O.K. I Am Now Really Scared

Click to enlarge.

Why do I keep receiving hacked mail from friends?

Roughly three times a month I receive a fake email from someone I know whose computer has been hijacked—hacked into.

I can spot one of these little e-turds immediately:

  • Often no subject line, or it’s a strange one.
  • There’s always a URL in the email body and occasionally a meaningless message that this person would never send me.
  • More often than not, the entire content is the URL all by itself.

A friend of mine clicked the URL in a fraudulent message from someone he knew and up came an offer for diet pills.

I never click on a URL in those surroundings. It could be malware—a virus that screws up my computer and that of everyone I send email to.

I also never click on “Reply” even though I can verify the message indeed came from my friend’s email address. I do not know what little bomb the hacker implanted that will invade my computer no matter whether I click on the URL or the reply.

Instead I copy the email address and forward the whole thing back to the sender (who was not the sender at all) with a note suggesting that a hacker has breached his computer, stolen his I.D. and dangerous stuff may be going out to his entire contact list under his name.

Henry Ford and the K.I.S.S. Formula
I have been driving cars for more than 50 years and haven’t a clue about what is happening under the hood.

Henry Ford in Detroit and his myriad automotive imitators around the world over the years have been brilliant about “keeping it simple, stupid”—making cars so easy to operate you don’t need to know anything about how they work. Those wizards love making money.

Early on, those who dreamed up the Internet decided that everything online should be free. With no incentive to make money (unlike Ford), these techies get their jollies by showing off how smart they are and gleefully making the rest of us feel stupid.

Denny Hatch is the author of six books on marketing and four novels, and is a direct marketing writer, designer and consultant. His latest book is “Write Everything Right!” Visit him at dennyhatch.com.

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  • Stewart Kelly

    Denny, I’m sorry to have to inform you the only thing "guaranteed" is death and taxes; not spam-free or hack-free email. I think it would be saner to worry about the world getting hit with a asteroid than lose sleep over if I am going to get a piece of spam today or (gasp) would somebody dare to hack me. I mean even the government isn’t immune and they can surely dig deep enough into each of our pockets to prevent it.

  • Mike

    Denny – one thing to bear in mind. When you get SPAM that is reputedly from a friend’s e-mail address, that friend may not have been hacked and the e-mail may not have come from their PC at all or even from their address list. Lots of viruses go into someone’s address book to pull out a sender name as well as the recipient. So a bunch of your SPAM may actually be coming from just ONE address book that got hacked in the cloud — and address book that has you in it and hundreds or thousands of others as well. OR it’s possible that nobody’s address book got hacked and you are just a victim of e-mail address harvesting. But I have to agree with the others – a) there is no such thing as "hack proof" and b) the hacking isn’t caused by e-mail being "free". Yahoo and others spend huge sums on maintaining their systems and defending against hacks. But there’s nothing you can do about an individual user who foolishly downloads a virus that then harvests their address book.

  • max

    I gladly pay godaddy yearly for my website’s private email service which is full of good anti-spam and other useful features. stop complaining, man up and go ahead and pay for your own. only idiots expect more from free email like gmail and yahoo…

  • DonJones

    Denny – Thank you for sharing your thoughts so clearly! I too have often wondered how to combat the ever increasing spam issue. I recently deleted about 12 of my email accounts and am down to only four. That has helped some… I have changed passwords often and am very careful where and when I share my email addresses. For those that are more tech savvy I’m sure I sound incredibly naive, however I think I fall into a much wider group than the few that are in the know here.

    You are right in wanting an easier, less spammy product and because of your posting, I see some others have shared some services available to help "reduce" unwanted email. This is very good information I would not have learned had you not taken the time to write this.

    To take the position that the problem with email is – just the way it is and to get over it, flies in the face of what America is all about. Innovation has improved our lives over and over again. I have faith that someone will come up with a better way and hopefully before big government decides to do it for us. They have already figured out a way to charge sales tax on a national level. Hmm amazing what can happen when there is a financial incentive! Thanks again Denny!

  • Janine Soika


    I also agree with you. I am a mid-40 year old (woman) who’s been using Yahoo since I can’t remember, I think I even opened my first email account in 1995, the year they were incorporated. Back then, I was young so my email address was a combo of my name and birth year, which I still use today, but now I wish I hadn’t put my birth year in my email (everyone knows I’m an old lady now!)

    I hate all the SPAM I receive in my Inbox, literally hundreds of emails per day! I spend hours just deleting all these unwanted SPAM. If there were a way to keep my account "clean" and SPAM free for a nominal cost, I’d sign up in a heart beat. However, I’ve often contemplated just switching over to Google permanently. I have several Google email accounts already, but since I have been a Yahoo use for so long, and have so many archived emails that I’d like to keep (they’re a kind of diary for me) . I have chosen not to close my Yahoo account and I still actively use it along with my Google and Outlook accounts (I have way too many email accounts, that’s another issue for another blog).


  • Old Joe

    I’m impressed… I really am, not many are willing to state what they WANT as well as what they NEED. I will say this, I don’t want email to become a pay for service for the common person, busines yes, personal no.

    I would like to point out that since the days of ‘memory hacks’ and the inventation of a ‘virus scanner’ there will forever be a cat and mouse game. That also means that we will never be able to say email is secure, neither is paper mail for that matter. What I would love to see is that laws catch up with the spammers for a change :-) If I remember correctly, if I open up a letter that isn’t addrest to me without the orginal recipient’s consent it can be considered a federal crime – why not spam?

    I would also ask that you take some time to de ‘connect’ for your own health – don’t get your self worked up and start to live with the depressed goggles on, I have been there and it isn’t good.

    I personaly have an account with 4 email providers: Google, YaHoo, HotMail, Microsoft Office 365.
    I tend to use rules and spam blocking to reduce the amount of spam I get.

    For security I keep changing my PII password every 30 days – I use a paid for service for password manage ment (last pass) and as long as I don’t forget my 47 char master password I’ll be fine. But, security really is only about slowing the hacker down to a point that when they do get the data, it doesn’t have any value left. Though with services such as EC2 from Amazon Web Services that provide a virtual computer network that will expand on depand – its only a matter of time before the bad guys get some credit cards and turn the friendly machines on us.

    I would love to see you do a column on that after reading this one.

  • Paul W


    First of all, the internet isn’t and never was free. I pay a criminal amount to Verizon each month for my personal connectivity. Second, email services are not free. My company pays MS – those bastards – large amounts of money for their software, we pay HP money for the servers and we pay IT guys to make it all work. Third, the price you pay for using Yahoo, AOL and other "free" emails is advertising, aka spam; I’m sorry you don’t like it, but that is the deal. Fourth, if you really are willing to pay, spam free email is available from tons of sources; get off yahoo and onto a real email provider or check out a service like http://www.symanteccloud.com/ . Fifth, fishing emails is not "hacking"; unless your friends are incredibly important, wealthy, and/or in the news, they aren’t being hacked; the reason their emails get fished is because of the way they use their computers, signing up for anything and everything presented to them, clicking any link with a thought to consequence etc.; while i think you have a point that the whole thing should be easier to use, it isn’t and so i say, don’t go into the garage if you don’t know how to use the tools. It’s an unsafe world and no one feels pity for the mark.


  • Scott

    Wow, people sending you comments defending Spam, because that’s just the way it is! It doesn’t mean it has to stay that way.

    While I read your column about saving the post office by offering the email business model you described and thought, "yeah… maybe… I don’t know about paying for email…." Like you mentioned in this column, "Isn’t it worth a small test?" That’s the purpose of testing to find out who would pay for a more secure email service with absolutely no ads and no spam. The USPS, Yahoo, Google, or any new company, could give this a test and see if it a profitable revenue stream. Heck while they’re at it, they could test an extra fee for encryption of email for even more security to see if there are people who want that.

    Maybe there’s a service that could be created to block hackers from cloning the email address and sending it out their own? A cost for that service could be tested. (Maybe I should see about creating this business and testing it).

    Testing may prove that your ideas or these ideas are NOT the way to go, but until its done, who says that Free email with lots of Spam has to be the way to go.

  • Promarcom

    There’s so much wrong about how things work in this post…
    — Getting your email contact list hacked is not the same as "getting your computer hacked." The hack may occur on the cloud without touching your computer.
    — Getting your email contact list hacked does not mean that your emails have been read.
    — There is no such thing as "hack proof" security. Ask the Defense Department, or a decent math grad student.
    — Even if there were such a thing as "hack proof" security, encryption technology today is tightly controlled by law. Governments don’t want any encryption to exist that they can’t break.

  • mickey

    "guaranteed hack-proof?" Are you joking? What do you get when this guarantee fails? Your money back? I doubt it, plus the damage is already done.

  • Mark

    Your ability to tell an engaging story reminds us all of the importance of the written word. At a time when communication is being dumbed down and presented cryptically, telling a great story becomes more difficult. I’m with you on this one. I’m still a paid subscriber to AOL (call me old fashioned) and my world is virtually spam free, except an occasional "e-turd" (you should trademark that term – classic!) from somebody that got hacked. Facebook is proving that free may not be sustainable. Their stock numbers are so low that revenue enhancement is the only way to bring back value to that which they claimed. There is no free lunch and never was. What we are paying for right now is a toll (ISP) to get on the highway and the content providers are bearing all the cost. If Facebook starts charging the entire industry will shift.

  • Barbara Florio Graham

    Denny, this is why my email is via my own domain. My ISP charges a small monthly fee to handle my outgoing email and host my website. And I can have several different email accounts all ending with @SimonTeakettle.com. That’s handy for filtering messages that come in from my website from those from family, friends, colleagues, and clients. I would never use Yahoo or even gmail. That doesn’t mean I don’t get quite a bit of spam, but it does mean others are less likely to receive spam from me!

  • Bob

    I completely agree with your line of thinking, Denny. Spam is out of control despite the lame laws aimed at curtailing it. I had one email address since 1996 that I had to abandon recently because the cost in time trying to filter the trash from the meaningful was just too much to take. I know I lost business as a result, but needed to preserve my sanity. I would GLADLY pay if it meant keeping the spammers out.

  • anonymous, really

    Just found this story and call me a jerk, but if you want to understand how the web and computers work, just pretend you have aspergers. And that’s all I’m going to say about it!