How to punish spammers

My phone rang just as I reached home last Monday. I parked my car and answered. It was my cousin, whom I usually speak to about four times each year. He sounded quite serious.

‘Tim, are you ok? You aren’t giving a lecture or anything, are you?’

‘No, I’ve just got home.’

‘Are you sitting down?’

‘Yes, I’m in my car.’ I was getting worried now; my cousin is a doctor and my mother has a heart condition. Had anything happened? Then he said something really weird.

‘You’re not in Spain, then?’

‘No, of course not.’ (I’ve never been to Spain)

‘Ok. Well, here’s the thing. I’ve just had an email from you, saying that you’re in Spain with a cousin who needs an urgent  kidney transplant, and asking for £1,000 to help get him home. Or her.’ (My cousin is very politically correct) ‘So I think your email has been hacked.’

‘Oh dear,’ I groaned. ‘Well, thank you for telling me.’

So began a nightmare evening. As soon as I got indoors I was phoned by my secretary, followed by my sister, another cousin, my daughter, a friend in Scotland whom I hadn’t met for years, another cousin, an editor, three more friends, and so on and on. The spammer, it seemed, had sent the same begging email to every single person in my address book. I hope none of them fell for it; my second cousin, a generous fellow, said he had actually started to respond before noticing that the email address he was responding to was similar to mine but differed by a single letter. Cunning! I suppose these criminal scams work from time to time, often enough to make it worth while.

But what these scams also do is cause endless irritation and nuisance. I immediately phoned aol, my internet service provider, and spent a long time – and quite a lot of money, no doubt – on the phone to a call centre in India. The helpful young graduates there told me to change my password, which I did; and I also sent an email to everyone on my address book explaining what had happened and apologising for the inconvenience. Then I poured a glass of wine, sat back and thought: ‘That’s sorted, then.’

Not a bit of it. Later that evening I noticed that I was no longer receiving emails, and a friend in the USA emailed me on a different googlemail account to say that her emails to me on the aol account were being bounced. So back on the phone to India, where the poor call centre operatives were still working at three and four a.m. in their morning. Eventually, after many failed experiments and a lot of listening to muzak, a supervisor informed me of something that none of his operatives knew, apparently. It seems that because I – that is, my account – had sent out lots of spam emails, this account had been automatically frozen, and neither he nor anyone else could do anything about it. I would just have to wait. It would come back in 48 hours. Probably.

That was five days ago. 240 hours and counting. (I’m counting, anyway – not so sure about aol)

So if anyone has sent me an email and is still waiting for a response, all I can do is apologise and offer this explanation.

And how should we punish spammers? Shoot them? Obviously. Mince them up and feed them to the dogs? Nice thought.  But sadly, we have to catch them first.

About Tim Vicary

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5 Responses to How to punish spammers

  1. I’ve received a few of these spammy comms – always message my friends who they are supposed to have come from and tell them. How is it so easy for spammers to get into our accounts? Mind you, I have had problems in general trying to e-mail people with AOL accounts – most of them have eventually changed to a different provider.

    • Tim Vicary says:

      I’m told aol is supposed to be good at preventing these things but right now they are preventing me from using my own account. I guess I’ll have to get back on the phone to India again!

  2. Terry Tyler says:

    This is not spam, this is computer hacking. Spam is when people direct message you on Twitter and try to get you to buy their book, or send you junk email This invasion of your email means that the person has hacked into your account by working out your password, and is much, much more serious. There are sophisticated programmes now for doing this, and that person will have the addresses of all your contacts, and any other of the sites you might have mentioned in your emails, in order to do a little bit of identity theft when they realise the money is not forthcoming. DO NOT use this email address again, even if you canm Tim! This happened to me too – I had to set up another email account and, yes, lost some email contacts I’d had for years, but the ones that mattered found me again, or you can find them. In case you already haven’t, it’s important you change ALL your passwords. I know I may sound over cautious but there are small gangs (mostly in Nigeria) who set up solely to do this – it’s a 24 hour a day business and the programmes that guess passwords can guess millions of alternatives until they come up with the right one. Hope Liz reads this too!

  3. Tim Vicary says:

    Hi Terry,

    Thanks – I’ve only just seen your comment. I’ve only just got the aol mail returned but with a very long and different word, but I take you point – I may fade it out. Luckily I have never gone in for internet banking, I always do it over the phone. I have a different password for every internet thing I am involved with, but because I am mostly fumbling around online I sometimes sing in via Facebook or Twitter or something which is tempting but probably unwise. Oh dear.

  4. Pingback: Dear Spammer, this red dot will be the last thing you ever see. I promise. : Claxton Creative, LLC–Interactive Books for iPad

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