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Spam stuffed in fig leaves
(or, lame excuses for bulk mail)

Update 21 June 2008: This is one of the oldest pages on this site, and its age shows. Nowadays, five years on, only a few spammers still feel obliged to offer any sort of excuse for their behavior, and those who do are usually the ones who aren’t good enough to remain in the business for long. So, you should read this page as being very much in the past tense. Still, we will it around for entertainment value.

It must be tough to be involved in a trade where you constantly feel compelled to apologize for the way you have to pursue that trade (think of all those proctologists and tax auditors out there). It must be even worse when you’re a spammer, and all you have to offer are lame excuses like these:

You asked for it

Many’s the spam I receive that reads something like this:

You are receiving this special offer because you have provided permission to receive email communications regarding special online promotions or offers. If you feel you have received this message in error, or wish to be removed from our subscriber list, <a href=3D"http://www.yourinkjet.com/remove.asp" style=3D"COLOR: #ff0000">Click HERE</a> . Thank You and we apologize for ANY inconvenience.

What if they’re right? What if, at some point, I actually did sign up for mail about cheap, cloggy inkjet cartridges? Can I prove I didn’t? Here’s another:

Our company will never send e-mail unsolicited. You have received this message we are personal contacts, or you have selected to receive occasional promotional e-mails from us from a website that we operate. If you would like to unsubscribe your e-mail address from our mailing list we will do this for you. Please <A HREF="http://www.direct-adv.com/unsubscribe/">CLICK HERE</A> and type in your e-mail address on the form given to you.

So, did I have this person as a “personal contact” or sign up on any of his sites to receive any “promotional e-mails?”

These are the kinds of doubts that spammers would like to engender, just to keep you from investigating and reporting them. In dealing with these messages, you should keep rule #1 in mind and assume that you did not sign up for anything, and then let the spammer prove otherwise (if he cares to). If the spammer can produce any hard evidence of confirmed opt-in on your part, then you can offer profuse apologies.

Don’t wait up for that evidence, by the way: in the notorious Monsterhut vs. PaeTec case, lawyers for the flagrant spammer Todd Pelow of Monsterhut.com promised several times to produce validated opt-in information for the over 800 persons who filed complaints or affidavits with the New York state courts regarding Monsterhut spam, but somehow this information never appeared in discovery or in court. Hmm...

It isn’t our fault

Any bulk-mailer who truly believes that a list he purchases from an outside source contains only genuine opt-in addresses is even more gullible than he wants his customers to be. Yet, you’ll still get spams that make statements like the following:

Your email address was obtained from an opt-in list. Opt-in MRSA List Purchase Code # 312-1-010. If you wish to be unsubscribed from this list, please <A href="http://www.newtopics.com/remove/" target="_blank"> click here.</a> and press send to be removed. If you have previously unsubscribed and are still receiving this message, you may email our <a style=3D" COLOR: #ffffcc" href=3D"mailto:sortofridiculous@bigfoot.com?Subject=3DAbuse Report">Spam Abuse Control Center</a>. We do not condone spam in any shape or form. Thank You kindly for your cooperation.

You were referred to us as someone interested in receiving information about investment opportunities.

This is craftier than the you-asked-for-it dodge, because it places the blame on unnamed “referrers” and third-party sellers of address lists. Nevertheless, it is still a lame excuse.

It doesn’t matter where the spammer got the list, or how your name got on that list, rule #2 still applies.

This is a one-time mailing

Most spammers are serial offenders, but some will offer something like the following by way of an excuse:

This is a one time mailing, there is no need to remove yourself

I suppose the spammer figures that only sending one round of messages makes those messages not-spam. Sorry, no soap: rule #2. Plus, if these really are one-time-only mailings, why does the spammer often give removal instructions? (I bet I know why!)

Spam is good for the environment

I used to get a lot of spam saying something like:

Save the Planet, Save the Trees! Advertise via E-mail. No wasted paper! Delete with one simple keystroke! Immediate & Instant Removal Instructions From Any Future Mailings Are Included Below. We apologize if this message has reached you in error.

This might be a point (however weak) in favor of spam if it were true. However, I suspect that spam advertising does not displace print advertising, it merely supplements it. Most people who use spam advertising would probably not be in business if they had to place spots in newspapers or magazines, to use direct postal mail, or to hump flyers, signs, and other “street spam” all over the neighborhood.

In any case, these spammers don’t account for the watt-hours of electricity that must be consumed to schlep their spam all around the world and onto your computer. This power, unlike paper, usually comes from non-renewable resources like coal. The spammers, of course, don’t pay for very much of this power (if any). Then, there’s also the manhours of labor that are expended to process, block, investigate, report, and even delete these messages; the spammer doesn’t pay for any of this either. So much for “saving the planet.” Also, you may well be able to delete the spam with “one simple keystroke,” but only after you’ve paid to have it received by your ISP’s mail systems and downloaded to your computer.

Hey, we’re legal

Lots of spam continues to come in with language like this:

Under Bill S. 1618 TITLE III SECTION 301 passed by the 105th US Congress. Per Section 301, Paragraph (2) proposed by the 105th US Congress, any e-mail or Mass Marketing e-mail cannot be considered Spam as long as the sender includes contact information and a method of removal.

Great, huh? A legal basis for spamming? Well, no. For one thing, S.1618 is just a bill, not a law (it was never actually passed by the joint Congress, much less signed into law by the President), so nobody is obliged to obey it. The bill dates all the way back to the 105th congress (it was deliberated during 1998).

Even if it had become law, S.1618 would have been a pretty spam-friendly law, since it would have endorsed opt-out as a permissible practice among spammers. Spammers could have spewed as much as they liked (much as they do now), as long as they made a token effort to honor removal requests.

Furthermore, this spammer (like most who hide behind this bill) didn’t even live up to the terms of this non-law, since he failed to provide “[...] The name, physical address, electronic mail address, and telephone number of the person who initiates transmission of the message,” as title III sec. 301(A) required.

By the way, this sort of sorry disclaimer is known as a “murk,” after Frank Murkowski, the former U.S. Senator from Alaska who co-sponsored S.1618. It continues to be found occasionally in spam to this day, even in spam targeted outside the U.S. (where even real U.S. laws would presumably not apply), and despite the fact that S.1618 is now more than six years dead.

We have the inalienable right to spam you

But let’s forget about the legislative sausage-making of the U.S. Senate for a moment, and go where some spammers go, straight to the U.S. Constitution, first amendment:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

What the spammers are doing here is falling back on the first amendment’s guarantee of freedom of speech. This is all very nice, but it overlooks a century or more of established case law supporting the regulation of commercial speech. Any spammer who thinks that the constitution protects his chicanery should check with Volvo, Quaker Oats, Wonder Bread, and other well-known businesses forced over the years to retract dubious claims made in their advertising (the “herbal remedy” spammers in particular should be counseled regarding their extravagant claims to reverse aging or cure all sorts of diseases). And, in any case, while the first amendment might give spammers freedom of speech, it does not require you or me to listen to that speech nor to pay for its delivery. Furthermore, I’d not stress this amendment too much if I were a spammer, lest people decide to do something once and for all involving the “redress of grievances” part.

And, anyway, a legal argument might be made that since a large proprtion of spam is mailed from servers outside the United States, it ought to be the (possibly more restricitve) laws of these foreign countries that should apply to the transmissions.

It’s not for you

Before these were invalidated by the federal CAN-SPAM law, certain individual states (such as California, Washington, and Virginia) had fairly strong anti-spam laws on the books. What could a spammer do, since he would inevitably have been sending his spewage to people living in these states? Well, he simply opted himself out with a shabby cover-your-ass trick:

This Message Is NOT Intended For Residents Of WA, CA or VA

Well, the message wasn’t intended for them, but I bet they got it anyway.

Spamming for God and Country

“Patriotism,” according to the great Dr. Johnson, “is the last refuge of the scoundrel.” He also told his biographer Boswell that, “A wicked fellow is the most pious when he takes to it. He’ll beat you all at piety.” Evidently, Dr. Johnson was receiving some early pre-electronic form of spam.

Every once in awhile, I receive well-meaning religious proselytizing via bulk-mail from some misguided soul; however, most of the “religious content” I find in spam is just cynically pasted in to give a veneer of sincerity to a standard scam pitch. For example there was recently a rash of spam involving “Christian” debt-relief scams, “Christian” dating services, and the like. Nigerian 419 scammers often profess religious faith (Christian or Moslem), and even sometimes pose as dying missionaries who want to “gift” their worldly wealth to some pious stranger.

Yes, spammers will often call down the blessings of the deity to soften the blow of the spam; the reasoning seems to be that spam is OK as long as it is done by someone who professes some religious faith. Apparently, by this line of reasoning, unethical e-mail practices such as header forgery and theft of services are permissible when done in the name of [fill in your favorite religious figure].

If religion doesn’t hook ’em, how about a bit of flag waving? Many spams include gratuitous slogans such as “God Bless the USA,” or “support the troops,” expressing sentiments that seem rather hollow when you consider that many or most of these messages come from offshore relays, and advertise offshore-hosted websites and businesses.

This isn’t spam

Finally, when no other excuse will fit the bill, a spammer can just indulge in The Big Lie:

This e-mail message is not unsolicited. This e-mail address has joined or requested information. If this is a mistake or you would prefer not to receive any more special free announcements via email,simply visit this web page to be removed from the list:

Note that the wording of this particular message is deliciously ambiguous, and almost seems to suggest that any mistake is yours and not theirs.

Rule #2 applies here. Report away!



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(c) 2003-2008, Richard C. Conner ( )

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Updated:Sat, 21 Jun 2008

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