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Warmer: What is spam? Do you sometimes check your spam folder for emails that may have been misdirected there? Have you ever had emails that wanted to give you ‘free money’? Have you ever opened an email, only to find it filled with malware, or your antivirus software has blocked the possibility of opening them?

Now read the text below, answering the questions that follow.

Processed meat you don’t want to get into: a week in spam

An original article by Roger Hartopp, 16 June 2020

In 1994 a husband and wife immigration lawyer team posted a message to over 5,500 message boards on Usenet in about 90 minutes to advertise their services to help people write and send the correct forms to enter the United States “Green Card lottery”. Despite the fact that this could be done on a form for free, they charged $95 (individual) or $145 (couple) for their services.

 

The age of spam and the act of spamming individuals had arrived.

Fortunately, the vast majority of rubbish mail I get in my inboxes is pretty small, although from time to time I have to check them for the simple reason that genuine mail ends up there, including enquiries from new students. But it’s sometimes interesting to see what I do get, although I should point out that you open much of this email at your own risk and with care, perhaps even not at all; you could download something you really don’t want.

But why do we call all this rubbish ‘spam’ to begin with?

 

Let’s play a little game. Where did the term SPAM come from?

 

Is it:

  • a) a canned pork meat product?

  • b) Is it something from Monty Python?

  • c) Is it an acronym for Stored Processed Actions and Messaging?

  • d) Sorted Processed Aerated Meat?

  • e) Stop Posting Awful Messages 

  • f) Something else?

The answer is, in fact, Monty Python, with a bit of answer a).

 

The name comes from spam luncheon meat by way of a Monty Python sketch, in which spam is ubiquitous, unavoidable, and repetitive. Email spam, also referred to as junk email, is unsolicited messages sent in bulk by email (spamming). Although many are commercial, a significant number are not only annoying, but also dangerous because they may contain links that lead to phishing web sites or sites that are hosting malware – or even include malware as file attachments. Some of them are obvious clickbait.

So that’s the serious side of spam – let’s look at some of the trash that ended up in my spam folders, or should have been there, but weren’t, in the last seven days (8-15 June 2020).

I have two inboxes, one from a Polish server and one gmail. Going by the Polish one first, I’ve been receiving a lot from ‘women’… I say ‘women’ because it wouldn’t surprise me if it is clickbait being put together by some fat guy.

‘Bozena’ writes (in Polish): Hey, I saw your photos on the dating site, let's get to know each other! We will meet here (clicking on the word ‘here’ leads to a site with the word ‘sex’ in it).

 

From ‘Bronislawa’: That you are so sexy. I just reviewed your profile. You are very attractive. I am very bored today and I want you to talk. I am waiting for you here.

 

From ‘Miroslawa’: Do you remember how we talked about how I earned 85,000 euros at the beginning of the year? No, I don’t.

 

Grazyna, Stanislawa, Jozefa, Bozenka, Wieslawa, Malgorzata, Vanessa Elrich (who?), and Gabriela Wisniewska. And if that's your name, dear reader, don't worry... I don't think the 'spam' version is the kind of individual who doesn't (or wouldn't) read Typical Errors in English.

 

Two ‘women’ have just simply written ‘witaj’ and ‘m’. There have even been a couple from ‘men’ (maybe for my wife to read: we use the same Polish email address). (As I enter this in the Blogspot page in early August, 2020, they're still writing to me.) 

 

Now I’ve always known I’m very sexy and many women just want me (yeah Roger, if you say so – editor.) but well, I’m already married and have had no need to turn to dating sites or financial places. Besides, why is it that most of the ‘girls’ seem to have the old fashioned Polish names? Maybe the spammers think I have a thing for the older Polish woman…

Occasionally I get familiar names sending me mail but the subject line says nothing and the only message is a website link.

This is an example of an email address being hijacked for nefarious purposes and being used to presumably get at my computer – for goodness sake, don’t click on these!

 

Other stuff I’ve received on the Polish site has been LinkedIn stuff (which I couldn’t be arsed to shift into my main box), more loan companies, religious stuff from Skarbnica Narodowa, actual commercial marketing and one asking me if I’d like to become a superhero.

Now let’s switch to the all-international gmail address, which is my own email address.

There have only been 10 SPAM emails, but it’s worth looking at these as I’m sure many of you are quite familiar with them. BookWarehouse sends me stuff (on books, logically) but since I did buy books through them before I shouldn’t be too surprised.

 

Eventim appears to be a ticketing agency and Win-o-Mania appears to be a gambling website, but I haven’t tried to open that.

The rest look both interesting and dangerous, so I haven’t even dared to open them. LeafFilter ad claims to eliminate gutter cleaning, and US Concealed Online states in the subject line ‘to Protect my 2nd amendment Right and get CERTIFIED to carry today’ adding, ‘Multi-state concealed gun Certification is here if you ha…’ which is where the subject line ends. No further comment on these sick individuals.

Next one, apparently from me (but my name written in capital letters), says ‘Client #980972790 To STOP Receiving These E-mails From Us Hit Reply and Let Us Know…’ Yeah, and then letting you into my computer.

 

Next (which I have typed exactly as it was written): ‘ALERT SOMEONE TRIED TO LOG INT0 YOUR ACCOUNT. G o o g l e support ! login attempt blocked A user has just…’ I’ve not put that into italics because the way the subject line was spaced out tells me you’re on very dangerous territory opening that.

Finally, one mail that we all get from time to time: Hi Friend I am a bank director of the UBA Bank Plc bf .I want to transfer an abandoned sum of 10.5 millions USD  to you through ATM VISA CARD .50% will be for you. No risk involved. Contact me for more details. Kindly reply me back to my alternative email. (All credit to gmail: they flagged this as dangerous.) Ah, if only this was all true: I’d be a multi-billionaire several times over now.

Why do they do it? Well, the simple fact is this. These people know that even if they just get a single figure response from the 10,000 plus emails they send out, then it would be a success; that’s the line that the commercial companies would take. 

 

But more cynically, particularly with the ‘bank director’, just getting one sucker would be considered a success and, more importantly, access to their computer, bank accounts and passwords.

 

As regards the ‘women’, it’s possible the sources concerned want to put malware on my computer, but more likely the links included will take me to some sites where I can see plenty of women, including those who have purported to have written to me saying they want to spend the night with me, likely wearing nothing at all and maybe even doing, well, things. You know what I’m saying here.

Spam can be amusing but it can be incredibly dangerous for you and your computer if you choose to open the email. I know that if I had 10,000 students, 9,999 of them would agree with me.

But it’s that one student I’d be worried about. That’s the one the spammers are aiming at.

1. What did the first spam message advertise? Do you think this was for nefarious purposes? 
2. Does the writer receive a lot of spam? What about you?
3. Why does the writer still have to check his spam boxes?
4. Why is ‘spam’ called spam?
5. Why is some of the email that he receives from people he knows suspicious?
6. The writer often receives ‘clickbait’ from ‘women’ purporting to love him. How much of this kind of spam do you receive?
7. Does your email server flag up suspicious email?
8. According to the writer, why do people send such mail?
9. According to the writer, which student does he worry about the most?

 

VOCABULARY

malware – a type of computer program that is designed to damage or disrupt a computer. Don’t click on any links in emails sent by people or organisations you don’t know; they could contain malware that gets to your codes and passwords.

processed meat – any meat which has been changed or modified in order to improve its taste or to make it last a long time. Processed meat products include bacon, ham, sausages, salami, corned beef, jerky, hot dog, luncheon meat, canned meat and meat-based sauces.

Usenet – a kind of online service that shares postings between a group of computers over a network, and provides a way for people to write postings on many different topics and share them with people all over the world. Usenet is, by modern standards, an ancient internet system that started in the early 1980s, and was created to serve as a global distributed discussion system.

Green Card Lottery – also called the Diversity Immigrant Visa program, it is a US government lottery program available abroad for people to get a United States Permanent Resident Card. The Green Card Lottery is available to citizens of Poland, but not to the United Kingdom.

luncheon meat – a type of cooked meat that is often sold in tins. It is a mixture of pork and cereal. I enjoy pork luncheon meat in a salad or in a sandwich.

ubiquitous – an adjective to describe something that gives the idea that it is everywhere. I visited this ancient city in the middle of the desert and there was the ubiquitous McDonalds.

unsolicited message – a message that has been given to you without being asked for and may not have been wanted. You should ignore spam as it contains a lot of unsolicited messages.

phishing – the activity of trying to trick people into giving secret financial information by sending emails that look as if they come from a bank. The details are then used to steal people's money, or to steal their identity in order to commit crimes. All major banks have fraud departments which are engaged in a constant war against phishing.

clickbait – an informal word to describe something on a website that encourages people to click on a link. The images of animals serve as clickbait.

trash – here, to describe something or things that are of a very poor standard or quality. The Bold and the Beautiful? Why are you watching that trash?

nefarious purposes – activities that are done for wicked, evil, nasty and immoral reasons. What happens, though, when some innocent household products could be used for nefarious purposes?

couldn’t be arsed – a very informal phrase used to state that the person really does not want to do what is needed to be done. Me clean the toilet? Sorry, I just couldn’t be arsed!

Skarbnica Narodowa – a company that distributes commemorative coins (coins to celebrate events that people remember) and medals in Poland

gutter – a plastic or metal channel fixed to the lower edge of the roof of a building, which rain water drains into. There’s no water flowing out the rainpipes – the gutters need clearing of old leaves and other bits.

to flag/to be flagged – in emails, an indicator or sign, that may be set or unset, which is used to show or alert someone to give a particular reaction before continuing to do something else, such as opening a computer program. The email was flagged as being dangerous to open as it may contain malware.

sucker – a person who is very easy to cheat, finds it very difficult to resist things, or can be tricked into doing something that is against what they do or is in their interests. There are so many suckers on the internet you can sell them any old rubbish.

to purport/purported to – to say that someone says that they can do or be that thing, although you may not always believe that claim. This book purports to tell the whole truth about the relationship between the President and his staff.

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