompted me to write this article? The TV was on a short time ago and Ford was advertising their products and telling me how wonderful they are. As always, my first thought was “junk” and at that point I decided to sit down and write this article. I know the big wigs at Ford will probably never see it, but I felt as if I just wanted to put it out there and remind anyone who cares to read it that some of us never forget.

By the way, a year or two later I received a check in the mail from this company that covered the cost of my transmission repair. This, from what I can recall at the time, was due to the fact that they were more-or-less forced into doing some recalls and reimbursements for this problem that they finally admitted was, in fact, a serious design flaw.

It was nice to get the check, but it was obvious they did not issue it out of the goodness of their heart. It also didn’t do much for me the second time the transmission failed a few years later and cost me $1,700 for a replacement. I didn’t bother raising a stink the second time around since I am not an unreasonable person, and would not expect a free repair once a car has been driven well beyond 50,000 miles. It was at that time, however, that I vowed to never own another Ford vehicle.

You can say what you want about quality and warranties and perhaps you are a devoted fan of Ford like my neighbor seemed to be, and have had much better luck with them than I have had. Well, I’m happy for you, but it’s very hard for me to overcome the feelings I was left with after my experience and nothing that anyone says can change that.

The bottom line is this: I understand warranties and the fact that they expire and all that. However, for a company to turn their back after a failure that serious just beyond the 50,000 mile mark in a two-year old vehicle is inexcusable. One should expect at least 100,000 miles from a modern vehicle, especially considering the amount of money consumers are expected to lay out for them.

Ford should have admitted their mistake and covered all the problems stemming from this particular design flaw with a recall. They might have a few more satisfied and loyal customers today, and a lot fewer dissatisfied former customers who are reminded how much they dislike them and their products every time one of their commercials comes on TV.

Companies take note: Some of us truly never forget.