Spammer explains how I got spammed (but I'm not buying it)

Summary:Have you ever received that one spam that just pushed you over the edge, making you want to track the spammer down and give him or her a piece of your mind?   Earlier this month, I got spammed by Loyalty Solutions, which is apparently a subsidiary of Optimus Companies.

Have you ever received that one spam that just pushed you over the edge, making you want to track the spammer down and give him or her a piece of your mind?   Earlier this month, I got spammed by Loyalty Solutions, which is apparently a subsidiary of Optimus Companies.  It was the wrong spam at the wrong time and I decided, for my own peace of mind, to do something about it. 

It was the sort of spam that really gets under my skin.  It's not the type that's easy to trap for (right now, you anti-spam solution providers are disagreeing --- whatever you do, please don't write to me or call me to make your case. My inbox and vmail are already too full).  It's a newsletter that is probably sent out on a periodic basis and it looks legit because it has a bunch of links to advice of a certain type (I'm purposely avoiding saying anything that gives the company more free exposure for its services than it deserves).  It's a total spam trap.  If you try to click through to the advice, it requires you to enter in all sorts of personal information about yourself before it lets you continue.  

The other thing about this newsletter that really got me worked up was the apparent lack of an unsubscribe link.  As it turns out, there was one.  But here's the catch.  It's an image.  It's not text.  And if you have Outlook or your e-mail client set up to reject images that occur in inbound HTML-based e-mail as I do (which is a good idea for security reasons), the unsubscribe link doesn't show up.  When you activate the images (as you can do on a message by message basis in Outlook), the unsubscribe link shows up and it looks like text, but it isn't.  I'm not sure why faux text like this has to be included, but it seems disingenuous to me.

This is also exactly the sort of loop hole that proves the futility in anti-spam legislation.  Such legislation may require unsubscribe links in marketing e-mails, but too much discretion is left up to the spammer.  If I was a spammer and I knew about how a lot of people are set up for image rejection, I'd do the same thing so that I was technically compliant with the law, but also so my unsubscribe link was hidden from many of the recipients.

There are hundreds of thousands of newsletters like these circulating the Web and, somehow, even though I never subscribed to them, I seem to get most of them and I often wonder how it is that I keep ending up as a subscriber to something I never subscribed to.  I mean, what right do they have to just add me to their list?

So, I decided to ask.

To Loyalty's credit (gosh, I hate saying that), it was easy to find a phone number on their Web site.  Eventually, I was able to make phone contact with the company's officials.  I asked if I could record the phone call. The answer was no. Why I wondered? What do they have to be afraid of? After all, if they have the gall to invade my inbox as well as those of others, the least they could do is "be men about it" (apologies to you gals out there for the cliche).  But they refused to be recorded.  So I asked how was it that I ended up with the newsletter.  Eventually, Daniel Seaman Esq. (he included the "Esq." part, not me), president of Loyalty Solutions, wrote me an email that, amongst other things, said:

....David [Swanson] mentioned that you were interested in understanding how your name got included on our list. I can tell you several things about the list on which your name appeared:

  1. It was a list of insurance company contacts that was recently developed.
  2. This was not a purchased list.....
.....The lists we use are developed from a variety of sources: conferences and trade shows, partner relationships for co-branding and cross marketing, registrations and subscriptions from our website, and some targeted development work undertaken by our operations team. I'm afraid I'm not able to tell you specifically how your name was in that database, as clearly it did not belong. 

In the letter, Seaman also apologized, but I'm still miffed. The insurance angle sounds entirely fishy to me.  For starters, just supposing this is true, what on earth could be the connection between insurance and loyalty? Why would people on an insurance list have any interest in anything that's remotely connected to loyalty? Second, what insurance list am I on that ended up in Loyalty's hands. I only deal with a couple of insurance companies but I don't think any of them have my work e-mail address.  So, what insurance company is out there harvesting addresses from some other source and even worse, what insurance company is giving that information away to outfits like Loyalty?

I responded to Seaman wanting more information.  Presumably, if my name is in Loyalty's database (which it was), Seaman should know exactly where it came from and I as a target of their spam should have a right to know who is supplying them with my personal information. I asked but never got an answer.  This if you ask me, is the problem with anti-spam legislation. There's no accountability. I, as the spammee, cannot hold someone accountable for the pollution in my inbox.  The burden is on me to solve the problem, not the spammers like Loyalty.

So, for those of you seeking the sorts of services provided by Optimus and its subsidiaries, or to those of you who are already customers (the newsletter lists American Express, Pitney Bowes, Nokia, Baush & Lomb, Qwest Communications, CIQ, MBNA, IDT, MasterCard, General Mills, and Bank One), you should be aware of the fact that the company can't seem to answer some important questions about its business practices and where it has addressed those questions, the answers don't seem to add up. Is that the sort of company you want to associate your brands with?

Topics: Tech Industry

About

David Berlind was fomerly the executive editor of ZDNet. David holds a BBA in Computer Information Systems. Prior to becoming a tech journalist in 1991, David was an IT manager.

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