by Lloyd A. de Vries
Vol. 4 - Email Tips
Do you have an alias?
No, it's not part of a confidence game scam or something on a wanted poster at the post office. On the Internet, an alias is an e-mail address that forwards mail to another, and there are a number of legitimate reasons why you might have one.
First, the alias may be easier to remember than your real e-mail address. If you're CommonName8432 on America Online and just try to get any easy-to-remember name these days there without a number after it! there may be confusion, or your friends and acquaintances may not remember which number you are. (I'm "The Lloyd" on AOL; I get mail addressed to "The Lloyd1" regarding his sales of toner cartridges and office supplies.) Or how about those multiple-digit numbers on CompuServe? With an alias, you may be able to get the name you want.
For example, one of my e-mail aliases is "email@example.com."
Second, you can take it with you. When I first took an alias, I was receiving my messages at one online service. It began to have major problems with e-mail, and I moved my alias' destination to another service. Later, I dropped that service altogether. E-mail outages aren't uncommon, so to make sure I get important messages, I now forward my e-mail to two addresses. It's easier to delete the extra messages than explain why I didn't respond.
In the past, changing online services meant reprinting my stationery, including business cards, and contacting everyone who had my e-mail address everyone I knew had my e-mail address and giving them the new one. Now it means I spend two minutes at a Web site changing the forwarding destination.
Third, an alias may provide identification with an organization or company. As Secretary of the American Philatelic Society, I am "LAdeVries@stamps.org," but mail sent there goes to another account. Likewise, mail sent to me from my first day cover cachet line's Web site, DragonCards@pobox.com, goes to that same destination.
Fourth, convenience. Instead of logging in and picking up my mail in 7 or 8 locations, it all goes to my two primary addresses.
Fifth, there's categorization: Many e-mail programs have what's called "filters" which sort incoming e-mail messages and put them into folders for you. Send me a message at my APS address, and it goes into an APS folder. Send e-mail to another address, which I know was picked up by spammers for their lists, and it goes to a folder I've titled "Spam?"
There are a number of companies selling this service, either separately or as part of a package. I pay $15 a year for a package of three e-mail aliases, one of which must be my real name (Lloyd.de.Vries@pobox.com). Some of the other aliases I have were free.
We here at the Virtual Stamp Club also offer a free "alias" to our members, with an @virtualstampclub.com address. Send me a request at Lloyd@virtualstampclub.com with the name you'd like, the address to which you'd like the mail to go, and your Delphi User ID (so we know you're a member of the Virtual Stamp Club).
My America Online account, and one of its screen names (sub-accounts) is one of my destinations for my aliases.
Using AOL's Web site, I can check from work the mail waiting for delivery. I see a list of the messages, and can decide whether to read them right then, hold them for later, or do both. I can also delete messages I know I don't want to read, such as "30 Latvian Semi-Postals at Three Times The Going Rate" or "Hot Sensuous Teens Want You." Since I doubt it, I deleted that one without reading it. (Really.)
Go to http://aolmail.aol.com/ to check your AOL e-mail "queue."
One of the reasons I deleted that pornographic spam message without reading it and certainly without following the link it contained was that these are often traps. When you arrive at the destination, rather than seeing whatever the promised perversions (or get-rich-quick schemes), the software at the Web site steals information about your America Online account, allowing the operator to "hack" it and use it for his or her (but usually "his") own purposes.
Another temptation is the message allegedly from AOL headquarters that promises you rewards if you click "here" and visit the site linked into the e-mail message.
Why America Online accounts? It's not that there's something wrong with AOL, it's that there's something right about it: There are so many AOL subscribers that the service makes a nice, juicy target. Rather than hacking the software of one service with perhaps 75,000 subscribers, and then hacking the software of another with maybe 1 million, there's AOL with a claimed 23 million people, many of whom are not that sophisticated online.
Use common sense: First, AOL doesn't ask you to go off the service to another site to do anything. And when it does ask you to go to a specific area of AOL, it gives you the AOL keyword, not a link.
Second, AOL won't ask you for personal information in an e-mail message. If it's having trouble with your credit card, its e-mail will ask you to call a toll-free number and talk to a representative.
And third, the spelling and grammar in most of these hacks is awful. Official messages from America Online are not. So if you receive a message declaring that "Your someone special," remember that you'll be a special idiot if you respond.
I mentioned spam above. "Spam" is the term for unwanted e-mail messages, usually sent to many addresses at once, and almost always offering something that's too good to be true (like those sensuous teenagers).
I get a particular laugh out of those e-mails that start off with "This is not spam." In every case I've seen, they most certainly were.
Some of them offer a way to get taken off the list. When I've sent e-mail to the addresses listed to be removed, the messages have bounced back to me. If it doesn't bounce, you may be removed from one list (which probably wasn't going to be used again anyway), but you've just confirmed that there's a real-live person at a valid e-mail address that can be added to many other lists.
If I visit a Web site to get removed from the spam list, I run the risk of being hacked that I mentioned above. At best, it, too, is a waste of time, and in many cases, the whole purpose of the spam was to increase the page views the "hits" on the Web site.
Most of the time, I just delete the message. It's not worth the energy or time to do anything else.
If it was sent to my AOL address from an AOL address, I forward it to "Tosemail1" (which stands for Terms Of Service E-Mail #1), although that's probably a waste of time, too.
If I'm particularly offended by the contents, I sometimes forward the message (with the complete text) to "abuse" or "postmaster" at the originating domain; that is, if it came from "HotStamps@lloyd.net," I'll send it on to "firstname.lastname@example.org." However, with so many private domain names now, chances are it'll either bounce or go right to the spammer.
There's another type of spam: The chain letter, usually sent to you by someone you know. There are variations on the theme, but they usually say something like "if we can gather 8,432 e-mail addresses, we will end poverty" or "cure the common cold" or "make Lloyd's first day covers worth something." What they really do is gather 8,432 e-mail addresses for spammers.
"There's a virus going around." there's always a virus going around, usually as an e-mail attachment.
We spend millions of dollars a year on anti-virus software and you should have it on your computer but I can save you some grief right now: If someone you don't know sends you a file via e-mail, don't open it. Don't double-click on it. And please check the settings in your e-mail program and make sure it doesn't automatically open, or "execute," files attached to incoming e-mail ("attachments").
©2002 Lloyd de Vries
A version of this article appeared in the June 2000 issue of Global Stamp News. It was updated in January 2002 for publication here.