I'll start with a bit of historical perspective, at least from
the view I've developed over many years of living part of my
e-life on the nets. Since my first email was probably sent in 1979 or
1980, my recollections are somewhat vague due to the fact that I didn't
understand where those things were going to end up twenty years later.
To say that email, and other net activities, have greatly changed
would be a vast understatement.
From my introduction to net activity until the early 1990s, the
net was what might be called a "kinder and gentler place."
In the early 90s it began to show signs of change, with the
potential for much more that was better, as well as some that
The first noticable change for the worse was a rapid increase in
the net population. This brought in people who did not
understand, or want to understand, the community of shared
interests which had guided the development of the nets to that
The second major change was the introduction of commercial
activities. Up to that point there had been no significant
commercial development taking place over the nets (at that point
consolidated into the "Internet"). That this had immense
positive influences on the subsequent changes is now clear.
However, there were also some significant negative developments,
and one of these is the concern of this page.
We're all familiar with the concept of "junk mail." This form of
mail is somewhat controlled since it costs a significant amount
of postage to send large amounts of mail, even at bulk rates.
With the advent of email, which is free of direct costs, a
medium for delivering very large amounts of "junk mail" was
suddenly available, at very little cost!
In the case of postal mail, in the U.S., there are fairly stong
regulations on the use of the Postal Service, with some
enforcement activities working to control the problem areas.
In the case of email, there is very little regulation, and
almost nothing in the way of enforcement activities on junk
For the most part, the Internet has a weak regulatory system in
place. When junk mail is sent on the net, it can just as
well be the selling of a fraud as of a legitimate product.
The source of a fraud can be anywhere in the world, and
enforcement can be impossible.
Now, where do these "spammers" get your email address?
Unfortunately, one of the major sources can be a message board
serving a community of users sharing a common interest (like
Baja California). A spammer will start a spambot (see the
definition above) which will keep following links on
webpages and, on each page accessed, harvest all email addresses
it finds. The content of the webpage is irrelevant, the spambot
is only interested in the content of its harvest of addresses.
As an example of a fraudulent email, here are some excerpts from
an email I received (May, 2002 - this is the Nigerian Scam - see the
links at the bottom of the page):
- First, I must solicit your confidence in this
transaction, this is by virtue if its nature as being
utterly CONFIDENTIAL and TOP SECRET. Though I know
that a transaction of this magnitude will make any one
apprehensive and worried, but I am assuring you that
all will be well at the end of the day. We have
decided to contact you due to the urgency of this
transaction, as we have been reliably informed of your
discreteness and ability in transactions of this
If this proposal is OK by you and you do not wish to
take undue advantage of the trust, we hope to bestow on
you and your company, then kindly get to me immediately
via my private Email: ____@____.com. Furnishing me
your most confidential telephone, fax number and
exclusive bank particulars so that I can use these
information to apply for the release and
subsequent transfer of the funds in your favour.
The matter of this spam involved some millions of dollars which
could be mine if only I supplied "exclusive bank particulars."
Now, this was clear fraud to me; however, for many novice users
of the Internet that might not be the case. I have an aunt who
recently celebrated her 90th birthday - and the most
exciting gift she received was a new golf bag! Yes, this woman
still plays golf at 90 . . . and, she uses email.
While her mind continues to be quite sharp, I'm not sure how
she'd react to such a fradulent message.
Ignoring the matter of fraud, the sheer number of spam emails
one can receive is reason enough to attempt cutting the number
down, like way down. My email address appears on almost
one thousand individual web pages I've written, and my email box
reflects that fact.
A caution: Spam will often contain a notice
detailing how to be removed from the mailing list. As a general
rule, it's considered unwise to follow this procedure - most of
the time it's used by the spammer to verify that an email
address is active. The address will then be tagged as having
been verified, and simply be moved to a higher quality list
(higher quality from the point of view of the spammer!).
A "solution" to the spam problem will be addressed relative to
the Baja California Travelers Message Board.
If you post a message, providing your email address is optional.
This offers your strongest defense against spammers - if there's
nothing there, the spambot will just roll on with its harvesting.
However, if your posting is questionable relative to the Posting
Policy, the lack of an email address may lead to the posting
being removed without your being consulted.
Sometimes there will be a reason you want to provide your email
address. In such cases, you may want to disguise the address a
bit. For example, whenever I post you'll find my email address
ftm_REMOVE @ REMOVE_math.ucr.edu
This does not provide a working email address, however, my
assumption is that a human sending me email will realize that the
REMOVE parts must be taken out, and any blanks removed. Smart
spambots will also be able to do that, but a dumb spambot will
either ignore this as an email address (the spaces), or tag it
as an address which is, unbeknownst to the "bot," invalid (has
the REMOVE's in it).
The remaining part of the solution lies with the programming of
the message board. I try to take the given email address and
provide a bit of disguise which won't show up in the address if
the poster's name is clicked on. This is a small step, and
probably only works for the dumber spambots.
Another step which I hope to be making soon is to put in a small
trap for spambots. My expectation is that this will not
interfere in any way with the functioning of the board. If
problems do surface, please email me (see above for the address!).