Junk Mail 101
by Andrew Hicks
Last year, I wrote a column called "Hate Mail 101." It was one of
my favorites and turned out to be a favorite of most readers as well. So
in memory of that and respecting the fact that I have nothing else to
write about right now, I'm doing a spin off. This time I'll reprint and
grade ten e-mails, from A+ to F, from the other end of the "unwanted
mail" spectrum. This is a guide to junk mail, all of which I've received
this past week. For reference purposes, I'm using each e-mail's subject
line as its title...
1. Please Help Me
Ah, the desperation of junk mail. This one reaches new lows,
declaring, "I don't know what is most important--kids, or the planet our
kids will live on after we are gone!" So he decides to exploit them both,
beginning with kids. "FOUR MILLION people will be poisoned this year from
cleaning products. Over TEN THOUSAND little kids will DIE this year.
That is HEARTBREAKING!" Then he talks about how his brother died when he
was ten and asks, "Are you willing to help save a kid's life?" If you
are, get ready to buy some all-natural cleaning products, which don't
poison our water or kill our kids. And just look at that shine! "Some
people may accuse me of being a profiteer," this poor guy says. He
doesn't know the half of it, but the sad part is, he'll probably make a
lot of money on this. Then he'll push his sister overboard so he can sell
the world the Amazing Non-Slick Ship Deck Mop. The lower these junk mails
sink, the better they get. Grade: A.
Yes, "Re:" was the subject line. This is one of the only junk
mails circulating that doesn't give any details about the product in the
subject header, but when you read the mail you see why. They're trying to
sell you two computer programs called "Virtual Girlfriend" and "Virtual
Boyfriend," both of which simulate relationship activities for those who
are unable, or perhaps unwilling, to experience them in real life. "You
can watch them, talk to them, ask them questions, tell them secrets, and
relate with them. Watch them as you ask them to take off different
clothes and guide them through many different activities." If you act
now, you can also get "Club Celebrity X," a program that puts the
Hollywood elite in a new light. "You have seen these girls on T.V.,
Magazines and billboard ads. Now they are on your computer begging for
action." If you're lucky, you might even get one of them to be your
virtual girlfriend. The order form itself is the best thing about this
junk mail; that's where you find out you can get Virtual Girlfriend or
Virtual Boyfriend for $10, or get them both for just $15.95. That's for
people who somehow think buying only one of these is not pathetic enough.
Hint to my friends: Christmas is just around the corner. A-.
3. THIS IS ONLY FOR PEOPLE WHO NEEDS MONEY RIGHT NOW!
Well, hell, I needs money. So I listened to Dick Hollman when he
told me his life went from repossessed cars and bill collectors to luxury
cruises, new cars and "a second home in Virginia," all when "I received a
letter telling me how to earn $800,000 anytime I wanted to!" How about
next Tuesday? he asked himself. The scheme is simple. You send the people
on the list one dollar each and ask them to add your name to their lists.
Then you send this mail to as many people as you can. Cyrus Huntington
returned the letter and, three days later, he won the lottery. John
Hopkins refused to return the letter and, three minutes later, he died.
The choice is clear, and the sacrifice is little in the long run. As Dick
writes, "BE HONEST, HAVEN'T YOU 'BLOWN' MONEY IN RESTURANTS OR ON ITEMS
THAT GIVE ONLY TEMPORARY PLEASURE?" Oh, like, say luxury cruises, new
cars and a second home in Virginia? Dick's all-caps urgency, his
insistence that this age-old scam REALLY WORKS, his subject-verb
disagreement in the subject line and his bringing hope to many pathetic
individuals actually stupid enough to fall for this e-mail ensure him of
his place in junk mail history. An instant classic. A+.
4. I Make $250 to $1000 A Week!!
When I first saw this subject line, I thought, "So what, a
janitor makes at least $250 in a week," but then I realized, this guy is
working for "One Of The Hottest Most Exciting Marketing Groups On The
Internet," The One That Capitalizes Every Word They Use. Then this
anonymous writer declares, "I MADE $160 MY FIRST DAY!!!" Having sex with
who again? This guy works for the Marketing Warriors, which sounds like
some community business college football team. It was founded by Allen
Says, brother of Simon, and plugs some "secret site" where you can
download millions of e-mail addresses for your personal use, presumably
so you can send people senseless, unsolicited e-mail like this and learn
how, among other things, "to print your own money....legally!!" This junk
mail is all over the place, promising lots of money (probably fake money
they printed "legally") but offering no details other than the secret
site, and it has its share of widely varying capitalization. Make it work
for you. C+.
5. Immediate Release: El Nino update...
Perhaps the absolute worst junk mail I've come across lately,
this one offers to educate investment opportunists "how to take advantage
of the potential effects of El Nino on the agricultural commodities
markets!!" This year's El Nino "could be the worst one in 150 years," so
why not make some money from it by investing in soybeans, corn and wheat,
the foods that will no doubt reach famine levels of shortage when revaged
by El Nino? The catch is, you have to commit to a minimum investment of
$6,000. Now, do you think anyone stupid enough to read past the first
line of this e-mail really has $6,000 at their disposal? From the same
people who brought you "Cash in on your grandmother's rape!" F.
6. The Cash Cow is MOOING!!
That's right. You already know the cash rooster is crowing and
the cash elephant is stampeding, but now the cash cow is mooing. "Call
the number below and find out how to make thousands of dollars each week
simply by getting people to call an 800 number! WE DO EVERYTHING ELSE !!!
!!! WE CLOSE ALL SALES FOR YOU !!! $$$$ 100.00 FAST START CASH * PAYDAY
EACH FRIDAY $$$$ WE ADVERTISE * WE RECRUIT * WE CLOSE YOUR SALES ****ALL
WHILE YOUR AT WORK OR AT PLAY **** $$$$ START MAKING $ 100.00 BILLS
RIGHT NOW !!!" People, THIS is an excellent junk mail. All caps, a
groaner of a subject line, confusing repeated punctuation, use of "your"
for "you're" and, of course, absolutely no details about what kind of
business you're entering into. Even the jaded head of a student painter
scam would be proud. A+.
7. MOUSE PADS WITH YOUR FAVORITE PHOTO! GREAT GIFT!
This one loses a letter grade for being an actual, tangible
product and not some kind of pyramid or sales scheme. It also loses a
letter grade for melding one pathetic product with another. I think we
all see enough pictures of our friends and family, we don't need to be
running our mouses across their faces every time we're on the computer.
Nevetheless, the manufactures think, that for only $14.75 plus shipping,
"Its time to REPLACE your OLD, DIRTY, FRAYED, BORING mouse pads with
LOVED ONES, FAMILY, FRIENDS, PETS," and so on, as if to suggest a mouse
pad with a picture of a loved one would somehow not be boring. Now, if
someone actually had a pet mouse and wanted to put the mouse's picture on
the mouse pad, I could see the novelty value, but otherwise, no f'ing
way. This is no fly-by-night operation, though: "Our Mouse Pads are made
from the HIGHIEST QUALITY 'NO FRAY' cloth tops and 1/4" deep non-skid
rubber bottoms." If I'm not mistaken, so are the Virtual Boyfriend and
Girlfriend accessories. These people do earn a small amount of credit in
my book for including the line, "We will ship it back to you OR TO ANY
ADDRESS you prefer!" which opens up endless possibilities for sending
enemies obscene photos. And since these mouse pads are of the "HIGHIEST
QUALITY," the enemies would probably end up using them. D+.
8. Make money From People Watching TV
I got this one three times in a row. It starts with the line,
"Just Released," probably describing the author's parole. This e-mail
describes some kind of vague digital satellite sales job, "setting up
people with DSS satellite equipment at no charge. As a representative
with our company, you will get paid between $25 and $100 for 'giving
away' Digital Direct Satellite Dishes." So they pay you to give away
their equipment? They don't explain how they make money doing this, but
rest assured there is illegal activity involved. The fact that "giving
away" is in quotes suggests something sinister, like perhaps that they've
"borrowed" the satellite dishes from some electronics store. The closing
line reads, "If you are ready for the greatest business opportunity to
come down the pike, don't miss this one, it is only 2 months old!!!"
Younger is better in junk mail; you have to go with a company that has
not proven itself at all, whose business strategies don't make any sense
and who put words in quotes. Overall, very effective. B+!!!
9. A personal message...
Shannon Johnson, CEO, writes, "I have to tell you that I am
really angry and upset about what is going on here on the Internet. We at
Success Concepts are so angry, in fact, that we decided to do something
about it." More specifically, they decided to make everyone else angry by
sending them junk e-mail. This one, like so many others, offers to sell
you everyone else's e-mail addresses so you can bug the hell out of them
like they do. This is unremarkable junk mail -- where are the screaming,
all-caps promises? Where are the missing details of shady business? Where
are the erotic software offers? D.
10. I know all about you...
This subject line was followed by the promise, "Now YOU CAN KNOW
TOO..." So I'm supposed to pay you so I can know about me? Okay, let me
get my checkbook... I admit, when you see e-mail with a subject line like
that, you read it. You want to make sure you're not being blackmailed,
that no one knows about you and Marv Albert and the three drunken flight
attendants last May. Then this guy tries to sell you information on how
to find dirt on everyone. "Check out your spouse, or even your daughter's
new boyfriend!" And I'm sure he knows what I did last summer, but the
lack of any personal details to freak me out kept me from falling for the
scheme. Now, if he would have said anything about May with Marv, I would
have been sold. C-.