Friday, October 24, 2014 • 06:42
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Not so wonderful emails


April 02, 2014
At first it was just a trickle. Now it is like a river that never quits.

I'm talking about the junk that shows up on my email. I imagine many others have similar problems and some experience much more unwanted mail than I do.

I average 42 emails per day. I did research the past two weeks, just for this column, in order to sort out what mail is from family and friends, what other offerings might be useful, what is interesting, what is irrelevant, what is laughable, what is obnoxious.

Here is what I discovered; during one week of my survey I received 293 emails. Exactly 217 of them were useless to me, or of minimal or no value. Clearly most of the offensive ones should not have found their way to my "in" box. In my analysis I did not include anything my editor Kim sent me. They are all meaningful and thoughtful, of course.

How is it that I get emails from presumably younger females saying, "Hello Dear," or notices about Best Cigars, Sleep Apnea, Viagra, Spy Cameras, Smarter Travel Alerts, Bankruptcy Advice, Say Goodbye to Phone Static, Affordable Home Security, Phytoceremides (anti-aging), Flags, Replacement Windows, Affordable Home Security, the Rio Tinto group, Companies House, a Dun and Bradshaw customer complaint (I have no customers and no business); a Pay Pal Identity Issue (I have no account); how to stop alcoholism (I don't drink).

I even heard from the Undersecretary of the United Nations about … well, I didn't read it through, although it appeared money was involved – wanting mine, I suppose. Did I tell you that I won the lottery worth $93,000 this past week? That's what one email said from the Powerball Lottery Committee. It looked rather official but I deleted it, probably because I don't buy lottery tickets and it is really difficult to win when you don't.

The other day I received an urgent email from my accountant who said she was stranded in Cyprus, had lost her visa and purse, and wanted money wired to her. I talked to her a few days earlier and she never mentioned a trip to Cyprus. During tax season CPA types are mostly chained to their desks. I called her again, of course, and her aide said she's still chained to her desk but added, "We've been hacked."

This isn't the first time, nor will it be the last, that I will receive a plea for help. One of my neighbors was stranded in Spain and wanted money. It was the same guy I saw walking his dog the day before here in Pauma Valley. He must have taken the Red Eye. You'd think the scammers could research these things better. Do people really fall for these tricks?

I wonder why this is happens? I'm sure people of all ages who sit in front of a computer, especially at home, receive these meaningless emails. It used to be you could hit the unsubscribe button and they are gone forever. Hit unsubscribe now and an advertisement appears.

Where's my email provider people when I need them most, you ask? I called. Essentially, they told me that they will soon get out of the email business because even their accounts are hacked endlessly. They admitted, too, that try as they might, they can't stop this junk. Yes, the bad guys are winning.

I've taken some steps to improve my situation. I have a secondary email account that is given out to only family and close friends. So far it's working. You might try that as well. Most of the accounts are free and easy to apply for.

On a related subject, phone solicitors are also annoying most of the time. The charities – maybe a half-dozen different ones – call each and every day. The solar guys are high up in the pest department, too. Some surveys are probably meaningful but many are too political.

I'm sympathetic to the needy but I can't give to every cause. I signed up eons ago to be put on the No Call List, which is a misnomer. It should be labeled "Call All Day, Every Hour, Any Time List." Or maybe, "Call Every Night After 8 List." Of course, I don't have to answer every call on the first ring. However, I'm a guy who ran a business where every call was important – morning, noon or night – so I answer. My bad.

The other evening some fund-raiser called at 8:55 p.m. and I said, "Do you know what time it is?

He said, "Is this a bad time for you?"

I told him my wife and I are busy making love. I hate to lie like that but the phone clicked off without another word. Most solicitors are men. They understand certain phrases that tell them stop now and don't say another word.

It remains challenging for us oldsters to figure out these new contraptions like i-Phones or smart phones, plus the multitude of apps shown on them. I still try to muddle through the landline calls, although never – and I do mean never – reach an actual person at the start. First comes a litany of messages, followed mostly by wait-time music I dislike.

How many times have you heard "listen for the prompts, as they have changed," or "Please be patient, your call is important to us." Finally, after not finding a single number to push that applies to me, and when you are just about ready to hang up, comes this, "Please wait for the next available operator."

Getting back to email, everyone who travels knows that they will be inundated with emails when they return. I don't unpack my travel bags first. I turn on the computer first, just to get a head start on those emails. I wish there was a button to send everything to the Cloud, never to be seen again. Of course, I really don't know squat about what the Cloud is, except that airplanes fly in them. But I'm wrong, of course. Some of my mail is lingering up there. Maybe I put it there by accident.

Of course, the ultimate sign of coolness to tell someone, "Don't you use the Cloud? I thought everybody did that." It's double cool when a septuagenarian can make that statement.

At the start of 2013, my son-in-law paid a company for some investment information for me to receive on-line for one year. Little did I know that this group sends on average 4 emails per day, and I mean every day. No weekends or holidays off. People seeking money never take a day off. I did, however, find some useful information, but I asked my kin not to renew the subscription. It didn't matter. Three months after I quit subscribing the emails are still coming.

In this day and age three months is considered a grace period. But I finally got a written notice. The company is going to stop my subscription if I don't renew in the next five years.

I think we all agree that the World Wide Web is a wonderful invention. But there is a ton of conflict on the internet, lots of decisions to make, lots of viewpoints and perhaps more misinformation that we would like to admit.

Snopes.com, now 14 years old and independently owned, is perhaps losing some stature as time passes, maybe due to alleged partisan beliefs. It claims to be apolitical and I think this is mostly true. I would continue to recommend it as a good resource. It's run by a couple living in the Los Angeles area – I think home base is Bakersfield. The Wikipedia description of Snopes is worth reading.

I'm an information junkie, but the term "too much information" is starting to have an impact on me. Too often I say to myself that I saw the same info in months or years past, worded a different way to suit the sender in the here and now. Anything nice about dogs is an exception. Those can come daily.

I imagine some readers – hopefully not too many – are glad this column comes only once a week. I can't promise you everything I write will be fresh and breezy. I can promise you that unlike certain annoying emails you won't hear from me again until next week unless I retire or expire. My only request is don't hit the unsubscribe button.

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Michael Robledo