New Books on Aging
Five Years of Blogging about Age: Language

Getting Too Old to Handle Email Spam

Crabby Old Lady’s ISP and domain registrar, through which her email is filtered to her inbox, work hard to identify and quarantine spam. Her email program, which employs Baysian filters, is another stopgap that can be taught to identify spam by Crabby herself.

Nevertheless, about 60 to 70 percent of arriving email is spam and Crabby doesn’t want to imagine what her inbox would look like if the several filters were not in place.

After years of daily inbox scrubbing, Crabby is adept at identifying spam at a glance but recently, out of curiosity, she undertook a minor exercise in examining what arrives and as in the past, she is astonished at the stupidity of spammers.

All but about 1 percent are messy, incoherent, unreadable and most of all, so clearly scams that Crabby believes anyone who loses money to these miscreants deserves it. Here is one email that is particularly idiotic. There is no mention of what the product is (Crabby has cleaned it up a bit for readability.)

“Take our Challenge. Check it out Just SEE What Happens. Our online automated system Really Does Work and we will PROVE it. You can sit back and watch it Grow BEFORE You Get Started. “It's really that simple Just grab an ID. Watch all the people come in and you decide if this is right for you. Test-drive the system for as long as you want. You will be notified when you have a c hec k coming. Don't lose all the people that are waiting to be placed under you. Grab and confirm your ID”

Really, now. What is that about and why would a spammer think anyone would respond?

Spam falls into predictable categories. There are the ever-present dubious health products including fake Vi*gra and Ci*lis substitutes – “all natural” of course – and spammers apparently believe we will all succumb to colon cleansing as a miracle cure for everything that ails us.

The success of such television shows as CSI has, for years now, flooded her inbox with offers to teach Crabby forensic science and the infamous Nigerian scam, along with its copycats, continue to promise Crabby several million dollars if she will front tens of thousands of dollars to transfer the money to her.

Sweepstakes and make-millions-at-home rackets have always been big, but the economic crisis has spawned a surge in foreclosure prevention, credit and real estate swindles. Several people have been telling Crabby recently that they can save her New York apartment from impending foreclosure (using the exact street address) even though she sold it in 2006.

Someone named John Commuta or Comuta has somehow evaded all of Crabby’s spam filters for years with a “debt-to-wealth” program and in the past month, “Mr. Stock” has been trying to sell Crabby a “stock robot,” certain to make her wealthy with no effort on her part.

The latest college degree spam not only promises “no book, no exams, no study,” but will provide grade transcripts to potential employers – or so says the message.

Television is moving into the spam game. The “snuggle blanket” turns up in Crabby’s inbox about a dozen times a day and even the ubiquitous Video Professor is at it now, although the URLs in those emails do not link to the Video Professor website.

Perhaps because of the topic of this blog, the largest percentage of spam Crabby receives involves anti-aging products. You can look exactly 14 years younger, says one, with their “muli-peptide youth serum.” And we all know how effective that is, don’t we.

Another promotes non-surgical Botox that “works in just seconds” and Cheryl Tiegs or someone impersonating her has a “proven alternative to Botox.”

Not a single piece of spam has ever been or ever will be useful.

For years, with a sigh, Crabby has waded through the detritus to find the jewels in her inbox – comments from readers, notes from friends, etc. – and has long squelched her anger, accepting spam as fact of online life. But lately, she is tiring of the daily grind, allowing the spam to pile up because it has become too damned tedious and time-consuming to sort.

Every now and then, Crabby just says, “screw it” and deletes the entire inbox. But that has led to missed personal messages, not to mention the possibility of lost electronic bills. For a time, she tried color coding email addresses of friends and businesses she deals with, but keeping up with that is as tedious as sorting out spam, and messages from new blog readers don’t get flagged.

Email is one of the great inventions of modern life, but spammers have ruined it for Crabby. She once looked forward to the morning email with her coffee; now it makes her tired before she’s even started her day.

Isn’t there something that can be done?

[At The Elder Storytelling Place, Johna Ferguson supplies us with a list of Liquids for Your Life.]


Of course the tech wizards can do something if they put their minds to it. Didn't I read in recent months that a big spammer pushing some sort of sex stuff was taken out of business? Yeah, I'm sick of all the same ones you mention.

Most recently I rec'd notification of an order I supposedly placed, followed shortly after by some sort of shipment confirmation. Out of curiosity, ('cause I NEVER CLICK ON ANY SPAM and I was told never to even run my cursor over the listings)I checked these out. I was told this poor company was somehow caught in the middle between me and the person in another state to whom this order was being sent. This "company" just needed some information from me, which, of course, I did not send. What a racket!!! Wish some geeks or law enforcement would take them out.

I have never found the perfect solution, but I do find Gmail better than the Barracuda spam filtering system that we use at work. In the past I've abandoned e-mail accounts because the spam has gotten out of control to the point that it rendered the account all but useless. I still get some spam in my inbox, but most of it goes directly to the spam folder. When it does get to the inbox there's a certain satisfaction in clicking the Report Spam button. I glance in there ever so often to check for false positives but it never happens. You can use Gmail with domains, too and you can use it with a client or on the web. I'm not trying to do a sales job. Just saying that it's the e-mail account that's worked for me the best and longest so far.

Amazing! Either I am in such an electronic backwater that spammers cannot find me or PC-cillin and Earthlink do a remarkable job of blocking spam. Perhaps once each week, out of the 100+ messages that I receive, one or two turn out to be actual spam (although I must admit that a shirt tail relative is more annoying than most spam!) You have a lot of fortitude to put up with so much spam!!!

I don't get a lot of spam. I may just be lucky, but this is my strategy: for my work address I NEVER give it on any commercial site (and I NEVER get spam there). For my "personal" email address (gmail) I use it ONLY for personal emails or current needs such as reservation confirmations and subscriptions to (only) certain magazines. I have an additional email address (yahoo) that I use for everything else. Yahoo has a pretty decent spam filter, and since I only check this one once a week it does not eat my life. I went through a period of offers of prescription drugs. I forwarded all of those to federal drug enforcement (sorry, forget the address now) and they stopped pretty quickly. Now most of my spam involves my inadequate p*nis size, but at least there is not much of it, and I NEVER open any of it. It does help to resist offers of "free" anything on line. There is a cost for those offers, and it is your email address, which they sell. I do some shopping online, which gets me some advertising email, but I use my blowoff address there too. I never forward those junk emails that are always going around either.

My email programs (I have 4) are very adept at catching spam and very few get through into the inbox, for which I am thankful.

Speaking of Cheryl Tiegs, she has been on a reality show every Mon. pm for about 4-5 weeks. She is no paragon of b*tox use or any substitute for it anymore! LOL

For a while I was getting lots of job offers in German. We are changing our web sites to a company which I hope will help with spam but we use Apple's mail program and you can set rules for dealing with stuff. There is still way too much of it and it is such a waste.
On another note, I recently read an article which said the best way to look younger when you are over 40 is to gain a few pounds.
I always thought so!

Along with some of the referenced spam subjects in the contents of your post this morning and the garnished responses, I have begun to wonder if I am the only one getting emails regarding the “up-sizing” of a specific male appendage? These type emails can be quite disconcerting to some of the less secure of my gender. You begin to wonder after a time if an ex-girlfriend or wife sent them your email address!

Very little spam gets past my gmail filter.

People who fall for these kinds of things are, IMHO, to be pitied, not scorned. Also, for years I belonged to a listserv for people, mostly women, caring for people, mostly their husbands, who had Parkinson's Disease. (My mom had been diagnosed with PD.) Many of them reported the spouse falling for things like this, as well as more traditional spams (credit cards) as their cognitive functions declined.

Back in the days when I used Outlook, I also used SpamBayes, a Bayseian filter that really worked!

Now I use Gmail and I'm getting close to twenty a day in the Spam folder. Which really isn't bad except for the fact that I feel a compulsion to empty the darn thing every time I see that it has a message in it.

What's needed is a program that can sniff out the spam mailers real address from behind all of the aliases and false trails...and then 'return to sender'!

Alan G:

How could Crabby Old Lady have omitted those male member enhancements? Years ago, given Crabby's gender, she thought they were funny. Now, they just add to her weariness.

We tend to use the 'report as span' button frequently. A couple of years ago Mom and I also got those 'enhancement' offers. We simply blocked every one that came through. We haven't received many lately. We generally do not respond to any of the free offers, either deleting them or reporting them as spam. Mom gets more than I do and, interestingly, they come from companies affiliated in some way with AARP. I have also learned to be very careful in checking out the results of my usual google searches. It is amazing how many are from people trying to sell things. You learn to grow antennae to sense these sites and steer clear of them.

The only really effective remedy I've found for spam is putting Gmail in the middle. Set up a Gmail account (it's free), have Gmail POP your email account, Gmail sorts out the spam INCREDIBLY effectively, and then use your mail client to POP the Gmail account. Using Gmail makes using email sane again; you don't even see the spam unless you choose to look at it. I used to use client-side filtering too, but that presupposes that you're downloading the messages... spam and all... and using your individual filtering rules (and your individual processing power) to do the filtering, and that's a huge overhead. Instead, Google just "handles it". Yes, Google does occasionally get things wrong - filters a good message into spam, and lets some spam through, but that happens very rarely in my experience.

I am lucky with my main email system, the one I use for my friends and only a few businesses, but anywhere I have to give an email, I give them an extra hotmail account, keeping my primary email virgin-- kind of. So all newspapers, anything that requires a sign up gets the hotmail addy. I think many sites sell the emails to others and it's where the problems grow. Hotmail is pretty good about ferreting out the worst offenders although I get maybe two or three a day, several phishing scams that I always report. If one can do it, I recommend two emails and keep one for trusted sources.

I'm with zenyenta. My ISP is Earthlink -- and it's wonderful! Only Email that comes in to your inbox is Email from people you have in your address book. Everything else goes to a "Suspect Email" inbox that is on Earthlink's server (never on your own hard drive). You can go through that one when you have time, pick what you want and transfer it to your own inbox and add the sender's Email address to your personal address book on your account or delete them one at a time or all at once. You can also choose to report any thing that is Spam to Earthlink and/or request that the sender's ISP be completely blocked from your Suspect Mail box, no matter what the sender's designation is.
This is the greatest screening set-up I've found yet. And between Earthlink and Spyware Doctor, no scan of my hard drive has been able to come up with any problems in years. You might want to try this.

For years I only got five or six Spam e-mails in my Yahoo account. I never found one in my Inbox. Then I accidentally clicked on a site that used the same name of a free anti-virus program that had been recommended to me. After entering my e-mail address I got a page telling me that I could get the program for $11.69 for a year. I thought that was odd since it was supposed to be free, but accepted it. Then they asked for my credit card number. I should have known this wasn't a legitimate site, but since it had been recommended by a trusted person I gave the card number. Then a site came on telling me that something like $67 had been charged to my credit card. I tried connecting with their customer service link and there was no link. Before I could call my credit card company, they called me asking if I had authorized this payment and I told them no that it was a scam. The next day I had 79 spam e-mails in my Spam box and about six more in my in-box. By immediately deleting all spam and reporting those that were in my in-box I now only get about 20 spams a day. The amount is going down and Yahoo does a pretty good job of filtering it out.

I have several spam filters and get spam very rarely in my inbox. If you don't have a good spam program, you can either swap to a gmail account or download and use Thunderbird, which is a very good free mail reader that has a good spam filter included.

You can set up mail rules to filter into separate mailboxes as well, so your "regulars" or known good emails go in one box and new mail from people you don't know yet goes into another.

There is a lot that can be done -- sometimes you just need to look for it.

usually, there's some "unsubscribe" notice at the bottom of these spams. do it. i.e., unsubscribe to whatever outfit is sending the spam. that'll cut down a lot. not all...cuz you are very widely read. them's the breaks. the reason you get so much spam is cuz your blog goes out far and wide!!! the rest of us should be so inconvenienced....

As recommended by several people, get an email that you use for "junk". As you probably know, there are plenty of free email addresses that you can sign up for for. I have an email that I use to sign up for things and order things online. This is my junk address and that is where 99% of my junk email goes. I check it every few days for legit emails and don't bother with the rest. My regular email only goes to clients, family, coworkers, friends and other trusted people.

I'm a web developer, so am online constantly and this is the only way that I have figured out how to handle the spam. But it seems to work pretty well for me.

p.s. i agree with DW...Mozilla is great. I use Firefox from Mozilla, and I get hardly any actual spam. most of it comes from my own curiosity which drives me to google and click links like a madwoman. but that's the kind you can unsubscribe from, thankfully.

Oh, I can relate. But thankfully I have wonderful guys/gals at my primary email (which I pay for and expect better service). I have noticed in the past year, Yahoo seems to be getting more spammers, it used to be AOL with the problem.

Oh well, guess we'll all be setting our spam filters to 'Shoot first, sort later' soon:)

Have been with earthlink for quite sometime & am am amazed to hear all the problems others are having with "spam overload"...Earthlink has a great system...we are spared a great deal....

I use Gmail, carefully give out my addresses with different ones for different purposes. Gmail does a really good job of screening spam, I agree, but get really ticked off with even 20 or so of these a day. When that one spammer was put out of business there were some blessed weeks of no more "enlargement" spams, but someone else has taken up the promotion. Have Earthlink but don't use their email, and will be switching ISPs soon, probably. Maybe I should reconsider.

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