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by Otto Matik

I used to be pretty good at presorting the junk mail from the important stuff. I wouldn't even have to open the envelopes before pitching them in the trash. There are tell-tale clues: dot-matrix printed addresses, bold-lettered SCREAMING ad copy plastered all over the envelope, and printed bulk-mail permit numbers instead of stamps or postal franks.

But the junk mail people have caught on. They are disguising their envelopes to look like important mail. In the last couple of weeks I've received the following pieces of "stealth" junk mail:

1. Something that appeared to be a notice from the federal government to appear for an income tax Audit. (It was for some stupid newsletter).

2. An envelope with a little cellophane window that contained what looked like a check. Even after I opened the envelope, it looked just like a check for $2,000 made out to me, and signed by a real person. (I knew, of course, it was some type of scam. It was an invitation to open a line of credit at over twice the current prime lending rate of interest)

3. An envelope that looked like it was sent by some type of FedEx or overnight delivery service. I always open these, since I figure if the sender is going to spend over ten bucks to deliver something to me, it's probably important. (Actually, they used a trick envelope that mimicked FedEx's logo and color scheme. A company called Response Mail sells these. In fact, they sent junk mail to me trying to get me to buy some of the envelopes. Curiously, they didn't use one of their Ersatz Express envelopes to send the card to me!)

Apparently, junk mail psychologists think that after they trick you into opening an envelope, you'll gladly fork over money for whatever shit it is they're trying to sell. Being fooled like this sure doesn't put me in the mood for giving them my money. Trying to pull a fast one on me from square one is not a way to garner my trust in a company that wants my business.

I also get a lot of junk email. Whenever I see a subject line that says something like "HOT NEW ISDN ROUTER SMALL ENOUGH TO FIT IN YOUR NOSTRIL!" I throw it in the trash without opening it.

The email junk people are also catching on. They're sending messages without subject lines, so I have to open them to see what they're about. The message below was sent by some PR firm. There's no subject line, no identification that it originated from a PR flak, and it is signed simply, "J," in an attempt to trick me into thinking the message came from a friend.

The best part of the story, however, is the Web site the message refers to. It's an ad for a CD called "Bright Side of the Sun" and is touted as a follow up to Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon." But if you read the fine print, you discover that the CD is not by Pink Floyd. It's by some guy hoping to capitalize on Pink Floyd's reputation. The sneaky guy and his sneaky PR flak for were made for each other!

Here's the email they sent me:


Forwarded message:

From: emxp@emxp.com (EMail Express)

Date: 96-05-22 17:29:49 EDT



Came across this web site and thought you might be of all time. You can find it at -

Talk with you soon.



Since "J" was kind enough to turn me on to this site, I emailed him the following message, as a favor. Just to make sure he got it, I sent it about 12 or 13 times:


Hi J,

Came across this information and thought you might be interested. It's about Gram negative bacteria/E.coli plasmid vector pTF-FC2. You can find it at -


Talk with you soon.



UPDATE: 6 November 1997

From Jim Leftwich

Just today in the mail I received an plain white No. 9 envelope with my name and business typed on it. There was no return address and it looked fairly thin. I opened it up and it contained what looked to be a page hand-torn from a magazine. Same kinda paper, etc.. At first it looked like an article, but then I noticed it was one of those front/back ads for a newsletter called TREND LETTER. In fact, it even had "advertisement" printed on it, like you'd find in a magazine. Affixed to it in the top right corner of the front page, was a Post-It with the following hand-written note:



Try this,

It's really good!



I've got to admit, it made me stop and think... Who did I know that was J.? But quickly I realized that it was a SCAM!

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Copyright 1997 bOING bOING. This site illustrated and designed by Otto Matik.