Here’s a novel way to “return to sender”

By Khevin Barnes

I want to preface my story with a disclaimer: This won’t put a stop to the endless junk email that finds its way onto your cell phone, desktop or tablet, but it’s sure to give you a sense of consumer satisfaction, paired with a touch of sweet revenge. The fact is, fake email scams cost consumers 1.3 billion dollars last year alone, and, with all of the new COVID-related fears and misinformation circulating, it’s only getting worse.

The latest statistics show that 93% of American homes are equipped with access to the Internet. Whether you see this as a cyber-celebration or as an affront to human conversation and interaction, the fact remains that almost all of us are connected to each other via our attachment to routers, networks and modems.

Here in Vail we have a fairly robust selection of Internet providers, ready to deliver sizzling speeds, along with sometimes surging price tags. But there is a dark side to all of this high-tech communication, and it comes in the form of those notorious bi-products of predatory bottom fish called “Spammers”. Call it “junk mail,” “phishing,” or “Internet scams”, the methods used to mislead unwary Vail residents are similar.

I have a theory that many of the cleverest spamming ploys are made by adolescent, computer nerd boys who have too much time on their hands and who could likely put their talents to good use in positive ways to make a better world. But what do I know?

“Spamming,” as a sort of perverse art form, arrived long before the Internet or email got here. In fact, email as a concept predates the internet by a wide margin. The first example of email can be found on computers at MIT in a program called “MAILBOX”, all the way back in 1965. By 1993 the word “electronic mail” had been replaced by “email” in the public lexicon, and internet use had become more widespread.

One of the oldest documented examples of “spam” was sent via a telegram in 1864. A letter to the editor of the New York times was printed from a frustrated “spamee” explaining the scam. He received an unsolicited telegram from a local lady dentist and writes, “I have never had any dealing with Mrs. Gabriel and beg to ask by what right do they disturb me by a telegram which is evidently simply the medium of advertisement? A word from you would, I feel sure, put a stop to this intolerable nuisance.”

J.J. Lamb, the executive director of our Vail Preservation Society, shared details with me of how the Southern Pacific Railroad entered Tucson in March of 1880, along with the Western Union Telegraph line that was installed simultaneously. Human ingenuity brought the ability to converse over wires to Arizona, and it didn’t take long for someone to find a way to exploit this great new invention.

Of course, it would be many years before the Internet and email found its way into our lives. A man by the name of Ray Tomlinson is actually credited with inventing the modern email system that we use today. The year was 1972. 50 years later, email is a primary means of communication for many people around the world.
These are the top 3 headlines used by spammers in 2022:

  1. Changes to your health benefits
  2. Security alert: new or unusual Twitter login
  3. Action Required | Your Amazon Prime Membership has been declined
    And this is an actual Phishing email I

Twitter login

  1. Action Required | Your Amazon Prime Membership has been declined
    And this is an actual Phishing email I received this week:

If you don’t recognize this order please call immediately at +1-800-205-8795.
iPhone 13 pro max 1tb
Thank you for making your purchase from Walmart.
Your order id is 08161605.

Here then is my personal solution for saying “scram to spam”. A few months back I opened an email account on America Online. It’s free. I listed my name as “Yur Anidiot”. I began collecting all of the return addresses on my various spam emails. Then I composed an email of my own that said, in part, “Since you folks seem to spend so much senseless energy filling our world with deceit and disparagement, I thought you might enjoy hanging out together. Much love, Yur Anidiot”.

Each time I receive a noteworthy spam I add another return email name to my list. Then I send out a group email with all of the addresses copied 20 times over so that each recipient receives 20 copies to their inbox with a return address from each sender. Interestingly, I’ve never heard from any of them, and none of my emails bounce back, so someone is reading them.
I know what you might be thinking. Now Khevin is a spammer too. I suppose that’s true to some extent, though my intention is not to deceive but to educate through example. And I have to say that the very notion of “beating them at their own game” does give me cause to chuckle as I hit that “send” button.

One final note: Hormel Foods introduced Spam luncheon meat in 1937. It’s an acronym for “spiced ham” or “shoulders of pork and ham.” By 1970 Hormel had sold more than 2 billion cans of Spam. To this day, Hormel produces 44,000 cans of Spam every hour.

Khevin Barnes lives in Rancho del Lago along with 2 computers, 2 cell phones 2 land lines and 2 low-tech cats.

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