Secrets, Lies & Chat

Monday, August 23, 2004

An Update on Spam Attacks - 23 August 2004

Spam Update
23 August 2004

Copyright 2004 Vena McGrath

Since my last blast at spam mail I experienced a period of relative freedom from it due to the closure of one of Telstra’s ports. The lessening of spam mail was astounding, and a great relief. Once I started to think about the amount of spam I was receiving daily and the content of most of it, I began to become neurotic about it, and what started out as an annoyance, became bigger than Ben Hur.

Damn, the peace ended, and abruptly two weeks ago. The spam mail changed from pornographic and content about viagra and penis enlargements to gambling sites. Suddenly I was inundated with at the very least 20 mails a day from casino sites and affiliated companies. I was offered thousands of dollars to gamble with, thousands of dollars worth of merchandise free, except for the cost of postage US$. The majority of the offers were for US citizens only. When are these spammers going to realise that an ‘au’ address means Australia? Oh, and invitations by young women to chat with them online; the invitations included scantily clad pictures of them and ‘come on’ text.

I began to get suspicious. I had purchased online a computer from Dell Australia, a computer made in China. Everything was above board with the purchase; they kept in contact with me via email and phone and the computer eventually arrived by courier, all intact. I should add here I was more than happy with the purchase and delivery of the computer. This spam mail, the new lot, didn’t start arriving until I had the new computer up and running a couple of days. I wondered about this, was there a connection? My mind started thinking up scenarios; there was something built into my new computer that allowed them to track me or else Dell had sold or released my email address to these groups. I asked a friend of mine to have a look at a few of them and they all appeared to be coming from the same places, and he managed to find me an email address to write to.

I noted that some of the mail said that as I was registered as a member of they were sending me mail as per my agreement to accept mail from affiliated sponsors. I have never been a member of any online gambling site. So once again my mind began making up stories – Chinese computer/gambling/spam mail. I decided to send an email to the address I had been given and I warned these people if they didn’t refrain from filling my mailbox up with spam I would report them to the federal authorities in Australia and the US. Some of the mail also was coming from the UK and Europe. I then wrote to Dell and hinted that I had a feeling they either had installed something on my new computer that allowed these people to locate me or else they had sold my email address. I let them know in no uncertain terms I was most disturbed and annoyed by the prospect. Of course I heard nothing back from either and the emails kept arriving.

Yesterday morning I logged in, downloaded my mail; 29 spam emails all from gambling and affiliated sites. I spat the dummy when one of the emails was an offer for a free spam filter! A spam filter from a spammer? This was fast becoming ridiculous and there didn’t appear to be an answer other than ride it out until they became sick of sending me mail I didn’t respond to. Then I remembered an email from BigPond about extras I could make use of, for an additional monthly charge, of course. The fact that I pay $50 for Broadband Cable, with I might add limited downloads/uploads, doesn’t count. Extras are just that with BigPond.

I went to the BigPond homepage and read up on the spam filter and decided for $2.50 a month it was worth a trial and I signed up there and then. Almost instantly the spam mail ceased; I missed it – I kid of course; I was delighted. I wondered where it had gone; as usual I only half read the information and just went for broke. Tonight I went back to the homepage and re-read the information and found my spam mail in my web mailbox. 34 of them for the last 24 hours. All rated 93% to 100% spam! Oh how wonderful peace is in my Outlook Express mailbox. $2.50 a month well spent.

So all of you suffering from spam attack visit the BigPond homepage and read about the spam filter. It is far superior to one I trialled some time ago where all my mail went to the spam filter and I had to sort it out so I didn’t lose the mail I wanted to keep. The BigPond spam filter only isolates known spammers and luckily for me all of my pesky visitors of late are known spammers.

Peace reigns over my mailbox and I’m smiling.

Monday, August 09, 2004

Cyber Cop, Going, Going, Gone

Copyright Vena McGrath 2004

I read with interest the article appearing in the SMH on July 20, 2004 ‘Cyber cop going, going gone’ (Alastair MacGibbon), and written by Patrick Gray.

My interest stems from my exposure to the internet, specifically chat rooms and internet dating sites, where I became involved in relationships with men I met from those mediums. I personally ran the risk of being implicated in a crime as the receiver of stolen goods. The ‘gifts’ were given to me by one of the men I had a relationship with for seven months in 2001, and only that I found out he was in fact married with a child, I would still no doubt be blissfully unaware of what was going on. Although he held a middle management position with his Company, once I knew for sure he was married, I questioned how he could have afforded the gifts he gave me. Even taking into account his story that, as part of his salary package he could purchase product at cost price, I knew a married man could not possibly account for the money he was supposedly spending on me. He was eventually questioned about the goods I had in my possession after I contacted his company and asked anonymously for some information. My anonymity vanished once it was ascertained that none of the goods had been paid for. In his interview he owned up that he had stolen the goods and was subsequently given the option of the Police or resignation. He of course took resignation and then made certain threats to me that caused me great anguish and forced me to seek legal help.

The actions of the company executives to offer him a way out is, in my opinion, reprehensible. Whilst I never set out to ‘get’ this man, he was a thief and should have faced the legal ramifications of his deeds. I hoped that I would be allowed pay for everything I had that he had given me and then plans made for him to be watched and most likely caught doing it again. I doubt very much I was the first person to receive stolen goods from him. He is now no doubt working for another company doing the same thing, as one of the executives from that company told me he would do everything he could to ensure he gained employment elsewhere, This isn’t the first time I have seen this happen in large corporations. They prefer to cover up the truth, pay the person off, and then set them free to do the same things to someone else. Publicity they don’t want, at any expense, and to hell with the next company they manage to infiltrate. As the old saying goes ‘the rot starts at the top’.

I had quite a few experiences from my three years of addiction to chat, but that one was so bizarre as to not be believed. I felt so passionate about trying to make others see the dangers that are constant in chat rooms and online dating sites, that I was motivated to write a manuscript about my experiences. My book ‘Secrets, Lies & Chat’ will be published in the USA later this year and released in other countries, including Australia. In laying my private life bare for anyone who reads the book to judge, I am attempting, in my own small way, to help clean up the parts of the internet that have impacted on my life and the lives of many others. I know people online, women and men, who have had similar and even worse, experiences to my own that filled a book. I know a woman who was raped by a man she met online and has been stalked by him ever since. I know of a male who has been stalked by a female, so seriously that he was forced to take his story to the Police. These are only two of many ‘horror’ stories online. We all have choice though, and if we choose to meet people from the internet, then we are taking a big chance, unless we know someone who knows that person in reality and can vouch for him/her.

There are however many people online who, like myself, are naïve to what actually is going on under the surface of friendly chat rooms where you can meet people from all over the world, and from different backgrounds. These are the people who we need to help, to educate. I’m already educated; nothing surprises me at all anymore about the internet and the dangers. I know there are some very undesirable people frequenting chat rooms, and I fear especially for young children who are involved in kids’ chat, innocently so a lot of parents think. Nothing on the internet is innocent, and the fact that we who surf the net regularly are constantly under attack from a barrage of viruses and threats of hacking, is proof enough. I fear also for the teenagers already in teenage chat rooms because I know the ‘sleaze’ factor of males and females online. There is no way they can be stopped from entering teenage rooms. I could go there and say I’m 15. Who is going to prove that I am not what I say I am? I can send a photo of a young girl to prove who I am and it’s either accepted or not.

Mr MacGibbon is correct when he says “individuals cannot leave it to corporations or governments to protect their interests, they have to protect themselves.” However, sadly, our society now isn’t geared up for self-help or being accountable to oneself. Everyone wants to blame everyone else so I see a great difficulty in changing that around especially on the internet as most people don’t believe it when you tell them it can be a not so nice place. Education is the only way people will become aware of the dangers of the internet, but even then you have to have a receptive audience. Don’t get me wrong, I love being online and I wouldn’t want to go back to 1999 when I refused point blank to learn how to surf the net. It has brought so much to my life, a lot of it good. The not so good is what I want to get across to people, the very real risks that live just a keystroke away from the living room. I have been called online in chat rooms an alarmist, a hater of men, and a bitter person who is trying to bring down chat, to quote just a few. I absorb it all and I wonder at the mentality of those who speak so foolishly. I await release of my book so that I have a tool that I can use to get out there and talk to groups, anyone at all, who will listen and take heed.

I applaud everyone around the world involved in efforts to clean up the internet. I see it as a battle that will be never-ending because as soon as one loophole is closed, the deviates of our society will find another way in. I have been in chat rooms where someone has come into the room with a nickname relating to terrorist activities, and I have seen the threats appear on the screen. And I have seen the majority of people in the chat room treat it as a joke, when I see a dark side to the threats and a very real, if perceived on my part, danger. Fanatics are to be feared not laughed at. People find different ways to express their frustrations, anger, hate, and the internet is one place they can do that and be anonymous. The anonymity is what needs to be feared, as none of us knows who is on the other side of the monitor. Some of what goes on is probably grand-standing, but can anyone be sure that’s what it is?

Mr MacGibbon is involved with one aspect of online crime, educating people about eBay auction-related fraud. Whilst this is most likely a huge issue, I haven’t been involved in it personally. The educating I want to do has to do with the very human emotions of unsuspecting people who see chat rooms as a way to escape the reality of their lives and their loneliness. It’s a very easy way to meet members of the opposite sex without meeting them until and if you decide to do so. This is where the secrets and lies come into the equation, and they are used to manipulate peoples’ minds and emotions to gain sexual favours for free. This mind manipulation can be even more dangerous than meeting in reality, and only those that have been exposed to it personally, or know someone who has, realise how very frightening this can be.

Online crime will continue to fester and grow, as the internet is the perfect medium for those that live and prosper in dark places. It is also a cheap way to set up a business, where any room in any home can become an office with the click of a mouse. I wish I could see that the efforts of those working now to educate the masses would be an almost instant success, but for all the reasons I mentioned, it will be a never-ending battle as thousands more each day join the tidal wave of internet users and are exposed to the elements. My one wish is that I can save a marriage, or a relationship, or a child being hurt, or a woman being raped, or a man being devastated, from exposure to the internet. If each of us concentrates on our chosen field and we keep chipping away, even when we are made a mockery of and threatened, we can make a difference. I have been successfully silenced, almost, by the provider of the network I chat in and told I am not allowed discuss my book in public chat rooms on their network as it’s a breach of their advertising rules. I have become a victim of the ‘no free speech’ syndrome ruling the lives of Australians by ‘big brother’. However, no matter how small the difference may be, the wave will grow, and day by day a few more in the world will know, and be aware, that the internet is like any other society where the millions around the world who are at any moment on any day surfing the net live. It comprises of the good, the bad, and the very ugly. It’s often said to me when I attempt to talk seriously online about the internet, “it’s fantasy”. To many it is a fantasy, but to others it’s a new reality, unexplored, and waiting with open arms to be taken over and controlled by underworld elements. I for one won’t sit back and watch that happen and neither will Alastair MacGibbon. I applaud you sir, and may the force keep you and your family safe.