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The Anti-Spam Spam Hoax

On May 11th, 1997, I posted the following in the newsgroup rec.music.filk:

Dear Mr. Filk Musicians,

Tired of the spam, pornography, harrassment, and other injustices of online life? Now is the time to take charge of your internet experience. For a limited time only, Internet Image Consultants is offering a special price on its patented CyberShield service plan. Until June 30th, 1997, we will be offering CyberShield for only $199.95 (US Dollars).

What is Cybershield? It's primary component consists of an email interdiction system. We receive your email and then filter it according to your preferences. Should we find violations of US Law, we initiate legal action without delay. You are billed for all legal expenses automatically. You never have to respond to annoying bills in the mail. The advantage over machine-mediated email filtering should be obvious. Furthermore, we regularly send our "surf staff" on searches of the Usenet and the Web to see if you are being defamed or harassed in these media. Should we discover violations of your diginity or US Law, we immediately take action.

Apply today! Send your check for $199.95 to

Internet Image Consultants
P.O. Box 2410
Willford, MA 01212

or call us at 1-800-244-3425. Have your VISA or Mastercard ready!

Thank you and good day,

Hortense Wiffin, Esq.
Internet Image Consultants

It was intended as an amusing hoax. Who, after all, would sign up to pay someone $200 to go through their mail manually?

Unfortunately, I sent it from my xxx@spies.com mail account, and sure enough, angry "Filk Musicians" started complaining about the spam, which they seemed to take very seriously. Here are some examples of responses sent to either me, the postmaster@comet.net, or both:

Postmaster: The following spam was posted to rec.music.filk, and is remarkably hypocritical in claiming to offer an "anti-spam" service. I first looked to see if this was a forgery, but it does appear to come from comet.net. If it is from the person whose E-mail account is used, this person clearly knows about spam, and is not an ignorant newbie. Please deal firmly with this person. Thank you for your time.

Yes. And I am mostly tired of off topic spam in newsgroups. Go away.

The problem, though, is that this sort of advertising is precisely what people are complaining about. If you claim to sell a product to solve the problem, but in the process make the problem worse, you are not apt to be taken seriously.


I wrote back to some of those who complained informing them that it was satire. Here are some response I received from these emails:

I hate to tell you this, but it wasn't half as extreme as some of the actual spam stuff out there. To be effective satire, you have to take something and blow it further out of proportion than it already is.


Then you should have provided either no return snail address or an obviously fake one. Because as it was, it was STILL spam (we don't get enough already?), and given the large number of people on the net, if you spread it wide enough I'd not bet that you wouldn't find a few folks who'd actually fall for it. Be prepared to return some mail... And maybe even answer a few pointed questions from the IRS.

And don't quack if you don't want to be mistaken for a duck.


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