Action Alert!

Musing on spam

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Sep 21, 2009

Spam is strange stuff. It's obnoxious, certainly, and I'm all in favor of prosecuting anyone who is caught flooding our email in-boxes with the junk. Still I can't help but shake my head, sometimes, at the messages that somehow survive the winnowing process imposed by my industrial-strength spam filters. 

There are, of course, the Nigerian millionaires who need someone trustworthy enough to lie, in order to smuggle millions of dollars into another country. I can understand their appeal, at least: there are plenty of suckers out there, and a million-dollar fee is a natural lure. 

Then there are the Russian women who are perhaps a bit friendlier, and definitely less discreet, than their mothers taught them to be. Again, there's no mystery about the appeal there.

But can someone please tell me why, nearly every day, I receive ads for spare parts for a forklift? (No, I have never owned or operated a forklift, nor considered buying one.) And until I adjusted my filters properly, I was getting 3-4 messages every day-- complete with handsome photos-- of apartments to rent in Costa Rica. (No, I have never been interested in a second home there.) Several messages a week come through in Chinese characters, and although I don't know what they're advertising, it's a cinch that I won't reply. 

Here's my question: Are these messages being sent to everyone whose email address the spammer can capture, on the theory that one in a million recipients will have an interest in forklift parts or Costa Rican rentals? Or did someone sell the spammer a list of likely clients, with my email address (and doubtless many others) used to fatten up the list?  

The former explanation is far more likely, I realize. There are, I'm afraid, people out there quite willing to annoy 1,000,000 people, in order to generate a lousy sales lead from #1,000,001. (Thus my enthusiasm for aggressive prosecution if and when a spammer can be caught.) But I confess that I take some pleasure from considering the latter explanation, and chuckling as I hit the "delete" key with the notion that maybe a con man has been conned. 

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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