An avalanche of e-mail crowds my digital inbox, most of it useless

Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 16, 2011; 5:29 PM

Some of you may be too young, but I remember a time before there were e-mail inboxes. Oh, there were inboxes, but they were, you know, boxes - boxes made of wood, metal or, rarely (okay, never), rubies.

These inboxes had a finite physical space and thus constrained what you might find inside.

Not like today, when a near-infinite avalanche of e-mail crowds our digital inboxes. And the vast majority of that e-mail is either useless, boring or outright dangerous.

For example, I've been receiving an increasing number of missives from Chinese factory owners. They seem to think I'm in the market for industrial motors, office furniture, wire, animatronic dinosaurs and breathalyzers.

I guess these messages are the digital equivalent of cold calls: millions of pitch letters sent to random e-mail addresses in the off chance one will arrive just as the recipient is thinking: "Why did I ever decide to become an animatronic dinosaur retailer? I don't have any product! If only I could find someone to make me a whole bunch of animatronic dinosaurs. Wait, what's this e-mail? 'Hello. I am China dinosaur factory. Hope that you know our product more. Also hope that we can establish long-term cooperative relation.' Eureka! I'm saved."

That's a quote from an actual e-mail, by the way, an e-mail that included photos of animatronic dinosaurs.

Then there are the e-mails that I know are scams, but I'm not quite sure how they're scams. The latest one has the subject line "Pet Advert." It purports to be from someone who wants to take out an ad offering teacup Yorkie puppies free to a good home. I'm sure if I responded they'd eventually ask for my banking details, but it seems an odd way to rip someone off. Do people really believe there are dog owners who can't get rid of their puppies on their own and must appeal to strangers for help?

But my favorite recent would-be swindle came from FBI Headquarters in Washington, D.C. Or make that "FBI Headquarters in Washington, D.C." Someone pretending to be FBI chief Robert Mueller (complete with photo!) explains that the "Intelligence Network Monitoring System" has detected that I am being scammed by some African bankers and, oddly, professional soccer officials. Luckily, Director Mueller is authorized to give me $11 million, which he will put on an ATM card, which I can use to "withdraw money from any ATM MACHINE CENTER anywhere in the world with a maximum of $4000 to $5000 United States daily."

That's some ATM card.

And some chutzpah. An FBI spokesman told me the bureau is aware of this scam. Mueller has even made reference to it in a speech on cybersecurity.

Finally, this was the subject line of another e-mail I received: "Read this mail for humanity."

I deleted it unread. Sorry, humanity.

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