Use Gmail to Fight Spam

Ahhh, the things I do for you, my lovely readers. :)

This Sunday, as I perused Pinterest, drank my beloved weekend-only coffee and snuggled with my doggies, I saw the same item pop up on dozens of friends’ Facebook feeds.

It promised two free Southwest Airlines tickets, just for sharing how much you love Southwest!

In a “too good to be true moment,” I decided to prove my spidey senses right. And I did. Thankfully, I made the wise decision to use a little-known Gmail trick to prevent some of the spam that would ensue from hitting my inbox.

[Sadly, though, I provided my real phone number, and as you’ll find out, that was a major mistake.]

First to the scam. Once I opened the link (from Very Cool Brands on Facebook), I was asked to take a a survey.

Here’s the crucial point. Instead of using my real email — kwidrick@gmail.com — I used k.widrick@gmail.com.

Gmail has a hidden feature that allows you to add a period anywhere in your user name, and you’ll STILL get the mail to your main inbox. So, I could have used kw.idrick, kwi.drick, etc.

I use this trick when I’m signing up for newsletters or other offers, so if I start getting a lot of spam, I can track which company likely sold or gave away my information.

OK, back to the scam. I started filling out the 17-question survey, figuring that maybe Southwest just wanted some basic information about its Facebook fans.

But as I wrapped it up, I was taken to a new page — that’s when I realized that it was not Southwest offering the coupons, it was some third party who had co-opted the name and logo. I’d show you the original post on Facebook, but it looks like I’m not the only one that noticed this was spam.

After the survey, the new page laid out the rules and regulations for completing the ticket giveaway, and that’s when I knew for sure that this was not legit. The rules would have required me to opt in to two “free” trials for services including a Target buyers club, a Netflix account and a magazine subscription. Each trial actually required at least some credit card information to be shared.

At that point, I closed the window and figured I’d escaped any harm. But then emails started to come into gmail:

DOZENS of them. All from different names, and all to k.widrick@gmail.com. So I knew that the bogus survey company had given my information to hundreds of other more malicious websites.

At that point I:

  • set up a filter for all incoming messages to k.widrick@gmail.com so that they’d skip my inbox, be marked as read and deleted.
  • started reporting each message as phishing
  • decided to see what options I had for getting rid of the unwanted messages

The email was bad but what really pissed me off? The three phone calls I received from people wanting to offer my various unsolicited crap. Even though I’d not expressed any interest in being contacted by people through the survey, the callers told me I’d opted in to receiving information on continuing education, a diaper club (seriously?) and some kind of insurance quote.

I went down the rabbit hole and eventually, found my way to the main website that had offered the giveaway. I read the fine print that showed that I was, in fact, required to complete the survey and trials (or “Reward Offers”) if I wanted to get the prize.

I also read that apparently this company could take all of my info, including my IP address, date of birth and more, and use it however they wanted.

My favorite line? “There is no such thing as complete security on the Internet or otherwise.” You’re telling me.

But at this point, I still thought I could get my information back. Until I hit the “Contact Us” button and got this (not-so) surprise.

Eventually, after about 30 minutes of digging, I did find some alternative opt-out tools, and I think [hope] that this will cut down, if not end, the spam attacks. I’ve asked each caller to remove me from their list or face an FCC complaint, and I’ve learned a hard lesson.

Even though every fiber of my being knew that this was too good to be true, I just had to check it out. So I hope that you learn from my experience and just say no.

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Comments

  1. says

    Aww, Katie. That totally stinks – I’m sorry about your obnoxious experience. Thanks for posting about this!

    I receive SO much spam on my WordPress dashboard – at least 50 per day. I don’t know how it gets there but it’s so annoying!

  2. says

    Yikes on the spam! I know my parents have fallen for this trap – I would seriously hate to see their email right about now. They are so naive about the internet – it scares me sometimes.

  3. says

    I noticed long ago how superior Gmail is for spam. When I used Hotmail my in box was FULL of spam, even with filters and stuff set up to prevent it. Gmail works so great!

  4. says

    Damn, that really sucks Katy. It’s good to see you managed to opt-out of most of them though, I wish I was so lucky, I get nearly 20 emails of junk a day that are NOT can-spam compliant so I can’t unsubscribe whatsoever, seems my email was just sold to more spammers.

  5. says

    Ugh, that’s so shady! Part of my job involves email marketing, and this is a basically “what not to do.” How does this scam help their business AT ALL? And who would pay them for your contact information? It seems like you’d just get ticked off people on the phone and your emails deleted.

  6. says

    another related gmail trick is to add +anythingyouwant after your user name but before the @gmail.com so you could have done like +swoffer and gotten even more specific about tracking how the junk email was finding you. :)

  7. says

    Don’t ever use the unsubscribe option. Spam companies use that as a way of verifying your address….not always but why take the risk?

    Some suggest using gMail’s plus feature but then you are still giving your email address. E.g. If mark@gmail.com is my address and I give my email address to MBNA, I simply use mark+mbna@gmail.com. it still comes to me but if i start getting emails from spammers to mark+mbna@gmail.com, I know mbna has given them my address…which is of no advantage except maybe I can give em hell for doing it! Plus, SOME companies will probably just remove everything after the plus.

    Another option is to use a combination of disposable address along with the plus method.

    Probably the best option is when you manage your own domain (e.g. mark.com) and when signing up for a service which requires an email address create an address for that service (clever no?)…E.g. mbna@mark.com …then it’s obvious what’s happening.

    Hope this helps

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