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What You Need to Know About Spam & Email Forwards

Updated on April 24, 2008

Danger in Random, Unchecked Forwards

As our agency's I.T. Tech, whenever a circulating virus hoax makes it into our office it inevitably ends up in my Inbox. People send it to me with a "FYI.." or "thought you should know about this" - thinking they've stumbled upon some new virus we weren't hip to yet or that they're making my job easier.

It's very frustrating to get these emails and see that, previously, they've been forwarded to, sometimes, hundreds of people. It takes me less than a minute to check Snopes or even TrendMicro Hoax Encyclopedia and see that the email is completely bogus.

Out of the over one hundred people that received one hoax (the Life is Beautiful.pps hoax), I saw the number of people from all of the left-over forwarded addresses, not one had the good sense to check the validity of this claim before sending it out to everyone in their address book.

It is amazing how many emails are sent out this way. Simply because it appears on the computer, no matter how far-fetched it might sound, people send it along. Chain letters, years-old missing children reports, and virus hoaxes are just a few examples.

The problem is that there is potential for danger here in the form of virus hoaxes getting people to mess up their systems, phishing scammers hunting for potential victims, or spammers using the mass-forwards to harvest email addresses.

Spam & Email Harvesting

You wouldn't believe the number of random, pointless, ridiculous, and all-out irritating emails I get. The spam stuff is bad enough, but when it's just people fowarding every email that graces their own Inbox, it can make you want to pull your hair out.

I have learned, through eight years of work in the I.T.-field, that the reason the majority of these emails go around is for the purpose of "email farming".

For example, let's say I have a message (a joke, maybe) and I forward it to Jack, Jill, Harry and Habib. Jack sends it to 14 people. Jill sends it to 2, Harry sends it to 45 and Habib doesn't send it to anyone because his modem dies.

Already my email has been circulated to 61 people who are also forwarding it to their friends, family, and online pals. You can see how a message in your Inbox can already have been forwarded to hundreds of people.

Now let's say I'm a spammer who is farming for emails - in other words, looking for email addresses that I can send my spam to. From this one "joke" email that I sent out, I am going to get back hundreds of email addresses that I can now send spam to - which, if you don't know, is a multi-million dollar a year industry.

So, when I get the joke, love-God, chain letter, lost child, free shopping spree, Bill Gates-money-giveaway, hoax, etc. emails that are obviously concocted so gullible souls will send them on to everyone they know, I - sometimes quite literally - want to pull my hair out.

Some Examples

Getting a bit tongue-in-cheek here, let me give you a few examples of these types of emails - seemingly innocuous yet that can be created and used to harvest email addresses.

While the below examples may seem glaringly obvious as hoaxes and fakes when explained, remember that when they appear in someone's Inbox, they - and maybe you, too - often forward them without a doubt or concern.

Why is this? Studies have shown that we trust computers - almost implicitly. There is some strange link between our brains and what appears on a computer screen that makes us more apt to readily accept and believe what we see there - as opposed to seeing the same information elsewhere and our normal logic kicking in.

In my line of work, I have seen countless people - normally intelligent, logical, and well-grounded persons - fall for and believe in some of the most ridiculous emails imaginable; forwarding them out to everyone in their address book without even considering the need to check out and verify the information contained therein.

Here a few such email-types explained...

First, there are the ones that say Bill Gates or some other lucrative figure is sending a certain amount of money to everyone that forwards their message on.

If you really stopped and thought about it, you would know this is completely unlikely, and rather ridiculous. Yet, for some reason, and as I have said, if people see it on the computer screen, they believe it.

There are also the ones with a silly poem or limerick about friends & love, asking you to pass it on to everyone to remind them how much you love them.

Again, email farming at its worst. This is also effective with "God" ones - "If you love God you'll forward this to as many people as you can!" It sounds silly, but it works. I'd guess that 98% of people that get such things do, indeed, forward them to mass amounts of people.

There are the ones that tell a joke with no punch line - telling you that if you send it to umpteen number of people and hit certain keys on your keyboard, the punch line or some beloved cartoon character will dance across the screen on your monitor. This ploy is also disguised as saying some department store is offering coupons for preposterous dollar amounts - and forwarding to blank number of people and hitting certain keys will make the coupon appear on your screen.

People don't realize, or seem to forget, that it is impossible for sending an email to make anything appear on your computer or your screen. So that one works well, too - especially if the email's instructions say you must forward the email to see the punchline or mystery 'toon. People, thinking they'll get something good or funny, start forwarding the email to everyone they know.

There are more, of course, and spammers get more creative every day to try and dupe the public and garner more email addresses. The key is to always be vigilant with your Inbox and not to forward every single thing that lands there. If something seems too good to be true, it likely is.


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    • skatoolaki profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Louisiana

      Thank you both for the great compliments.

      Yes, Funride, it can be extremely aggravating - some ppl are just what I call Chronic Forwarders. You know the type (usually older folks) that forward *everything* that lands in their own Inbox to every single person in their address book? Gotta love those!

      I'm SO glad you enjoyed skatoolaki; thank you so much! That site is many years of hard work and pouring my soul out to the 'web; it's so great to hear ppl enjoy it.

    • funride profile image

      Ricardo Nunes 

      10 years ago from Portugal

      Great hub! I hate to receive those emails full of email addresses of people I never knew mainly because of virus but also because I know my email will be showed to all those people *really angry*. I have emailed back to some of the guys who were emailing me all that $#i% telling them to send the emails through "Cco" (carbon copy ocult) or "Bcc" (blind carbon copy), at least people would keep their email private.

      ps- I loved your skatoolaki site ;)

    • In The Doghouse profile image

      In The Doghouse 

      10 years ago from California

      Such an awesome Hub. I can't stand all that forward junk mail. I have some friends who insist on drowning people with it. It is amazing how people think if they read it on the internet it must be true. Thanks for pointing out this character flaw that is so present in our society today! Great Job.


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