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.
	2. Re:
		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-.
		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
	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 !!!
	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+.
		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-.

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