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By Art Glick

Y2K Revisited with a little Spam on the Side

(including a freebie for my readers)

(Originally Published in December, 1999)

You would probably start an argument among net denizens if you asked about how unsolicited e-mail came to be known by the moniker of "spam". The makers of the processed pork product might be wise to think about changing its widely known name, given the distaste with which the term is fast becoming associated. Would you buy a product named "Fraud"?

If you've been using e-mail for more than a few weeks, you've undoubtedly been targeted by at least one of the bigger spammers, whether for printer supplies, web hosting or the ever-popular MMF's. The Internet is full of buzzwords and acronyms; a sentence absent of one is hardly ever uttered there. This one means Make Money Fast, and most of the e-mails you receive proffering such will usually involve mail or wire fraud, if not by you as a participant, at least on the spammer's part.

I recently received an e-mail (several actually) from the "World Currency Cartel" offering to instruct a limited number of people about "How to Convert $25 into One Hundred of Legal Currency". To say I was instantly dubious would be an understatement. As soon as I saw a quote, supposedly from NBC Nightly News, describing cartel members as "some of the most wealthiest people in North America", I realized just how fraudulent this piece of spam was. My editor would laugh me out of the pressroom for such a double superlative.

A lot of people worry about other people with dishonorable intentions using the incredible power of the Internet for fraudulent purposes, but they don't realize that it's just as useful to combat such assaults. I already knew that WCC was a fraudulent company, but I decided to see if there were actually people that were gullible enough to fall for it.

That's when I discovered that $25 for "one hundred of legal currency" didn't mean dollars. The WCC would send you 100 Pesos or Lire, usually less than a dollar's worth of foreign currency, along with the "get rich" advice that you could do the same thing, and get rich taking advantage of other people's foolishness and greed.

Anytime you're wondering about anything you've read in a convincing piece of spam, you are urged to surf over to your favorite search engine and check it out. Very little can hide from the blinding light of this new technology, especially someone attempting to exploit the medium.

The old adage about it not being true, if it sounds too good to be, applies to the Internet more than any other place. Another popular, albeit mostly harmless, form of spam often involves someone promising you a bite of the big pie that companies like Microsoft and Disney have. All you have to do is forward the e-mail to as many people as you can, and Microsoft, with their Big Brother computers, will be able to monitor the e-mail's progress through the Internet; the purported purpose of the project. For your effort, Microsoft will send you cash!

Some student is probably sitting in his dorm room chuckling, but at least he's not laughing all the way to the bank. If you fell for this one yourself, check out the Internet. You'll be amazed by how many other people have.

These "chain" type schemes are mostly harmless, except for the resources they waste. They're also very common with bogus virus warnings. If you get an e-mail warning about a virus, even from someone you know, and it says anything about telling everybody you know, then it's probably bogus. If you're not certain, go to the Internet and check it out.

Many MLM (that's Multi Level Marketing) plans also proliferate the seedy world of spam. These were common even before e-mail. They'll sell you a "report" on how to make money fast, except that the so-called "report" is a single sheet of paper, telling you to do the same thing to other people.

With the deregulation of the telephone industry, you'll also see a lot of spam regarding long distance. As long as you don't have to sell anything, most of these involve prepaid calling cards that are often competitive with rates that you pay your carrier now. They can be handy for traveling, but you can buy them at the local convenience store, too.

Since you've been interested in reading this far, I'll give you a little Christmas gift here. How about two hours of FREE long distance per month? The saddest part about spamming scammers is that they make you dubious of any offer, but here's one that's on the level. I know because I use it myself.

Check out www.broadpoint.com to find out about this offer. The catch is that for every two minutes of free long distance, you have to listen to a 10 or 15 second advertisement. I call my mother every Sunday with it. Some of the ads have actually interested me, and you can hit '1' on your telephone keypad, and they'll send you an e-mail with more information and, no doubt, a link to the vendor's site. It's pure marketing genius in action.

Don't be put off by Broadpoint's requirement that you patronize one of their sponsors. When my wife first discovered them (ironically, it was not a spam), they did not require this, but they must have been so inundated, that they decided to do this to increase their revenue stream and decrease their response.

All I had to do was apply for a credit card, which had no annual fee, so it did not cost anything to patronize their sponsor. I got my pin number within a couple of days. When my wife applied, she waited three or four weeks.

It's interesting how everything on the Internet is connected. No more than a few dozen degrees of separation exist between any two sites among what must be hundreds of millions by now. I wish I had more time to simply browse.

It was through my investigation of the WCC scam that I stumbled across the incredibly amusing personal site of one Charles Hill (www.dustbury.com). He had included a rant about the WCC, but I was even more amused by his declaration of being "Y2K Complacent".

So here in this paper, for the entire world (or at least all my friends and associates) to see, I am declaring myself also "Y2K Complacent". Please note the significant difference between the meaning of this phrase, and the one that I've had ringing in my head all year - "Y2K Compliant".

Considering the late date, I feel compelled to slip a "few" comments in here about Y2K. I really meant to revisit this subject much sooner, but I've been too busy making "Y2K Disclosure Statements", as required by law, to my previous hardware customers.

In all fairness, it's a subject well covered by many other quarters, and I hope that the good efforts of our banks, utilities, governments and other writers at this paper have not fallen upon deaf ears. You see, more than any hardware problems, I fear hysteria.

The official government position is that you should "prepare as you would for a winter snow storm", but even this seems inflammatory. People often hoard consumable goods before a storm, and it's simply not necessary in this case, unless, of course, there actually IS a storm forecast.

After a big storm, you might have trouble getting to the store, but Y2K is not going to keep your car from running. In a storm you might also lose utilities, but our local utilities have already assured us of their compliance. The only thing we have to fear is ourselves. I've heard one prediction that suggests that the telephone network could crash right after midnight from the overload when everyone picks up their phone to see if it's working.

Because of the hype, Y2K could actually become a self-fulfilling nightmare. A popular TV evangelist will sell you a tape for $28 that advises you to hoard sugar and gasoline. I can't put my finger on exactly why this seems like such a bad combination. I'm declaring myself Y2K Complacent now, before it's too late, as a way of making my contribution to sanity.

Of course, I have to admit that there will be isolated problems, though they'll be nothing near Earth shattering. If your computer is less that three or four years old, you shouldn't worry about your hardware, but all of us should be concerned about our software, if it performs date sensitive operations.

You can determine any software's version number simply by clicking on Help, then, usually, About. Then check out the software publisher's Web Site for information and any patches that might be available. If your software isn't more than a year or two old, the patch should be free. You may be required to pay for an upgrade if your software is older.

You may be required to manually set your computer's clock, just once, after the first of the year, if your hardware isn't fairly new, and Windows users (who isn't) should make sure that a 4 digit date format is set. For Windows 95 and 98, you do this by opening the Control Panel and selecting Regional Settings. Select the Date tab, and make sure you have four 'y's in both the short and long date.

The banking and credit industries have mostly reached full compliance, so you shouldn't think about taking your money out of the bank, but you should balance your check book, if you're one of those that usually puts it off. If a bank or utility provider happens to make a mistake on your account, which seems unlikely, it won't be any different than any other time a mistake was made, and they'll cheerily fix it (at least at my bank).

In fact, after the first of the year, I predict that Y2K will become a scapegoat. We've come to depend on computers for so much, but how often have we encountered problems due to hardware failures, poorly written software or improperly entered data. Next year almost every such mistake and failure will be blamed on Y2K. It looks like it will take a long time to go away.

I'll leave you with another little ditty. Some older appliances with date sensitive timers, such as VCR's and coffee machines, simply are not Y2K compliant. If you're that rare person that is actually able to program your VCR, and it doesn't support years after 1999, simply set it to 1972, and you won't have to worry about it for the next 28 years. I've read that the days of the week for the year 2000 match those of 1972.

Happy Holidays!

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