Thursday, June 11, 2015

Hearing Loss Scam Spam

Yesterday, a multimonth experiment came to an end. I just couldn't take it anymore. See, ages ago I realized that certain vital work emails were being sent to my spam folder in gmail, no matter how many times I marked them "not spam" or "priority". Non-fishy, obviously legitimate things like the PEPNET or DSSHE mailing lists. More than once, it was an invoice or a job offer. I know that most of the time when someone gets an email from "The United Nations", it's part of a 419 scam, but sometimes the actual United Nations requires actual captioning services, y'know?!

After I'd discovered far too many important emails trapped in spam, I had to make a decision: Either I had to manually go through my spam folder every day -- which would be almost impossible -- or I had to establish a series of whitelist filters, where everything containing a specified word would go directly to my inbox, even if Gmail thought it was spam. The words I selected were:

steno
cart
invoice
transcription
transcribe
caption
captioning
stenography
disability
disabled
deaf


and...

hearing

The first 11 keywords have served me well. A lot of important stuff that would have gone into spam has been caught by those words and brought to my attention. That last one, though... That was the problem.

Regain Hearing Loss - Reverse Hearing Loss In Days in less than 3 weeks?
Why Amish Have Such Great Hearing
Proven 200yr Old Method To Reverse Your Hearing
Jailed For Finding Hearing Loss Remedy




And on and on and on, in infinite variations, hundreds of spam messages a day. Now, I've got a pretty efficient email sorting method. I strive to get to Inbox Zero as often as possible. When I wake up, I plow through everything at once, sorting messages into @reply and @action. Everything else either gets archived or trashed. Only after I've gotten to Inbox Zero do I start tackling the @reply box. But even with a pretty disciplined sorting method, deleting hundreds of hearing-related spam messages every day was getting really, really tedious.

I kept the keyword whitelisted for a long time, though, partly because I was worried about missing an important work-related email... But also partly because I felt weirdly bad about the whole phenomenon. Like I should be paying witness to the ways in which people with hearing loss are preyed upon, the ways in which spammers try to exploit and manipulate them. I tried to think to myself, as I was deleting this drek every day, "What if I'd just lost my hearing, and this landed in my inbox? Would I be tempted to click on it? How are these spammers making their money? Who falls into these traps, and what kind of snake oil is eventually sold to them? Is it actively harmful, or just expensive and ineffective? Are these sorts of messages tested for how well they target desperate people? Which ones work best? And what's their obsession with the Amish?!"

For a long time, I tried to use my thrice-daily spam-blasting time as a way to build empathy for the people I know who have had to deal with both the annoyances and frustrations of late-onset hearing loss and the neverending aggravations of both well-meaning and not-so-well-meaning people who insist that there must be an easy cure just around the corner, if only they'd keep looking for it. There must be a pill you can take, a device you can buy, an exercise method you can do, that's better than any hearing aid, that can make you good as new again, that can take care of all your problems. I'd think of the constant struggles my clients have to go through to get captioning arranged and paid for, to remind coworkers not to cover their mouths when they speak to them, to cope with the fatigue of lipreading for days on end, while all the time these shady companies are trying to stick their knife in wherever they can, constantly probing for a moment of credulity or weakness, all in the hopes of making money.

Spammers? Are freaking evil.

Finally, I realized I couldn't handle it anymore. I wasn't learning anything new about the attempted exploitation of late deafened and hard of hearing people. I was just getting angry and fed up with weeding out hundreds of lying messages every day. I took the keyword off my whitelist and resigned myself to missing any work emails that included "hearing" but not "captioning", "steno", or "deaf".

Today I woke up to a strangely quiet inbox and a feeling of intense relief.

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