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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:

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

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 ‘’ 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.

How Desperate Can You Be For A Joke?

It’s probably about the third or fourth time I have seen this particular commercial on television. They are advertising a special number that you can dial on your cell phone which apparently results in a joke being sent to your cell phone in text format.

The jokes, are, of course reported to be “hilarious.” While they are telling you what a wonderful service this is, the small print at the bottom of the screen reveals that each joke will cost you 99 cents. Wow, that’s like a buck a joke! Is a joke worth a buck? I guess that is for the consumer to decide.

I couldn’t help but think how many joke sites there are on the Internet that you could visit for free. Naturally, you probably have to pay for your Internet connection, but it sure isn’t going to cost you 99 cents for each joke you’ll find on the net.

Since I’ve seen this commercial a few times, I have to presume they are actually making money with this thing. That’s pretty amazing to me since I wouldn’t dream of using a “service” like that. If you’re someone who is willing to spend 99 cents on a single joke, do me a favor and give me a call! I’ll look up a whole bunch of jokes to tell you over the phone if you want to to hear them that badly.

Beware of Web Pollution

So, what is “web pollution?” Well, it’s really pretty much what it sounds like. It’s pollution that is beginning to clog up the web with useless sites that are created automatically by computer programs. You’ve probably seen them yourself. For instance, if you do a search on Google or Yahoo or any of the major search engines, you will find these “web pollution” sites. They are essentially just collections of links to other sites — commonly referred to as web directories.

Now I don’t want to give directories a bad name. After all, there are many useful directories on the Internet as well. However, just like anything else in life, there are good directories and bad directories, or “web pollution” as I like to call them.

They are easy to spot once you have seen a few of them. They often have advertising links right at the very top of their home or index page. After all, that is the whole purpose of creating the site — it’s done 100% for the advertising revenue. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t think there is anything wrong with creating a site to make a little money with — I do some advertising also and it sure helps pay for the web hosting and other related expenses. However, there is one big difference between genuinely useful directory sites and these “web pollution” sites I am talking about!

That difference is the content! Find one of these “web pollution” sites on the Internet and start going through their list of links. You will soon see many links showing up that are not related to the subject that the site is supposed to be all about!

I was recently searching for some information and came across one of these “web pollution” directory sites. I was searching for a topic that was quite innocent in nature and could very well be something that someone’s children might search for on the net. My surprise was that there were links that led to pornographic sites in among the directory of links that were supposed to be related to the subject I was searching for!

That’s the problem with these “web pollution” sites. They are created with computer programs that go out and do an automated search on the search engines and then just dump all the results out to create a new web site. In many cases it takes no more than 5 minutes! Then the creator of the site uploads the site and he’s online with a brand new “web pollution” site in about 5 or 10 minutes! He or she then moves on to another subject, say, model airplanes for example, and 5 or 10 minutes later a new “web directory” is born all about model airplanes! Well, somewhat about model airplanes anyway.

The problem, as you can see from our example with my recent search, is that the computer programs that create these “web pollution” sites just go out and search for whatever the web site creator tells them. So, when the program goes out and searches for the word “dress,” which happened to be part of the search I was performing, it grabs every page with that word and stuffs it into the “directory,” since no program has the smarts to actually read the entire page and find out what the subject of the page actually is. The program finds “dress,” and it has done its job as far as it is concerned!

How do I know so much about these kind of programs? I actually tried one! When I became interested in creating some web directories, I decided to search around and see if there was any software that would help me do that. I found this particular software that was selling for about $250 and decided to try it, since it had a 30-day money-back guarantee.

Now I admit I should have known better since this software was created by a well-known Internet marketing “guru” with the help of some computer guy he hooked up with. These Internet marketing gurus are just like all the other gurus out there — the late night infomercial gurus that will teach you how to trade stock and become a millionaire or buy real estate and sell it for amazing profits and get rich. It’s all pretty much the same deal. The question you need to ask yourself is this: If they have such a powerful method for making tons of money, why don’t they just follow their own advice and quietly make millions of dollars from the comfort of their own home instead of hawking their “systems” or whatever on late-night TV or on the Internet? I think you know the answer to that!

Anyway, I decided to try the software and see if it was any good. I put it to work building a few web directory sites (they were never uploaded to a “live” site, so they never saw the light of day, so to speak) on a few different subjects to see how they turned out. It took me about a minute to figure out that the program was garbage. Not only did it repeat a lot of the same sites in the directory over and over again, many of the links had nothing whatsoever to do with the subject I had intended to create the site about! Much like the porno “dress” story I discovered during my search. The creators of this software make all kind of bold claims (as gurus always do!) about how wonderful the software is and what “quality” directories it creates. Pure garbage!

They know they are enabling a bunch of people to go out and create these “web pollution” sites and degrade the quality of the Internet, but that does not matter because they are pocketing $250 from each new “web blaster” they help create. I like the term “web blaster” for the creators of these “web pollution” sites since they don’t deserve to be called “web master” like someone who builds a useful web site. They are simply sitting there, typing in a few keywords and clicking a mouse a few times to send their automated programs off to blast out another new web site. Why take the time to do it right when you can just have a program do it all for you?

That’s the difference between quality directories and those “web pollution” sites. You won’t find any irrelevant or non-related links in a quality directory. The reason these “web blasters” don’t end up with quality sites with links that are limited to the subject they claim to be all about is because it takes time and it takes work to sort through all the links and make sure they actually belong in the directory! Sure, search engines make it a lot easier than it once was, but you still have to look at each and every site you intend to put in the directory to make sure it is appropriate. And at the very least, make sure it is not a link to a porno site!

These “web pollution” directories are really getting out of control and I surely hope the folks that run the major search engines figure out a way to identify them and ban them from the search engine listings. I’m sure it is something they are working on and will eventually figure out. Good luck to all the “web blasters” when that happens. I think they will see their advertising revenue dry up rather quickly!

By the way, the creator of the software that I tried actually did refund my $250 when I told them what I thought of their software and that I wanted a refund, so I’ll give him a little credit for at least honoring that promise. If you happen to find this article because you are searching for information about web directories and are curious about the automated software I tired, feel free to get in touch with me and I will tell you exactly what software it was.

20/20’s Summer Myths

The ABC News Program 20/20 ran an interesting special last night called “Summertime Myths.” I don’t generally watch all that much network TV, but a promo for this show caught my eye earlier in the day and I decided to tune in.

I’ve always been a fan of John Stossel since he comes across to me as a straight shooter. Compared to all the hot air blown around the network airwaves by the other windbags, I always enjoyed seeing him come on and tell it like it is.

The myths they discussed that I found particularly interesting are as follows:

Being in you car during a thunder storm does indeed offer some protection from lightning. This is, of course, if your automobile is made of metal. Corvettes and other non-metal vehicles don’t offer this protection.

“Premium” gasoline is a rip-off for the vast majority of drivers today. Today’s modern vehicles simply do not need it and will run every bit as good on the “regular” grade gasoline. The exceptions are some older vehicles which may “knock” or “ping” with the lower grade fuels and high-performance cars with high-compression engines.

That venerable old wives tale that suggests you should not go swimming right after eating is also complete nonsense. There is no evidence to support this claim whatsoever. I’ve had my doubts about this once since I was a kid. It always sounded silly to me.

The $3.00 bottle of self-tanning cream works just as good as the $30.00 bottle. They conducted some tests on the various brands of self-tanning creams and discovered that there was no detectable difference between them. They all contain the very same active ingredient, so it is easy to see why there was little or no difference between the bargain brand and premium brands.

Yes, it appears that cooking meat on the barbeque may increase your risk of getting cancer. Scientific evidence proves that carcinogens are produced during the process. They are not yet sure how significant the danger is at this point, but there are steps you can take to reduce the risk. For example, do not overcook you meat, pre-cook in the microwave first before placing it on the barbeque and for some reason that they don’t yet understand, using a marinate before cooking also reduces the risk.
If you care to read more about these summertime myths, you can click on the following link to visit the “20/20” web site.

20/20’s Summertime Myths

(Prepare to be assaulted with pop-up ads unless you use a good pop-up blocker!)