It’s in the Mail

Published February 2, 2002

This originally appeared in the February 2002 issue of Technology Decisions magazine.

E-mail marketing seems like a good idea — companies I’ve worked for have done it occasionally. But sometimes I have a hard time believing that anyone reads it, especially when I think of the kind of e-mail I get.

I’ve been approved for countless loans; won cruises, video cameras, cars, cameras, dream dates, and land in Europe. I’ve been told of ways I can lose five, 10, or more pounds in one, two, or three weeks. I’ve been offered love and romance — or whatever passes for it these days — sometimes in unnecessary detail, and often from people outside my demographic.

Several ambassadors from several African nations have offered me millions to help get money out of their country. All they need is my credit card number to do it. Others have offered me the blessings of various gods, saints, and lesser deities. One even promised to help me channel the power of the Devil. (Perhaps people in Washington opened that one, but not me.)

I’ve had dozens of people simply say, “Hi” or “I’ve missed you.” (This is surprising because you need to have met someone before you can miss him, and I suspect I’d remember these people if I had, in fact, made their acquaintance.)

I’ve been offered apparently great products at great prices: Tiny video cameras are the big thing, as are various products to increase this, extend those, and improve that. I learned I didn’t have to be lonely (I’m not), I can drive a great car (I do), and that there are great investments waiting for me (I have some already).

The most worn key on my keyboard is Del.

These people — and I use the term loosely — have resorted to all sorts of tricks to get me to open their mail. The first tactic was adding “Re:” to the subject so I would somehow think I sent a message entitled “How can I make millions easily?????”

When that didn’t work, the subjects got more friendly (although not nearly as friendly as the messages themselves) — from “How have you been?” to “Do you remember me?” to “Guess who I saw at the supermarket?”

Of course, I learned to look at the sender and delete from names I didn’t recognize or were obviously mail bots. So when I (and others like me) began ignoring messages from “,” they started using real-sounding names in the From: field. That might work, but sometimes their mail software screws up; I’ve had several with subjects like “Hey, $firstname! How are u?” I don’t know many people named $Firstname.

But what really scares me about all this, is that the junk keeps coming. And it doesn’t get that much more creative. Which means that out there, somewhere, people are responding. People are giving foreign ambassadors their credit card numbers, or buying X10 video cameras, or shelling out thousands for various pills, solutions, or creams.

If you know anyone like this, slap them upside the head. And send me their business cards — there’s this kid in England who collects them.

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