The game of subconscious spam filtering

A particularly funny spam e-mail subject line got me thinking about the techniques different people use to spot spam.

I was combing through the piles of uncollected e-mail this afternoon when this nugget grabbed my attention: "OnlineBootyCall message for Daniel Terdiman."

Putting aside the entertainment such a message might contain, it got me thinking about the subconscious filtering system I use to sift through the mounds of e-mail I get, looking for the ones I actually need to read.

There are all kinds of cues that signal spam: poor spelling; no caps when there should be; caps when there shouldn't be; extra periods; the whole, "I'm responding to your message" thing from some woman I've never heard of; bad grammar; offers of free money or iPods. And so on.

But spammers are not dumb. They're just direct mailers. They're going for the 1 percent that thinks "OnlineBootyCall message" actually might mean romance is in the air. And while I might be tempted to giggle at the idea of someone taking one of these messages seriously, I remember once or twice clicking through despite myself. Ah, the chance to see exclusive pictures of Anna Kournikova.

Still, mostly I resist the urge to click through, as I'm sure almost anyone for whom e-mail is a big part of their day does.

And while automatic spam filters are pretty good these days, there's no end to the amount of crap that makes it through and forces us to have to make the instant choice of whether to read it.

With that in mind, I'd be interested in hearing what you use as a subconscious filter for skipping this tripe. And I'm also interested in some of the clever spam that made you--even those of you who are usually smart about this kind of thing--click through.

Please feel free to post your thoughts on this in comments, or to e-mail me. In a day or so, if there's enough interest and response, I'll put up another entry with the best mental filtering techniques and some of the best spam that even those of us who are aware of this stuff fell for.

 

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