Today’s article is about Spam. No, not the brand of canned cooked meat made by Hormel Foods Corporation which became popular during the First World War. That’s next month’s column. It’s not even about Monty Python. No, this month I’m focusing on the dodgy emails that clog up our inboxes.

This article was originally published in the October 2018 issue of Greetings today magazine as part of Chris Fox’s “On the Line” column. Chris Fox is the marketing manager for Wishes of Cudworth an independent greeting card and gift shop owned by Julia Keeling.

With the introduction of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) we should be seeing less unwanted emails. No longer should we have countless emails promising to revolutionise our digital platforms or worst still the numerous phishing emails, often pretending to be a company you recognise with the goal of tricking you into handing over valuable personal information. I guess GDPR doesn’t really apply to the scoundrels looking to shamefully steal or extort money. We’ve had our fair few fishy/phishy emails at Wishes. A wholesale enquiry from abroad wanting to buy hundreds of pounds worth of products and a recurring email trying to sell us a trade show mailing list.

Spam email

Whilst researching this article I had a curious glance at some of our recent spam emails. Nestled in our spam box we’re just the 56 messages as we tend to have a little bit of OCD about our mail and regularly do a tidy up (I must point out this is only really true of the Wishes email, I’ve another account with hundreds of emails to sort, of which I can only hang my head in shame). Healthcare and loans seemed to be the most popular enquires, plus we’d won a few million that we’ve yet to claim. Sneakier we’ve had emails claiming we’ve been nominated for an award which on research didn’t exist and more than a few security alerts which themselves are rather clever phishing attempts.

There are ways to protect yourself and it’s always worth looking out for the signs. To avoid being scammed hover over any links and email addresses to reveal the actual website you’re directed to. If the website or email address doesn’t look right then don’t click on the link. Authentic website addresses are usually short and don’t use irrelevant words or overly complex links. It’s also worth noting banks and larger organisations don’t use web-based addresses such as Gmail or Hotmail. Check for bad spelling and poor grammar too; Spammers can’t spell and it’s a big giveaway that the email does not contain your name but rather a generic term like “Dear Customer” or Dear”.

More Spam

Of course, you should make sure you have a strong password, including letters (a mix of upper and lower case), punctuation and numbers. However, trying to remember them is always the kicker. On social media, be careful how you engage with people and it’s always good not to add random people as friends unless there is a true personal or business connection.

The Internet is unfortunately full of fake accounts, spammers and spambots (Automated programs which scour websites looking for email addresses. In fact, platforms like Facebook use spambots themselves with one science fiction tinged story hitting the news when two of its artificially intelligent programs we’re discovered to be chatting to each other in a strange language only they understood. The Spam has gone sentient).

Unlike myself, Julia is quite old school and not a fan of some digital innovations. She prefers to order from a rep or agent rather than online and it’s easy to understand how this digital unease could felt by many shopkeepers. It’s not just a matter of security, for whilst online banking and ordering offers convenience, are we at the risk of losing that human interaction. Is there more trust dealing with people face to face? It’s a dilemma that I wrestle with as I write this column, the contradictions of using digital tools to benefit a small business, as one of the strongest cases for any small bricks and mortar shop is great service from an actual person. In this rush to move everything online our high streets are changing. Most villages have lost their banks and ATMs are quickly disappearing or introducing charges. Many shops have introduced a minimum spend before they will accept a card payment to help compensate for transaction fees. It seems we’re moving into a future without money, where contactless is kings, credit and debit cards rule and digital wallets will be the only way to shop. With no real banks, will our older residents struggle to adapt to a cashless society and will this see an increase in cybercrime?

Julia Keeling Spam

The digital revolution isn’t the future, it’s happening now, we already live in a Jetson like future where we can pay for products with our smart watches or buy something online and have it delivered within the hour. It’s just a side effect of progress and all we can do as retailers is adapt and protect ourselves. To be wise and alert to the virtual Dread Pirate Roberts that will try to swindle us. To use you own best practice and always double check emails you receive are legitimate. There’s no turning back now, we must accept with progress comes change and challenges. We must up our game and be guarded against unsolicited emails. Who knows, one day we might even see the back of that not so lovely Spam and our inboxes will be happy again.

The internet is a wonderful tool but can be scary if you don’t know how to make the best use of it. In this series of articles retailer Chris Fox, from Wishes Of Cudworth aim to pass on all the online tips he’s discovered so far to help independent retailers boost their bricks and mortar business in the digital age. This article was originally published in Greetings Today Magazine.


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