What’s Your I.Q.?

I got a note from a Premium subscriber saying he had clicked on an ad on my Jumbo Joke site. He noted, “I used a throwaway email address to access the site and now get between 100 and 300 spam messages per day (my ‘real’ email gets 5-10 spam messages per day). I’m so glad it’s not my primary email address, but how many of your readers don’t know any better?”

I asked the reader what ad it was, and he said it was one of those “Free I.Q. Test” ads. I had seen at least one of them on the site myself.

He noted “After spending the time taking the test, the site requires a lot of info in order to get the results. In fact it asked for so much info, one screen at a time, I finally gave up and never did get a score.”

But he still got a big pile of spam; apparently, name and email address were among the first things it asked. And he gave it to them. He gets an extra 10 points for using a “throw-away” address.

Google’s Response

Unfortunately, I don’t make enough on my “Google Adsense” ads to get an account manager, but I know someone in their Adsense department, so I forwarded the reader’s complaint. I heard back from my contact today: “I escalated [it] to one of our policy specialists, who said that he went through the process and found that the site specifically stated that email addresses would be shared with third parties, and so met our policy as far as we can tell. I think the easiest thing for you to do would be to block those ads.”

I can indeed block ads from specific advertisers that I know are abusive, and I blocked the one the reader had used as soon as I found out about the spamming. I’m a bit distressed that it’s OK with Google for a web site to be a spammer address collection house as long as they “specifically state that email addresses will be shared with third parties,” but I do understand how hard it is to draw lines when it comes to making policies without getting ridiculous with the small print.

Lesson Learned

Let that be a warning to you: anytime you sign up on a web site with your email, take a second to look at the small print! Does it say “Your address is never shared” (like True’s privacy policy makes clear), or does it “specifically state that email addresses will be shared with third parties”? The difference could mean you’ll get only what you specifically want, or you’ll get inundated with garbage.

At the risk of offending my reader (which I don’t mean to do), I think the lesson of this particular problem is clear: If you give a site your email address after they’ve warned you that they’re going to sell it to others, you might consider your I.Q. to be “lower than average”!

(OK, I know: he probably didn’t notice the disclaimer. That’s why I say you should always take a second to look!)

There Are Ways to Fight Back

It’s sad that in this day and age spam is so prevalent. It should have been solved by now, but it’s not: you do have to be careful with your address.

Spam is now around 90 percent of all email, so you have to be more careful than ever — which means my Spam Primer is more relevant than ever. You probably think you’re “too savvy” to be caught in a spammer’s trap. I can guarantee you that reader did!

If you’re too busy to protect yourself, at least read the Primer’s executive summary.

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21 Comments on “What’s Your I.Q.?

  1. I’ve been online since almost forever and a Premium True subscriber for about five years, and I click with abandon. Firewalls, AVG, common sense–bring your system up to speed. I almost never get spam. It can be filtered out, unless you abuse the ‘net. Have a clue, y’all.

  2. Google does a GREAT job filtering out spam for Gmail addresses. I get maybe one a month that slips by them. If everyone would just use Gmail, spam would not be a bother. Gmail allows you to forward everything to another address so they would screen it first and it allows pop3 access. I’ve used Gmail since it first came out and never use the three domain names that I own anymore. Sad!

  3. You’ll note that he specifically states, “I used a throwaway email address to access the site and now get between 100 and 300 spam messages per day (my ‘real’ email gets 5-10 spam messages per day).” So I wouldn’t say he’s got a low IQ – quite the opposite (well, except he went to a “free IQ test” site, which is a waste of time and energy).

    Personally, I have an account at e4ward.com that seems to work well. Create an alias, and if you find it suddenly starts getting spam you just delete it. Actually, I think my ISP provides similar functionality, but I haven’t bothered with it. I make it a point to always use an email alias that can easily be deleted if I’m giving out info to a potentially nefarious site.

    Also, FWIW, Thunderbird does a great job filtering out spam. Doesn’t save you from downloading all the email messages, but at least you can set it up so they quickly go to your trash. Then again, if you’re like me you gave to scan the headers quickly just to make sure something important didn’t get trashed on occasion.

  4. I took one of those free IQ tests, and before I got my score I had the same trouble. What they were looking for was what and where I shopped. And wanted me to check at least one thing. I wouldn’t do it, did not get my score, but didn’t get spam either.

    However, recently I looked up kitchen cupboards that are sold at a chain hardware store. Then I found out that those same cupboards are sold at many of the chain hardware stores. I won’t mention names, but they do. I did sign up for the cupboard site to send me a catalogue. Now I have gotten spam emails offering me coupons from four different chain hardware stores. Disgusting.

  5. They were wise to use a throw away email addy.

    I use yahoo – and they are pretty good about sorting the spam and not – after years on the net, I simply get spam.

    Sometimes you are asked to do surveys also that specifically offer info from various companies — it is always important to check the fine print and see what is promised.

    This is also common on facebook, where many apps provide users with extra points or other bonuses for fulfilling specific ads. Those ads to pay more, but many are spam generators. I have one acct for that purpose alone. You do need to use a working address though – many of those offers require a response from the given address for credit/completion.

  6. Perhaps you ought to warn your readers that will answer the ads that say you get a free gift card from such and such a company that they are not affiliated with the company give away. Reading the fine print it says “we are not affiliated with the above company”. And it is fine print but there anyhow.

  7. I’ve been online for about 11 years now, and one of the first things I learned was that on a site that you don’t know (and maybe don’t trust), use a fake email address. I always make up an email address (and often, a fake name). Sure, I still get spam, who doesn’t, but it really cuts down on the spam. Although I will say that some sites have gotten smarter and seem to check the email address you give, so I have gotten “caught”.

  8. I went to Obama’s website just to ask one simple question, but I did not submit the question because of all the info they required of me. To be honest, I did not scrutinize the site thoroughly to see if there was a privacy policy, nor did I see a notation about “info will go to 3rd. party” as I was SO annoyed at the request of so much private info that I got out of there ASAP. I was too afraid of my mailbox being inundated with political ads.

  9. There is a simple solution to this problem. Provider (Yahoo, Google or whoever) should tag ads that ‘share’ information with others and those that do not. This would allow the site that displays these ads to filter on that.

    I’m sure that they already tag for other things. They certainly require this to be disclosed (they just don’t require that it be disclosed enough).

    There are no such tags that I’m aware of, but I think it’s a pretty neat idea — especially if sites are able to select which sorts of ads they would take or not. Obviously “adult,” but some would also choose not to take “alcohol,” or “tobacco,” or…. I have pointed this comment out to my contact. Thanks! -rc

  10. On Spamming; I have had my primary email address for 11 years or so. It is probably on every spam list there is. I used to get a couple of hundred emails a day (maybe a dozen I wanted). Upon your recommendation I got a Gmail account and have all my email forwarded through it. It has a very good spam filter. I recommend it as a first step to managing spam. Thanks for the Gmail tip, Randy.

  11. I noticed that, when I went to the address Randy gave to read the comments on this issue and add my two cents, that several “free IQ test” ads came up! Say what you will about AOL (I use it because I am financially restricted to a dial-up service that bills monthly — AOL costs me $9.95 a month), I rarely get spam email. I get maybe two or three a month. But what I’ve learned is to be very careful about clicking on anything that says “free.” “Freedom” may be just another word for nothing left to lose, but “free” on the ‘net is often a euphemism for all the free spam you can eat!

    You’re right to be cautious. And yes, I see that there are “free IQ test” ads on this posting, but not from the place that the reader was complaining about — they’ve been blocked. Still, it’s good to be cautious! (And I thought AOL dial-up was free now?) -rc

  12. Throwaway email addresses are good, unless you’re actually buying something. In that case, use an address that you actually monitor — the seller may really need to get a hold of you for some reason.

    (I had one case recently: two identical orders came in from the same person, a few minutes apart, for over $100 each. I wanted to ask whether the duplicate was intentional, but the buyer gave me a garbage email address. So I have to assume it was, and now he’s stuck with paying twice as much as he probably intended.)

    Of course, even people you buy stuff from could sell your email address, so yes, check for a privacy policy and do business only with reputable organizations. But when you’re spending real money, use a real address.

  13. Some sites require email verification (they send you an email that you must respond to), but maybe you don’t want to ever get mail (or spam) from that website operator (blogs are a good example).

    There’s a great site: 10MinuteMail.com. They give you a web-based email address that expires after ten minutes (you can get more time if you need). This is long enough to “verify” your address without ever worrying about spam.

  14. I have my own domain, hosted on a provider that supports “catch-all” addresses. Any address at my domain leads to me.

    When a company – any company, no matter how reputable – asks for my address, they get theirname @ mydomain. As long as they behave, all is well. If the address gets onto spam lists, I kill it, either with a mail client filter or with a server-side filter.

    I’ve had to kill off a few generic addresses (sales@, info@, et cetera), but generally this scheme has worked very well for me.

    For extra points, use a third-level domain (foo.bar.com) – the people who send mail to sales@ and the ilk don’t bother with those.

  15. When I need a _completely_ throwaway address, I use mailinator.com – you can send mail to anything you choose @mailinator.com (or any of several other domains that they also own), and then go check it afterwards. You don’t OWN that address; anyone can use the same one. Have a read of their web site for more details; it’s quite a handy service.

    For those things that demand a signup, I have a simple way of creating more addresses, at any of several domains that I own. It’s a really helpful way of figuring out who’s spamming you; most sites don’t, and mail keeps happily coming into my inbox from the subscriptions that I actually signed up for, but once in a while I can confirm that someone did the naughty with my address; the penalty for the most recent such infraction was to be blogged about: http://rosuav.blogspot.com/2008/10/selfgeekcom-and-spam.html

    The only true solution to spam is to make it unviable for the spammers. And that means, quite simply, never ever click on a link in a spam email. Unfortunately it doesn’t take many people falling for spam to reap a high profit for the spammer (given that the costs are so low), so it’s not an easy thing to do. But with more and more ISPs putting in protection (for instance, one of my hosts will deliver all mail, but mark some as {Spam?} – and the accuracy has been extremely high), it’s beginning to look like even the people who don’t understand what’s going on will have a chance of twigging before it’s too late.

    Fingers crossed.

  16. Gmail, which I know Randy has recommended before, has very good spam filters. I’ve never had a false positive myself, and there are but a few spam emails a month that make it through the filters.

    However, the feature I love most about gmail is the ability to add a plus sign (+) after your normal username and anything else you want, and still receive the email. So for example, with email+freeiqtest @ gmail.com the plus sign and everything following it is discarded and the email is sent to email @ gmail.com. If I notice that I’m getting spam on that email address a lot, I can simply set up a filter than sends all email to that address directly to the trash.

    Now if only I could make it clear to all fellow web developers that + is a valid symbol in an email address *sigh*

  17. I’ve used a ‘spam’ address since high school. I have one account that I use for family and friends and another account that is used strictly for sites that require an email address. I’ve been doing this for 10 years now and I get very little spam in my ‘real’ account.

  18. Several blogs and user fora include a link to a published story. Unfortunately, many online publishers (actual newspapers, etc.) will require registration. If you only want to read one story, you may be receive solicitations, etc.

    I use bugmenot.com. You simply copy the site’s URL into their interface and it will usually provide several “blind” email addresses and passwords. Many work just fine. You read the story and don’t get solicited.

    Probably not useful for something really “personalized,” though, like your I.Q. test results…. -rc

  19. On the other hand, thanks for letting us know what happens with the free IQ test. I was curious, but I assumed if you clicked on it, a big sign saying “YOU FAILED” came up.

  20. A couple commenters do not have the same understanding of a “throwaway” email address that I do.

    As a paid subscriber to Yahoo email, I can create an unlimited number of email addresses that all go to my inbox. They appear as steve-[fill-in-the-blank] @ yahoo.com. I usually insert the vendor’s name after the dash. If I start getting spam from a particular email address, I delete the email address and any emails to that address are consigned to virtual Purgatory for an eternity.

    Buh-waa-ha-ha!!! 😉

  21. It is worse than you think. Many of those ‘free’ iq tests ask for a cellphone number before they will give you the results. Guess what happens to the cellphone? You get charged $9.99 per month so they can send you text message ‘notifications’. Before you ask how I know this, let me tell you that I have 4 curious children with cellphones…………

    You might want to contact your cellular provider and set up parental controls to prevent unauthorized ‘gotcha’ charges.

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