Foiled by computer spam

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(Host) Commentator Edith Hunter reflects on the Spam phenomenon. And she says that it really does matter what you put in the subject line of your e-mail.

(Hunter) When I check my e-mail once a day I have an average of 30 messages, of which probably 27 are junk. I read the title and press delete at once, over and over again.

I recently decided to take a one week inventory of the topics of the spam. What do spammers think are the major concerns of the American people, and how do they decide to whom they will send their messages?

So many of the ones I get are not relevant to me. I am invited to reduce my mortgage rates, but I don’t have a mortgage. I am invited to increase the size of a part of the body that I don’t have. I am offered an endless number of drugs at reduced rates. But I don’t take any drugs, legal or illegal.

In order to take my inventory I had to let the whole message appear instead of just deleting it. Pretty disgusting on the whole, and I was happy when my study was over. Sex – more and better; obesity – how to conquer it; pain, how to get rid of it; and credit card debt and insurance rates – how to lower them.

My daughter Elizabeth in North Carolina and I e-mail every day. During the cold spell last winter in several instances the title in my subject box was “cold.” But on the day the thermometer sank below zero my subject title was “frigid.” Elizabeth’s e-mail back to me bore the same title. This was her message:

“Dear Mum: I have a funny story for you. My computer server gave us a 30-day free trial of a filter we could use on our e-mail, to block out messages in the following categories: get rich quick, racially insensitive, sexually explicit, and some other money-related things. We could chose among the categories and I chose them all. Every morning you get a message in your e-mail from the filter telling you that it has detected junk mail and has filtered it out. You are given the chance to look over all the subject/address lines in the filtered e-mail to see if there is anything you
want delivered to your mailbox, then tell it to trash the rest of it.

“Today I first scanned the mail that had come through without being blocked, and there was no message from you. I was about to call you to find out why, but since I was online, thought I would deal with the rest of my e-mail first.

“I went to the filter and there in the list was your last message, entitled ‘Frigid.’ I laughed and laughed, thinking of course that it had been blocked because it sounded sexually explicit, but discovered that the filter had blocked it because it was racially insensitive.’ I am bamboozled! Anyway, it saved me a phone call.”

This is Edith Hunter, checking her e-mail, on the Center Road.

Writer and historian Edith Hunter lives in Weathersfield Center, Vermont.

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