Monday, February 20, 2012

You've got unsolicited mail...

ON the third day of the Chinese New Year, I received a text message from a political party leader of the area where I live, wishing me "Gong Xi Fa Cai".

In appreciation of the trouble he had taken, I promptly replied: "Thank you, boss."

I don't know him personally, hence the stock response I reserve for strangers or those whose identities I cannot figure out calling me on my mobile phone.

Usually, addressing someone as "boss", as I have seen others do many times, never fails to elicit a friendly response.

But the reason I replied was because the greeting came from a legitimate seven-digit mobile number, not the five-digit ones from insurance agents out to make a fast buck or a credit card agent trying to get you to sign up for another one.

My reply, however, did not evoke the usual "Thank you" or "Welcome" from the sender, which led me to wonder why he had bothered to send me a greeting but could not spare a few more sen on the SMS to acknowledge my "Thank you".

What troubled me more was the question of how the chap obtained my number.

Some years ago when owning mobile phones was the craze, I was extremely protective of my phone number.

I gave it out sparingly because I had learnt a few years earlier what giving out my email address without thinking could do to my inbox.

Even before the days of the Internet, I disliked unsolicited mail. In the 1980s, I remember, I had subscribed to a pocket-sized magazine that I will not name here out of professional courtesy.

Every two or three months, the people at the magazine would send me a brightly-coloured envelope that contained promises of my impending good fortune.

Days later, an even bigger envelope would arrive, containing a stack of colourful documents and an entry form that gave me a shot at winning RM250,000 - if I would only buy some home remedy books or encyclopedias.

After three years of receiving junk mail from that magazine company, despite having written numerous times begging them not to clutter my mailbox, I terminated my subscription.

Even now, I still receive mails from them, asking if I would renew my subscription.

I responded the same way to my one-time favourite petrol company years ago.

It started when I signed up for its loyalty card and I was required to give out my mobile phone number. I remember the incident well because it was the first time I had given my number to a commercial establishment.

Six months down the line, I started receiving not only offers and promotions via SMS to my phone, but also many good news that I had been shortlisted to win big sums of money; to qualify, all I to do was send a short message or call a foreign number.

When I posted the content of the SMS text on a blog, people who had received similar messages related their experiences, most had the same story to tell. That was when I realised idea how spammers got my number.

I have always wondered if someone at the petrol company had given or sold my phone number to a third party and that prompted me to I terminate my loyalty card membership with the company.

The reason I still go their petrol stations is because I am giving the company the benefit of the doubt - that my telco could also be responsible for the unsolicited SMS text messages I receive these days.

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