This is what spam looks like.
I remember well when I got my first unsolicited message. It was slightly under a decade and a half ago when I walked into the computer lab and logged into my @yo.co.zw email.
The Zimbabwean internet community back then was pretty small and most of my emails consisted of notifications emails and various email subscription messages.
Now that I think about it again I realise the same is still true today. It seems instant messaging (IM) is the craze these days and few people care about emails which seem destined to join SMS and the Dodo.
Anyway, hidden among all those emails was a gem. Apparently, some organisation called Fondation De France had heard of my plight as an academically brilliant but impecunious person and wanted to give me an eye-popping US$1,350,000 to help me pursue my studies.
Now, in today’s cynical world people will scoff at such a ludicrous message before angrily clicking the trash icon but the world was different back then.
I grew up in a rural setting where acts of generosity were not just the staple, they were expected. If you picked up a wallet with a thousand dollars in it people would expect you to find the owner and return give it to them.
I never paused to ask myself why this super rich and super generous Foundation was using a yahoo.fr domain. After heeding part of the message that exhorted me to keep this information to myself (spammers like cultist believe in the power of isolation), I quickly made printouts of the message which I gave to my ecstatic and equally naive aunt.
I was on a high for about a week before the intricate web of messages finally got Nigeria which is where my cheque had been transferred since this was where the African HQ for Fondation de France was. All they were asking for was for me to send them $25 via Western Union to pay for courier fees.
They were even generous enough to provide me with a list of couriers to choose from. I was a little suspicious and decided to check with the Nigerian High Commission. Their representative was kind but firm: I was a victim of a cruel joke that would have ended in me losing money.
From that day I decided to learn everything that I could about spammers and scammers. The two are usually one and the same thing. By now everyone, I hope, already knows what spam is. While it takes many forms including things like spammy ads and spammy links, spam email remains the bane of internet users and it seems IM spam is destined to join it.
Though estimates vary some say as much as 80% of emails sent out every day can be defined as spam. Already I receive a couple of spam messages via WhatsApp from people and numbers I have never even heard of.
For a long time the problem was international with the Nigerians wearing the crown or at least most of the blame but now that seems to be changing. With continual calls for local content, it seems the wrong group of people have answered the clarion call.
Now hardly an hour goes by without me receiving an unsolicited message begging me to make a purchase of some sort. The surprising thing is that these emails are distinctly local (Zimbabwean). What’s even more shocking is that some of the brands included in these emails are quite reputable brands that might be unwittingly taking part in this spamming practice.
Instead of Nigerian princes who selflessly want to give me half of their fortune, I now wake up to messages asking me to drill boreholes, buy movie tickets, bridal gowns, ink cartridges,car parts, used cars etc. This is followed by the contact details of Zimbabwean businesses/individuals.
While these emails are crafted to look legitimate with all of them including unsubscribe buttons/links, clicking on either of these will simply draw attention to yourself and do nothing to stop the flood. Believe me, I have tried. Clicking on any of the links proves that your exist and received the email and is seen as an invitation to receive more. Engaging with these people is the last thing your want.
Apparently, someone has been busy harvesting/buying Zimbabwean email addresses with the sole intention of spamming them. While some of the deals mentioned in these emails might be legitimate you should remember that scammers and spammers are almost always one and the same.
The best thing you can do is to mark the messages as spam in your email software because even though spam messages have a very low click-through rate the spammers will always send large amounts of messages counting on the very fact that there are some naive people out there.
The Zimbabwean/local angle is a somewhat stale strategy but it is effective bait that has seen some in my circle persistently to these messages. While no harm has befallen them yet who is to say that it will always be like that? Besides reading spam messages reduces your productivity and increases your mobile data costs.
The draft Cybercrime Bill is expected to deal with this issue but the current legal framework makes it very difficult to get relief from the authorities. Most cops I know don’t even know what spam is. After all, a lot of them hire people to install WhatsApp on their phones!
All you can do is angrily reach for the Delete and Mark as Spam buttons. Do not let the Zimbabwean touch fool you. Spam is spam.
Image credit: howstuffworks.com