I was without power for 13 hours last week, and when I was able to get my computer working, I found 40 emails waiting for me.
Only four of them were anything I needed to respond to or do anything about. The rest of them were spam, or junk email. The name “spam” is taken is taken from the sketch by the acting group Monty Python in which the name of a pork product — Spam — is ubiquitous, unavoidable and repetitive.
I can certainly say that about my email lately, even with devices to send emails to a junk file.
For example, you are supposed to be able to unsubscribe if you are not interested in a group or product. Well, I have no idea how I got on the USC mailing and email list, but I’ve repeatedly hit unsubscribe — the page always asks, “Are you sure?”
Yes, I’m sure.
It seems that the only thing I’m more sure of is that I’m going to be getting more of the same. And sure enough, during that 13-hour period, I got emails from three different employment agencies, which were offering job leads which seem to fit my “profile.”
I got one from a company which said that I might be interested in being in marine interdiction agent for the U.S. Customs Service. Well, I’m retired and have rheumatoid arthritis, so I’m pretty sure that job isn’t one that would fit my profile.
Another option would be to work with an archeology team. I’m pretty sure I’m too old for that one (but it did sound like fun).
Everything I’ve read on the website of the Federal Trade Commission (a great place to go for ideas on how to slow down spam and robocalls) indicates that the web tracks almost everything, and almost everything can be a source for some company to pursue.
Even if you like a company, it follows you through the year. I buy Christmas presents from the plant company Jackson & Perkins, but it’s not Christmas all year. Yet, I get online updates at least two times a week. (At least the pictures are nice to look at.)
I have occasionally bought candy from Chukar Cherries, in Washington state. The emails come more than occasionally.
And try to turn off Amazon. In the 13 hours I was down, there were four messages saying the company had found something I might be interested in. In a week, I counted 13 emails from Amazon. No wonder Jeff Bezos can go into space.
Now, my junk file is getting messages from “Az-online” with handy ideas about cup holders for my kitchen. Beware of such emails that look like they might be from Amazon. They have the Amazon logo and want to confirm that you ordered a 72-inch screen television for $1,400. They ask you to call and let them know if they have made a mistake.
This surreptitious technique is called “phishing.”
I did that one time, and the only mistake was mine. I ended up giving them information and they asked me to call back in 45 minutes to make sure all was well. Well, the number they gave me was fake. I ended up having to change all of my bank accounts and send updates to everyone who billed to my accounts.
The newspaper India Today reported that Indian authorities recently broke up a fake call center in Kolkata where callers allegedly posed as employees from Amazon’s customer care department. In a separate raid last month, police in the same city arrested 11 people in connection with another call center.
It sure seems to me that since the COVID-19 pandemic began, I’ve been getting more spam email and robocalls. I hardly answer any call where I don’t recognize a name, although spammers seem to be attaching names to the calls.
Irene, of South Pasadena, asked that her last name not be used for fear she might end up on some list server. She, too, feels that she may be getting more junk mail and robocalls since the pandemic began. She says one of the strangest came from “Puppies and Pooches.” She has no idea how they linked her to that topic.
She’s also been getting junk texts, such as one she received saying she could get a special deal on losing weight in 30 days.
Another friend said that a hardware store texted her about a prize she had won for shopping at the store. They even had the correct number of her last purchase. Pretty scary. But they asked for some additional information, and she deleted the text.
Gail Collins, of the New York Times, wrote a column last week on robocalls and quoted the Bureau of Labor Statistics as reporting that about 117,000 Americans do this kind of work for a living. She wrote that there were an estimated 45.9 billion robocalls made in the U.S. last year.
Statista, a database for various industry studies, said that 293.6 billion emails were sent and received globally on a daily basis in 2019 — including billions of spam emails. Spam messages accounted for 45% of email sent globally, with Russia generating the largest share.
As large as this number is, it is actually fewer than last year, or the year before.
The pandemic has created new kinds of problems for online users. A lot of people work from home and use Zoom. There have been fake Zoom sites with the site asking for personal information. Real Zoom sites use passwords and IDs.
There are contact tracing notices for those who have been in contact who has tested positive for COVID-19. Scammers take advantage online, asking you to click a link or for information such as Social Security numbers.
While I have been working on this column, I’ve had 20 junk emails and eight robocalls — including one for an extension on my car warranty.
Oh wait. Here’s another great opportunity that matches my job profile!
Excuse me while I answer my phone.
How to Block Calls, Spam
Here are some tips for blocking or handling robocalls and spam emails. You can read more about these suggestions and more by visiting the Federal Trade Commission Consumer Information website: consumer.ftc.gov.
• Look into call-blocking services. Just know that some call-blocking services could block some legitimate calls. Some companies also offer call-labeling, which shows categories like “spam” or “scam likely” on your phone’s screen for incoming calls.
• Some cellphones have lists of approved numbers. See what services your phone provider offers.
• The National Do Not Call Registry is designed to stop calls from real companies that follow the law. Columnist Andy Lippman signed up for it when it began in 2003, and again last year. “It hasn’t worked for me. Or maybe it’s working, and I am getting less calls,” he said.
• Install a call-blocking device. If your home phone is a traditional landline that doesn’t use the internet, you can buy and install call-blocking devices. Call-blocking devices are typically small boxes that you attach to your phone.
• Read expert reviews on internet-based call-blocking services.
• If you get a robocall, hang up. Don’t press a button or engage in talking. You may even see a number that is close to one in your neighborhood, or has a name which may be someone you know.
• Never give out your social security or credit card numbers unless you are absolutely sure about the caller or internet email.
• Hackers and spammers troll the internet looking for computers, phones and tablets which aren’t protected by up-to-date security software. When they find unprotected devices, they try to install hidden software — called malware — that lets them control the devices remotely. Keep your device’s security updated and change your passwords.
• Report spam. If you get an unwanted email, you can report it to your email provider.
• Limit your exposure by considering who you want to share your email address with. When a website asks for your email address, pause and consider whether you want to share this information.
• You might to decide to use two email addresses — one for personal mail and another for shopping, newsletters and other services.
• Check your email account to see if it has a tool to filter out potential spam or to funnel it into a junk email folder. Many email providers have such a feature. If you see any such material that gets into your inbox, mark it as junk mail or spam.
• When using Zoom, know that you will need a password and an ID to get in. You should not provide any additional information.
• There are ways to use the internet for contact tracing for COVID-19. Don’t provide unnecessary information such as Social Security, bank account or credit card numbers as proof of identity.