Killer and Spybots
Oh, the humiliation--being turned down for a
credit card. My record of paying my bills on time
is impeccable, yet I now have a bad credit rating.
I blame spam.
Well, not spam in the strictest sense of
unwanted e-mail. In this case, it was those spam
telemarketing calls. What happened was that for
unknown reasons, my credit card company (avoid GM
Card) started sending my statements to the wrong
address. It was a card that I used rarely and had
always paid the full balance, so I assumed when
statements didn't come that I simply hadn't used
the card for anything.
I was wrong. Either I or a thief had used it.
(I'll never know which.) And indeed I had owed them
money for a year and a half. They may have tried to
phone me, but since they had made unwanted
marketing calls in the past, whenever I got a call
from them I would just hang up.
One day when the same person called a few hours
later, I thought, This is odd--telemarketers don't
usually call twice. I took the call.
It was a collection agency saying I owed $295. I
paid it on the spot, using another credit card. The
lady said I'd receive a statement from the credit
card company, but I never did. I called them, and
they said that I would receive one from the
collection agency. Ha ha.
Now that that collection is on my record, it's
hard to get another card. I blame spam.
Good news on the telemarketing front, though.
Thanks to an initiative by the Federal Trade
Commission, as of July you'll be able to register
for a new national "no call" list. You simply go to
a web site (watch my column for more information),
sign up, and then it's illegal for telemarketers to
Once you sign up, your name will remain on the
list for five years, at which time you can renew
The list will be made available in September to
telemarketers, and in October the FTC will begin
enforcing it, fining telemarketers up to
If only they'd do something similar for e-mail.
I'm up to over 100 spam a day. But it's unlikely,
since e-mail is transnational: a law passed here
wouldn't have much affect on the spammers in other
countries. Plus, it's often hard to pin down the
source of spam. Still, the European Union is going
ahead with legislation, having put out a directive
that will make unsolicited e-mail illegal as of
October. Let's hope it works.
One of the reader's of this column pointed me to
a promising new spam service called Mailblocks.
Here's how it works: the first time someone sends
you a message Mailblocks traps it and automatically
generates a message to the person who sent it. The
automated reply contains a picture with an embedded
number, the idea being that only an actual person,
not a computer, could perceive it. The sender then
copies that number into a registration form.
Since spammers need an automated process for
mass mailing, they are blocked by this procedure.
Of course, the question is whether those who send
you e-mail will be willing to register the first
time they send you a message. The cost for this
service is $10 for three years. I like the
This reader also sent along some information
free software which can detect and remove spyware
on your computer. "Spyware"? As if you didn't
already have enough to worry about with spam and
According to the Sypbot web site, "Spyware is a
relatively new kind of threat that common
anti-virus applications do not yet cover. If you
see new toolbars in your Internet Explorer that you
didn't intentionally install, if your browser
crashes, or if you browser start page has changed
without your knowing, you most probably have
spyware. But even if you don't see anything, you
may be infected, because more and more spyware is
emerging that is silently tracking your surfing
behavior to create a marketing profile of you that
will be sold to advertisement companies."
PC Magazine gave Spybot high marks. On the
Macintosh side of things, the only free software
that I could find for dealing with spyware is
Thank you to government and to software
developers for doing their best to protect us
innocents from the evils of spam, telemarketing
calls, viruses, and spyware. Now if they could just
fix my credit rating.
© 2003 by Jim Karpen, Ph.D.