I wanted to put a new spin on this task. To go the extra mile.
I flicked through my capacious junk email folder and an idea came to me, sublime in its simplicity. I would actually respond to one of the advertisements and purchase the goods or services offered (Viagra why not).
I was curious to see if these marketeers with mediocre morals would really follow through with their prolific promises, or if they would just take my money and run (albeit not before using any personal information they gained along the way to permanently fuck with me).
However, although it might sound
sublimely simple, it turned out to be quite epic. As I engaged with the practicalities of this idea, certain problems presented themselves to me. In order of difficulty:
1) How would I find out how to place an order without exposing my email address and/or computer to viruses, hacking, and even more junk mail?
2) How would I order and pay for the goods without revealing personal information to a company that has already proved they would abuse it?
3) Ditto for taking delivery of the goods.
4) Most vexingly of all, how do I justify rewarding this execrable marketing technique by giving the criminal bastards real live money?
OK, one problem at a time...
First, I looked through one page of my junk email folder while at work. Out of 25 messages, 11 of them offered Viagra (4 offered Rolex watches, 3 recommended I buy shares, 2 offered software, 2 offered penis growth patches, 1 was for a casino site, 1 offered sex chat, 1 was in kanji).
The logic of doing it at work was that there are so many firewalls and virus checkers that the computer would be unharmed if the websites I visited were proactively malicious. Of course, I was taking a risk that my Internet activity would be tracked as suspicious and I would get in trouble from the big corporate machine, but I eat risk for breakfast. (Mind you, I often get consequences for dessert.)
I copied and pasted the website links from the emails into the browser and I made a surprise discovery. All but two of the emails offering Viagra were from the same company
operating under different URLs (even though the emails were all completely different). The URLs were fairly random, like www.wentsolution.com, heldmy.com, certaincoast.com, planetother.com, and my favourite... sydneyfluteschool.com.au. Try them in your browser if you dare!
Here is the hydra-like company's website:
The fact that this one company was responsible for two fifths of the junk in my inbox was creepy enough, but when I saw the proudly displayed link to their "Anti-Spam Policy" on their home page I started to understand what Wishy Washy and Jane Doe
were talking about when they spoke of being scared by how brazen and ruthless these lying spammers are. The hypocrisy boiled in my blood.
Anyway, the website bore an address: firstname.lastname@example.org. I created a fake email account and I sent them the following message:
Dear European Pharmacy,
I am interested in obtaining some Viagra. However, I am conscious that you are vicious spammers and I therefore do not trust you with my personal details, especially my credit card number. Can I send cash?
PS Why are you called European Pharmacy if you are a Canadian-based company?
After nearly a week, no response, so I sent a slightly less snide email (from the same account):
Dear European Pharmacy,
I am interested in obtaining some Viagra. Can I send cash?
I got a very quick response this time:
you cannot pay with cash, you have to fill in the form on the website. you can pay in euros or usd using amex, visa mastecrard or echeck .
I looked at the form on the website, and became convinced that the entire website was just a front for a credit card details phishing scam. Sigh.
Take 2. I went back through my junk emails to find a different, much friendlier-seeming website offering Viagra:
This time, a breakthrough. They accepted Paypal payments - which means they would never see my credit card details. Much more encouraging.
To be extra-sure that I was completing the task properly, I corresponded with them before ordering:
Dear Ed Express,
I would like to buy some Viagra, but your smallest pack is too expensive, and I don't need so many pills. Can I buy a smaller pack? Say, four pills?
The eventual response (after a "your message is important to us and we will get back to you" email):
Thank you for your query. All of the products we offer are on the website, but if you order now you can take advantage of our Christmas discounts!!!
I hope this answers your query.
Julie Hapton, Customer Services Manager
Fair enough. Next problem: which address do I give for delivery? I had little doubt that the unscrupulous company would be happy to sell the address to junk mail providers around the world.
I ended up making this pretty damn complicated. I contacted a variety of companies offering mail drop services (www.mailboxuk.com, www.Regus.co.uk, www.bpm-lux.com, www.EarthClassMail.com, www.irishoffice.com, www.additionaladdress.co.uk), asking them if I could do a one-off mail drop rather than buying a whole month or year's subscription. They all said no (the ones that replied), and I think they considered me rather suspicious for asking.
I considered giving the address of a friend who was about to move out. I considered giving the address of my local postal delivery office. I looked around Brixton (where I live) for an abandoned property that I could give as an address.
After all of that, I went for the simplest option and gave my own address. The deciding factor was Royal Mail's reassurance
that if I was regularly receiving someone else's post they could stop it, and seeing as I was using a false name (literally - Chad False) I could take advantage of that service if necessary.
When I pressed the "Submit Order" button, I absolutely assumed that I was giving my money away. And I felt a little afraid that I was opening myself up to identity theft or postal harrassment or whatever.
Which brought me to addressing problem #4. How could I assuage my aching conscience at having funded these spamming sleazebags? I took a two-pronged approach. Neither of which redeem me completely, perhaps, but in the words of Paul Arden or X-Wild or someone like that, sinners are winners.
Prong #1: I ran a whois search on every single URL thrown up by the emails in the first page of my junkmail folder, and then forwarded the spam messages to the relevant ISPs with a polite request that they delete the spammer's account. I also reported all of the junk emails through spamcop.net
for the sake of thoroughness.
Prong #2: I made a donation to spamcop.net - the same amount of money I had given to the spammers.
I then turned my attention back to other things (see future praxis for details). I figured I'd leave it for a couple of weeks just in case - against all odds - they actually sent me some Viagra.
Three days later (though this was nearly three whole weeks since I started working on this task), I was opening the packages from my online Christmas shopping, and stared in disbelief when from one of the packages spilled out a pack of Viagra.
Real, actual, unprescribed, black market Viagra. Fuckin' hell.
Well, I couldn't let it go to waste, could I? Check out my spam poetry praxis for what happened next...
I am on a nigh-impossible mission to complete every single pure-EquivalenZ task by the end of the era. Prior tasks:
- Cellular Breakdown
- SFZero Text Updates
- Objectify a Subject
- Attachment Theory
- Bathe Electonics