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I have a new enemy. Her name is Karen Johnson. It's not the Karen Johnson who is the Republican state representative in Arizona, nor is it the Karen Johnson who is the executive vice president of the National Organization for Women.

This Karen Johnson is probably not even real. Even the Web address she gives isn't real. What is real is she is spamming me constantly.

Used to be a rare occasion when I received unsolicited e-mail solicitations hawking porn or various bodily enhancement products. I assumed it was because I take extra precautions not to put my personal information out in cyberspace and that my Internet providers had clever filters.

If that was ever the case, it is no more. Those ever-crafty spammers have found new ways into the e-mail accounts of the world. And now every time I log in I find my inbox clogged with messages from reasonable-sounding names and subject lines of random words so discordant they are almost beautiful.

Albert Meadows sent me this intriguing note: ``Carbonaceous geranium avocet ado actuarial'' atop an e-mail hawking generic Viagra.

Emily Torres enticed me with ``Beguile contestant inoperative rental glacis'' for her particular body enlarging pill offer.

And Kieth (sic) Marino's words, ``dingy furze andesite assemble ribbon'' made a sort of poetic sense to my caffeine-addled brain.

I am not the only victim of ``Karen Johnson'' and others like her out there. According to experts, spam accounts for about 70 percent of the e-mail traffic zipping through cyberspace. And dealing with it costs Americans between $9 billion and $12 billion every year.

As Internet providers try to circumvent spam, spammers just change course, prompting the recent slew of e-mails with gibberish or random words to foil programs designed to detect the usual spam phrases such as ``enlarge your penis size overnight'' or ``click here for hot Japanese gopher porn!''

The spam problem is getting so bad that it's driving people off the Internet. Seriously. The Pew Internet and American Life project surveyed Internet users between Feb. 3 and March 1 and found that 29 percent of those questioned have used their e-mail less often because of irritating spam.

That was a 4 percent increase from those annoyed off the Internet just a few months before. But what is really unusual about the recent survey is that it was done after the nation's very first anti-spam legislation took effect on Jan. 1.

The CAN-SPAM law, it turns out, is about as effective at stopping spam and spammers as its somewhat unfortunate acronym suggests, according to John Reid, one of a group of computer professionals across the globe who work on a volunteer anti-spam effort called The Spamhaus (

In fact, Reid says, the anti-spam law could more accurately be called the You CAN Spam law because it lacks any real enforcement resources behind it.

``The laws haven't stopped spammers,'' Reid said. They only make it illegal for spammers to hijack computers and turn millions of hapless home computers with DSL modems into spam-blasters.

``Spammers get away with this on a daily basis,'' Reid says. ``They do 20 million violations of federal law before lunch.''

In fact, if my experience is any indication, spammers were so amused by the law that they decided - what the heck - to redouble their spamming. Why not?

And even if one out of 1 million people spammed buys something, the spammer gets a huge return on investment.

``If you're living in a trailer in the Louisiana Bayou, the 300 bucks you can make over the weekend for beer, that's great,'' Reid said. ``It costs almost nothing to send spam.''

The societal costs, however, are huge. Reid likens spam to dynamite fishing. Sure, you're guaranteed to turn up an edible fish for dinner, but you completely ruin the lake in the process.

So what can we do about it? Other than never, ever buying anything through a spam offer, next to nothing, Reid says, unless you're willing to track down the individual spammers by buying their product, then taking them to small claims court, assuming the spammer doesn't hit the road as soon as the jig is up.

So here's the recap: A small group of unscrupulous people are breaking the law to earn a few bucks, and in doing so they're ruining the Internet for everyone else. And there's pretty much nothing you can do about it.

I don't know about you, but that makes me about as mad as a carbonaceous geranium.
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Copyright 2004, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Viewpoint
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Apr 4, 2004

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