It’s been years since I used AOL for any kind of meaningful email but I can’t bring myself to close the account. I keep thinking that somewhere in my cyber past there’s an old friend about to reach out - and all he has is my AOL address.
As a result I spend an inordinate amount of time deleting junk mail, because apparently whatever AOL has lost in actual customers it has gained in semi- and totally-sleazy mailbox-stuffing spammers.
This morning I got an email from Ashley Madison, “The world’s leading married dating service.” And right below it in my queue was a message from Dentures Online: “Get the smile you’ve always wanted.” I suppose if one were considering an extra-marital affair it would make sense to have teeth.
Every morning for over a year I’ve gotten this email: “Join the club. Install a walk-in tub today.” I also get this one with alarming regularity: “Make funeral costs more affordable with burial insurance.”
And this: “Blowout prices at up to 98% off!” A firm called Beezid claims to have sold a 42-inch LG television, retailing at $1,299.00, for $32.14. My takeaway: P.T. Barnum would have made billions in the digital age.
Most AOL junk pops in during the wee hours. At 12:41 a.m. - “Discover the stories of your family’s past.” At 1:00 a.m. - “Add to your home’s value with replacement windows.” At 1:21 a.m. - “Depression Help: find options to help you treat the blues.” My advice: stop reading depressing emails in the middle of the night.
I got a seemingly urgent message with the subject line “Homeland Security.” Turns out the email was about how I could “Safeguard the US” by getting an online degree.
Apparently most of this spam is perfectly legal according to the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003. It says unsolicited emails like those AOL dutifully distributes must have a “truthful” subject line and no “forged information” in the technical headers. Clearly, no self-respecting spammer would violate a law with teeth like that.
Anti-spam regulations are the responsibility of the Federal Trade Commission, which, on April 9, 2014 (and I am not making this up) issued a news release with the headline, “FTC Warns Small Businesses: Don’t Open Email Falsely Claiming to be From FTC.” At the bottom of the release was the obligatory: “Like the FTC on Facebook, follow us on Twitter.”
Back in 2004, Microsoft chairman Bill Gates received the unofficial title of Most Spammed Person in the World. It was estimated at the time that Gates was receiving roughly four million junk emails a year.
Apparently beaten down, as many of us are, by messages with subject lines such as, “Learn about urinary incontinence,” Gates made a hasty prediction. He told the World Economic Forum in ‘04 that spam would be “a thing of the past” within two years.
Okay, so Bill Gates is so distracted by junk mail that his projections are a little behind schedule. He’s probably mulling over the same email offer I received via AOL:
“My name is Mr. Jerry Morgan. I am manager of the Social Security Bank (SG-SSB LIMITED) Ghana. I am writing to solicit your assistance in the noble transfer of US$7,500,000.00. As an officer of the bank, I cannot be directly connected to this money thus I am impelled to request for your assistance to receive this money into your bank account. I intend to part 30% of this fund to you while 70% shall be for me.”
There you have it. Proof that a fool and his AOL are not soon parted.
Peter Funt is a writer and speaker