new SPAM®… it’s not just lunch meat anymore!
By Mike Dooley, NSDCAR Systems Administrator
|Spam and the NSDCAR member|
An increasingly common occurrence here at the North
San Diego County Association of REALTORS® is the phone call from a
disgruntled member, accusing the Association of marketing their email
address to purveyors of bulk unsolicited email advertisements.
Unsolicited bulk email, commonly referred to as “spam”
amongst the Internet community, is at best an annoyance, and at worst
can bring an email server, (the computer that handles large numbers of
email addresses, similar to a post office), to its digital knees in a
matter of hours. These
annoying attempts at marketing of (mostly) shabby and questionable
products and services can also provide the vehicle for invasion of your
computer by viruses, destructive programs like “Trojan Horse”
attacks, and myriad other useless information snippets which can fill
one’s hard disk storage to capacity, and just generally make life on
the Information Superhighway a real pain.
Currently, there are significant attempts at regulation of
unsolicited email that are pending legislative enactment at the federal
and state level. For an
excellent source of information about “spam laws”, visit http://www.spamlaws.com.
Here in California, the California Business and
Professions Code, SECTION 17538.4, as amended by Assembly
Bill 1676 (1998), (approved by Governor September 26, 1998), affords
one the protection of an “Opt-Out” or “Opt-In” process for bulk
email and fax marketing, though enforcement of these spam laws is
virtually nil in the case of foreign or “offshore” sources of
electronic junk mail.
In the interest of information and clarification, I’d like to put any accusations and rumors to rest… the North San Diego County Association of REALTORS® does NOT, and has NOT EVER sold lists of email addresses or other member information to any other entities for marketing purposes or, for that matter, any purpose whatsoever. It is our policy to refrain from such activity, regardless of the temptation such revenue streams may represent.
|Why hide from the global community?|
The fact is, an email address is just like your
home address; it is public information, and there are no legal
restrictions to the exchange or marketing of that information for
purposes of otherwise legal activities. If you’ve signed up for an email account with any ISP,
(Internet Services Provider), and dependent upon their individual
policies with regard to privacy, your email address has become a matter
of public record, and may be made available to a plethora of marketing
firms and home-based bulk email artisans. Check with your potential ISP candidates, and get a look at their
written policies in this regard. Some
ISP’s proudly advertise their preservation of your privacy as a
feature of their services. At
the 2001 Inman Connect Real Estate Technology conference in San
Francisco, I was surprised to learn that there are almost no legal
restrictions to what’s referred to as “Data Mining”, in which
corporate entities gather demographic information from their customers,
members, employees or website visitors, and then re-sell that
information to other entities interested in marketing to those
particular demographic targets.
I cannot think of anyone who makes even moderate
use of the Internet who has not received an unwelcome load of bulk
email, advertising anything from herbal or mechanical methods of
improving one’s health, to offerings of website memberships featuring
questionable products and services. As with any relatively unregulated medium, there are those who
will take advantage of any opportunity to become purveyors of filth,
junk, outright fraud, and just aggravating solicitation. It’s the price of freedom, the price of unregulated
communication with a world community of computer users, and whether the
price is justified or worth the expenditure is not for this observer to
judge, nor are these pages a likely forum for such deep philosophical
|Unintended participation; the unwitting SPAM volunteer|
Why, then, do so many of us regard our email address as a piece of “secret” or “private” information, and express such resentment when someone discovers it and sends us an advertisement? Perhaps some of us scream at people who accidentally dial our phone by mistake, and perhaps those same people are the ones who instantly become irate or suspicious when they receive an unsolicited email. It’s interesting to observe that many people who become exceedingly upset at the thought of having their email address sold to another company for marketing purposes will completely forget that they have given this information to literally thousands of companies, simply by being unable to resist filling out that sweepstakes entry which qualifies them to win a car or a trip or some other (usually spurious) prize, offered on their favorite website. Additionally, many email users are blissfully unaware that when they click on the link at the bottom of an unsolicited email, the one marked “Click here to unsubscribe from this mailing list”, they are in fact distributing their address to a whole new group of spammers. Deceptive? You bet. Annoying and underhanded? Certainly! Illegal? Nope, not yet.
Another practice which makes the company’s “computer guy” unpopular, but which really needs to be controlled, is the chain email. With the recent terrorist activities in New York, there’s been an upswing in this already prolific practice; sending emails to everyone you know, to spread some inspirational message, or to warn of a virus, or just to share a good (or not) joke. These mass mailings are not only a non-business load on your company’s email server, but they’re an excellent source for spammers to gather email addresses. Send a lot of these “sharing” emails, and you’ll soon note a corresponding increase in your unsolicited junk mail, as will all the wonderful folks with whom you “shared” your message. Indeed, the Internet is rife with automated “spiders” or “spam-bots”, which are programs that browse the web, looking for those tell-tale “@” symbols, then harvesting the email addresses which surround them, to be used by unsolicited bulk email practitioners in their annoying practices. If you’ve been a regular visitor to your NSDCAR website, you may have noticed that email addresses which were initially published on our pages have changed. Now, there’s a link that says, “Send email to Mike”, and the address only shows on the status bar at the bottom of your browser screen, and only when your cursor is hovering over this link. This is called “cloaking” of email addresses, and we’ve begun using this method to keep all of our published email addresses away from the automated harvesters of spamming lists.
|Okay, it’s a problem… where’s the solution?|
“So,” you may ask, “there’s nothing I can
do to stop this annoying inundation with junk computer mail?” Well, there are, indeed, a few steps you can take to minimize the
annoyance, though you’ll probably not stop it altogether.
First of all, instead of acquiring a single email
address, and attempting to keep it a secret, (which, if you think about
it, just about defeats the purpose of having an address, doesn’t it?),
gather several email addresses, and assign them specific purposes in
your overall scheme of communicating on-line. For instance, I keep a free email address from Microsoft’s
Hotmail website, and this is the address I use whenever I’m asked to
provide an email address as part of an on-line purchase or transaction.
This way, when the company from which I’ve just purchased that
beach chair on the web sells my information to “surfboys.com” or
“umbrellas-R-us.com”, all the spam email lands in my Hotmail
account, instead of the email account that I use for corresponding with
family and friends. I use
yet another freebie from Yahoo to keep track of all my electronic
subscription publications. To
avoid belaboring the obvious, it’s easy to see that these methods can
result in a pretty manageable set of rules for distribution of your
electronic mail, and to keep your important communications separated
from the dross.
Added to these practices, most email “clients”
or programs, and even most of the free web-based email accounts now
offer control features such as filters and bulk email folders which make
the task of managing the junk mail fairly painless. One can, with the assistance of a “wizard” program built
right into the user interface screens, set up automated responses to
mail from certain senders, and choose to either reject delivery of the
junk mail, store it in a special folder for later, automated deletion,
or even return equally annoying messages (in equally annoying
quantities), to the source address of the unwanted spam. This is why spammers have recently resorted to using
“anonymous” addresses provided by wildcat foreign email websites,
which conceal their true identity and are frequently changed or removed
quickly, to further restrict responses from the recipients of their
garbage. A closer look at
the “From” address in spam emails can be very educational. Take a look at this example:
Received: from ns.itecsystem.co.jp (126.96.36.199 [188.8.131.52]) by server.nsdcar.com with SMTP (Microsoft Exchange Internet Mail Service Version 5.5.2653.13)
id QBACSLAY; Wed, 12 Sep 2001 14:50:05 -0700
Received: from Hi8y4OgRH (unverified [184.108.40.206]) by ns.itecsystem.co.jp
(EMWAC SMTPRS 0.83) with SMTP id <B0000187816@ns.itecsystem.co.jp>;
Thu, 13 Sep 2001 07:10:44 +0900
DATE: 12 Sep 01 4:59:06 PM
TO: Undisclosed Recipients
The last element of the address is the letters “jp”.
This reveals that the sender is routing mail via the country of
Japan. There are numerous
other country abbreviations, such as “nz” for New Zealand, “de”
for Deutschland (Germany), “kr” for Korea, etc. Notice that there are two “Received from” lines, and also a
“FROM:” line, in this header. Notice
also that nowhere in these lines of addresses do you see an actual
person or company’s name, and that the “To:” address shows
“Undisclosed Recipients”. This
spammer is hiding three layers deep, and finding the actual originator
of the junk mail is next to impossible for any but the most astute of
computer geeks, armed with a plethora of expensive tools for analyzing
|Practical ways to manage the mess|
Here are some suggestions for coping with the flood
and maintaining some degree of sanity:
|We know about email… but what is “Dmail?”|
The North San Diego County Association of
is progressing into the role of “e-Association” at a rapid pace, and
our aim is to better serve our membership by saving your dues dollars
for meaningful and useful expenditures that make your professional life
easier, more productive, and more respectful of your busy schedule.
One of the tools we employ toward these ends is electronic mail, or
colloquially, “email”. As part of our District Council
functions, we’ve introduced a new service called “Dmail”, or
District Council Mailer.
|Don’t hang out in the Rest Area!|
One major challenge facing us in employing technology to the Realtor’s
advantage is lack of accurate email addresses for our entire membership.
If you’re hard to reach without a time-consuming telephone, fax, or
postal process, then you’re not out there on the Information
Superhighway… you’re parked in a rest area. Don’t miss out
on opportunities and important information, or end up feeling like
you’re the last to find out about something; make sure your
Association has a good, working email address for you, and the URL for
your website. Contact our Member Services staff to check and
update your email and website address, especially if any of this
information changes, or you move to another brokerage or company.
As we continue to weave the intricate tapestry of our e-Association,
these bits of essential communication information will enable us to
provide that personal touch that makes your Association a business
partner, a service source, and an electronic “toolbox” of goods and
services, all available at the click of a mouse. Your professional
competition is using these technologies in ever-increasing numbers and
with ever-increasing skill and efficiency; don’t be left out or get so
far behind that your bottom line suffers! Mice that don’t click
won’t get much cheese, will they?
|The Cheese is moving… get back into the Maze!|
Visit your NSDCAR website at http://www.nsdcar.com and check out the classes being offered to help you get “up to speed”. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by technology, don’t let your resistance hold you back… dive in, ask for our help, take a class, or just play around with some of the programs and tools built right into the operating system of your personal computer. Above all, try to enjoy your encounters with technology, and be challenged and motivated by all the new stuff out there. It’s not going to go away, and more of your world is going to be networked, electrified, and automated as time goes by. Yesterday’s nuisance will be tomorrow’s indispensable service, and those who invest a little time and energy now will be leading the pack, and soon.It’s an exciting time to live in, and those old MLS books make excellent booster seats for the grandkids at the dinner table. Of course, if a bit of technology really has you stumped… ask one of those kids!