Some Netizens were shocked when they got an unsolicited piece of junk email that capitalized on Princess Diana's death by advertising T-shirts.
But those who fight spam said they weren't the least bit surprised: most of them put spammers, paparazzi, and those who would profit from tragedy in the same category.
"That just seems tasteless to me," said David Romerstein, a technical support analyst who heard about the email in an antispamming newsgroup. "The fact that somebody would do that makes you wonder about the mentality of the people behind it."
The email, which was apparently sent out to a large number of people, starts out by criticizing the "relentless paparazzi" who "placed such a low value on morality, privacy, and humanity."
It continues by condemning drunk drivers and ends with the pitch: "We can't bring Di back, but it is time to make a statement and show that the public is not going to stand for this utter lack of humanity and disregard for the safety of those around you...The best way to do this is to put your message right in the faces of those around you! The T-shirts we are providing for this are official T-shirts of the SCC."
It doesn't say, however, what the SCC is, and the return addresses provided in the email didn't work. The message on the front of the first T-shirt are the words "Drink + Drive = Di."
It is not known who is behind the T-shirt effort and the spam. The email asked people to send $20 to an address in Duluth, Georgia, that turns out to be a Mail Boxes Etc. office. A worker there confirmed that such a mailbox existed but couldn't disclose its owner.
While there is nothing illegal about selling legitimate merchandise over the Net, the backlash against those who do so has been so fierce that few identify themselves, and many forge the email to make it difficult to trace the source. Mainstream operations and companies have held off from selling their wares through unsolicited email.
However, as Romerstein points out, the temptation to try to sell merchandise that way is almost irresistible. It is probably the cheapest way to advertise; all someone needs is a dial-up Internet account.
In the past several months, spam seems to be on the rise. People send out advertisements for pornographic sites and for the type of merchandise that used to be reserved for late-night television and flea markets. While they risk getting busted by their Internet service providers, they don't risk losing a lot of money. Even a dozen sales would prove profitable.
But while most people hate spam, not everyone opposes merchandise being sold over the Net. In fact, as capitalism would have it, the operation from Georgia is not alone. At least one other Web site is advertising Diana T-shirts.
But most people who have any experience on the Net have learned to be skeptical about anything that asks for money. That could make it difficult for legitimate efforts to collect money for a fund that was set up in memory of the Princess of Wales.
But the ubiquitous nature of scams on the Net has concerned EMAP executives. "We're going to put the word 'official' on the banner in order to communicate this isn't some scam," said Roger Green, joint managing director of EMAP Online. "I think it's a sad comment on the state of the world when there are people who would try to cash in on something like this. But that's the kind of world we live in.
"We felt there might be enough unsuspicious souls. If you do ring the number, it will be fairly clear that it is a proper operation."