In case you weren’t aware of it, December is National Identity Theft and Prevention Awareness Month in the US. And you might be forgiven for not being aware of it, because you’re too caught up in the madness of the holiday season, but that’s exactly why it’s NITPAM in December. Spam filters take a beating in December. Spammers are capitalists and they capitalize wherever and whenever possible, to maximize their clicks and minimize the amount of money that’s left in your bank accounts. Spammers love special occasions because people tend to lower their guard if the email in their inboxes is targeted toward something relatable. No occasion is bigger or juicier for spammers than the month of December. No matter what tradition you choose to observe or celebrate this time of the year, December is normally fraught with mayhem and panic, and that’s why spammers love humans so much (and yes, the implication here is that spammers are NOT human).
So your spam filter is working overtime this time of the year. As the Telegraph-Forum points out, “scammers are more than happy to clog your inbox with bogus emails in hopes of tricking you into clicking on something you shouldn’t.” Or, more importantly, your email users, because no email admin is that gullible. My junk email is lousy with FedEx shipping notifications, promises of earning $7,000 a month working at home, credit score reports that I never even asked for, and one that’s tempting me to click on it because the subject is “It’s not too late to fight hair-loss,” and frankly, I have no idea how something called Keranique knew that I’m losing my hair. Thirty spam messages to choose from, and that’s just in one day.
Identity theft is on the rise. “According to NextAdvisor.com, identity theft is on the rise in America, with more than 13 million victims every year. The FBI reports that hackers stole more than 500 million financial records from October 2013 to October 2014.” Online shopping has gone from being something that only we geeks would tackle because, well, we’re geeks. Now, however, people are taking the plunge, and that means more online transactions, more confirmation emails, more delivery notifications, and more chance that someone somewhere is going to click a link they should never click.
These are dangerous times, and users, sadly, are only human. Would that they were all geeks like us. But they’re not. I’m constantly reminded that most people simply don’t think the way I do. For example, on Facebook, people whom I thought were intelligent people – people who are even familiar with technology – are sharing posts offering gift cards from Wal-Mart. It’s one of the oldest scams in the (Face)book. And when I point out to these seemingly intelligent and well-informed people that it’s a scam, they hastily remove the post. Yet, days later, they’ll post an ‘offer from Target’ promising a free gift card. I facepalm and move on, realizing that non-tech people simply don’t think the same way I do, and that’s why you need to get inside the heads of your users and stake your territory right by the sign that says “this space for rent.”
This is all important, not just this time of the year, but every day of the year. Users are vulnerable to things that we’d never imagine they would be vulnerable to. And they make it worse by adding to the glut of useless mail. That nasty disease known as social spam. It might seem harmless, but social spam exacerbates an already bad situation by giving users more reasons to click things. Holiday greetings, for example, are seemingly endless in December, and while it may seem grinch-like to say it, we’d all be better off it people just stopped. David Gerwitz at ZDNet.com points out that “unlike normal promotional emails, which at least offer a discount or a special deal, the Seasons Greetings spam message is usually nothing but a “hiya, how are ya” sort of message. Zero content. Zero discounts…I know I sound all “Bah humbug,” but these things waste my time. I get ten or more of these a day, and I have to dig through and delete them. ”
E-greetings are a reminder to all of us that email is way too easy. It’s too easy to use and it’s too easy to abuse. It’s a dangerous world out there, and we can all be a little bit safer if we just remember that email is a tool, and like all tools, there’s a right way to use it and there’s a wrong way to use it. There’s nothing wrong with griping about it. The addition of social spam adds to the inherent danger of malicious spam.
Have a safe and happy (and e-greeting free) holiday season.