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Spam and scam

June 2003

disponibile anche in italiano

  Giancarlo Livraghi
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Yes, it’s boring. I feel uncomfortable about boring my readers with more comments on spam. And I am bored with it as I could possibly be. But it’s getting worse all the time – and it’s a bigger problem than just a nuisance. In international debates two four-letter words appear often together. Spam and scam.

There are, of course, many scams that don’t use spamming, and maybe there could be some spam that isn’t a scam (though it’s hard to find any believable example.)  In addition to spam, invasive techniques of all sorts (including pop-ups and other web tricks) are often associated with scams (as well as spam.)

One of many examples of scam spamming is the “African” confidence game, that appeared to be widely spread two years ago but since then has been expanding on an unbelievable scale (making up also imaginary situations in other parts of the world, including Iraq after the war.)  From some online reports it appears that the swindlers are persuading people to give away not just personal data or credit card numbers, but also blank signed letterhead, copies of identity papers, access to bank accounts, etcetera. How can anyone be so naive? But that’s the nature of the confidence game... exploiting greed (with an especially nasty twist, profiteering from the problems of remote countries in trouble.)  The victims, in this case, are accomplices (or so they think.)  But that is no excuse for the swindlers.

The spam messages of this sort are multiplying with such frequency that there must be people somewhere falling into those traps. But these problems aren’t reported in mainstream media. People aren’t properly warned. And, while, years ago, some other scams were investigated and the swindlers brought to court, no effective action appears to be in place against these – or a variety of other scams that include miracle drugs, rejuvenation, sexual “enlargement”, phony university degrees, easy loans, easy money... and all sorts of other obvious, or not-so-obvious, tricks and swindles.

And, to make things worse, there are more and more viruses that generate large quantities of phony e-mail sent from “stolen”, or artificially made up, mailboxes. (As usual, only a few of those worms are reported in mainstream media – and some relatively weak infections get more publicity than the most serious and dangerous.)

Spam and scam aren’t the same thing, but they often go together. Major interests (in politics, in the economy and in the information system) have been incredibly lackadaisical and complacent for years about this growing disease. There have been business interests, and even business schools, preaching so-called “e-mail marketing” as a legitimate and effective business tool, pretending to overlook the fact that it’s simply spam – and that it’s the preferred tool for scam.

Extensive legal and political resources are being committed to questionable causes, such as treating as a “crime” the private use of unregistered software or a personal copy of a piece of music. Invasive techniques are being used to spy on innocent people with a variety of excuses (from “pornography” to terrorism) while action against spam and scam is weak, clumsy and ineffective. This is one more example of what a forgotten rock group called Bim was singing twenty years ago. «The world turns, and the candle burns, and the blind lead the blind.»


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