The Uncertainty Factor

The other day I was reading one of my special interest e-mail newsgroups and someone posted to the moderator of the site that they had received a request for information from Topica, who hosts this particular e-mail group. They were concerned because of the rash of phishing going on with fake eBay e-mails, bank credit card e-mails, etc.

I wrote back and basically told him don't update any information. That nobody asks for updated information, no one is monitoring your account for "suspicious" activity, no one is that on top of things. Your data sits in a database somewhere and that is it.

Well, I was wrong. Topica had really and truly sent out an e-mail asking for more information. And I thought: that is something that companies can't do anymore.

For instance, think of Bank of America who recently lost the records of 1.2 million federal employees including their social security numbers. On the one hand, it might be very efficient for the bank to contact the affected people and let them know that their records had been compromised. On the other hand, most people would probably think it was a phishing expedition.



Charities face the same problem. After the recent tsunami, a lot of solicitations for relief money went out, including e-mail. The problem was, of course, that many of these solicitations were for scam operations, making e-mail a dangerous method to send money.

E-mail has generated what I call the uncertainty factor. Can I really believe what the e-mail is saying? Unfortunately, this is not just the purview of e-mail. For years I used to receive direct mail solicitations from Hale House, a charity that cared for crack-addicted babies in Harlem. The solicitations were heart breaking and every time I received one, my wife and I wrote a check, even at a time when we could hardly afford it ourselves.

Later we found out that our $50 dollar donation that we couldn't really afford at the time was really being used to finance the luxury townhouse and other extravagances of the charity's founders.

Even the phone isn't safe. A recent telephone scam involves some kid calling your house and claiming that they dialed your number by mistake with their last quarter. They're in trouble and would you mind calling this special number to contact their parents? If you dialed the number they gave you, you would be handing over control of your phone to the person who called, so they could rack up illegal long distance calls on your line.

Scams are everywhere, but e-mail scams, in many ways, are the most dangerous because of the very reason that legitimate e-mail marketing works: it's cheap and you can hit a lot of people all at once. The problem is that this form of communications is poisoned for legitimate companies that could use it to conduct sensitive information gathering inquiries.

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