What is spam mail?
If you’re up for it, here’s a short 1 minute video about spam – the definitions, origin and the first spam.
So, what is spam?
English Oxford Dictionary defines spam as
“Irrelevant or unsolicited messages sent over the Internet, typically to a large number of users, for the purposes of advertising, phishing, spreading malware, etc.” and “Unwanted or intrusive advertising on the Internet.”.
According to Statista, in 2016 12.08% of global spam volume originated from IPs based in the US. The second largest source for unsolicited commercial e-mails was Vietnam (10.32%). It is an important subject for everyone to be aware of.
It is generally considered that the Internet term “SPAM” comes from a ‘Monty Python’ comedy group, from an episode set in a café – every item on the menu included spam. When the waitress says the word “spam”, a group of vikings then start to sing “Spam, spam, spam, spam, spam, spam, spam, spam, lovely spam! Wonderful spam!”. Even though unwanted, spam kept popping up in the menu.
If you haven’t watched it yet, you can catch up here:
The first spam
There are several myths about the first spam and here are a few interesting ones.
According to The Economist, the first spam happened in 1864:
On a May evening in 1864, several British politicians were disturbed by a knock at the door and the delivery of a telegram—a most unusual occurrence at such a late hour. Had war broken out? Had the queen been taken ill? They ripped open the envelopes and were surprised to find a message relating not to some national calamity, but to dentistry. Messrs Gabriel, of 27 Harley Street, advised that their dental practice would be open from 10am to 5pm until October. Infuriated, some of the recipients of this unsolicited message wrote to the Times. “I have never had any dealings with Messrs Gabriel,” thundered one of them, “and beg to know by what right do they disturb me by a telegram which is simply the medium of advertisement?” The Times helpfully reprinted the offending telegram, providing its senders with further free publicity.
A more recent and a better documented case was the Usenet (a collection of newsgroups) case, when Richard Depew made his name as one of the first spammers, accidentally posting around 200 duplicate messages in the newsgroup in 1993. Shortly after, Joel Furr was the first person to officially call it “spam”.
Report spam emails
Many companies ask to report spam emails and provide their own guidelines on how to do it – I’ve mentioned the processes of reporting junk mail to Amazon in a previous post.
A few other ways to report spam messages:
- Federal Trade Commission asks to report unwanted commercial email messages to this email address email@example.com – read more about the FTC views about spam here
- You can report spam to your email provider. At the top of your email state that you’re complaining about being spammed. Also mark the email as junk/spam mail – that is also called an “abuse complaint”.
- If you know who the sender’s email provider is, you can try reporting the spammer to the sender
- In the UK you can report cyber crime and fraud, online scams and viruses in the Action Fraud website
- You can also report spam in Google
Useful to visit once in a while – the FTC Scam Alerts page.
Spam catch of the week
Today I want to show you another spam email I caught recently. It is, as the spammers say, an OFFICIAL LETTER FROM FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION FBI (all caps is a must).
The subject line informs me that the FBI special Agent sent me this message from his desktop (for some reason, I am not yet very convinced of the validity of this email).
The agent introduces himself as Andrew Castor, so let’s google him – and well well, the first result indeed shows that Andrew James Castor in the FBI – serves as Deputy Associate Deputy Director.
In my email he still calls himself a special agent – though if you read the bio in the FBI page, he’s been promoted several times. He was a special agent in 1989, and then promoted to a deputy assistant director of the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division Operational Support Branch in July 2010. Since 2013 Andrew James Castor was appointed deputy associate deputy director. Someone needs to update his email signature.
So this lovely FBI agent took some precious time from his busy day to inform me that the previous transaction from the Bank of America is legitimate and I can now complete it. Yay! What transaction are we talking about?..
I have to contact the Bank of America or the IMF – the suggested person is called Mr. Jeff Anderson. Unfortunately, it seems that Mr Anderson doesn’t have a work email address, and uses a Gmail account for such important matters.
In the end my favourite FBI agent wishes me a great day and faithfully waits for my response.
Now, we all know that is junk mail – trying to pull me into a scam and get my details. But let’s confirm what to watch for in such junk emails (that you shouldn’t interact with anyway):
- The purpose of the email – what do they want from you? Personal details, a click, a download, a reply, a passport copy maybe?.. Also, watch for typos, ALL CAPS that should convince you of the importance of the matter.
- Would a company official use Gmail or other webmail account for his work?
- Is the email encrypted? this one clearly isn’t – see the red alert in Gmail
- Check the sender domain, from and reply to details. In this case, I would expect the FBI work email to have a domain of fbi.gov (or at least something similar!). Definitely not water.ocn.ne.jp or gmx.us.
**I am also looking for interesting spam examples, comment with yours and if I publish the next one with your example, I will give you a shoutout!**
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