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Equal and Opposite Reaction February 5, 2006

Posted by Michael McVey in Online Tools.
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lashback   Perhaps there is some Newtonian Principle in effect in cyberspace but it seems that for every solution to a problem there is someone waiting to scam the unsuspecting and for every scam there is a solution. Of course, all the scamming and anti-scamming issues appear to be driven by money.

Yesterday I read, with some annoyance, of yet another scam about which I need to make my students and faculty aware. Brian Livingston of Datamation wrote an article outlining how unsubscribing from an unwanted e-mail list might not be safe. The scam occurs when you try to get off an e-mail newsletter by clicking the “Unsubscribe me? button or following a link. You may get off that newsletter but by doing so you have ended the obligation of the newsletter to protect your address (or so they think). They can now compile you address and sell it to another unscrupulous e-tailer. Suddenly you begin to get spam e-mail from odd sources.

You can blame the mail system operators of the university who are trying to block spam e-mail, but it is a hard thing to do when you have inadvertently given them an invitation and a map straight to your mailbox. According to Livingston, in 2002, the Federal Trade Commission used the unsubscribe method provided on lists and web pages and discovered most of them did not even work. Later, using a block of unique e-mail addresses they tried unsubscribing from almost 30,000 sites. In 2004, only 1.7 percent of those unsubscriptions led to spam. Last month, that number was up sharply to 7.5 percent.

Livingston reported that a company called Lashback will monitor these lists for corporations (it’s a relatively expensive service). They do offer a free access to a limited database of known offenders. If you suspect the URL of the unsubscribe link will lead to a source of spam, visit their site and enter the suspiscious URL.

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