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TinotopiaLog → Paper Spam (12 Jul 2005)
Tuesday 12 July 2005

Paper Spam

Yesterday, this envelope turned up in the mail here at Tino Manor:


Click on the picture to see a larger version.

As wealthy and good-looking as we are here, we get a lot of junk mail; a lot. I believe that the idea is that our lifestyle is so enviable that other people, seeing us using a particular brand of medicated lip balm, or stink-preventing shoe pads, would immediately rush out and switch brands. Either that, or some database somewhere has us listed as easy marks, and marks who actually pay their bills, too.

Anyway, so this thing turns up, and I immediately spot it as spam. The difference between physical spam and junk mail is that junk mail is something you don’t particularly want: today’s catalog from Pottery Barn, for instance (they send out about five a week), or a come-on inviting you to spend $900,000 on a vacation house in a ‘luxury resort community’ somewhere in North Carolina (no lie, such a thing showed up last week). Junk mail is advertising for something you are not particularly interested in buying.

Physical spam is junk mail that attempts to trick you into opening it. The credit-card people have gone in big for the fake-card-in-the-plain-envelope approach; I have to open all of these things to make sure it’s not an actual card (most of those cards also make good frost-scrapers, though recently a lot of the cheaper companies have switched to some kind of pasteboard thing, which is useless except for propping up uneven table legs).

This envelope employs the popular technique of trying to look like correspondence from the government. This one caught my eye because it says ‘PROTECT OUR TROOPS!’ in big letters on the front — so they are exploiting the war to promote their business. This is what first caught my eye, since I thought that it was a particularly cynical move. Exactly *how* cynical, I had no idea: there’s no mention of the war, or troops, or anything else except the sale of bargain-priced used cars inside. I was expecting a donation of a nickel to the DAV or something for each car sold; but no, it’s just the envelope. I can’t decide whether this is better, or worse.

Like most e-mail spammers, the senders reveal themselves to be idiots in smaller ways, too. The complete government-correspondance look requires threatening you with prison before you even open the envelope, and to this end most paper spammers make reference to postal regulations. In this case, the law they refer to is:

Whoever takes any letter, postal card, or package out of any post office or any authorized depository for mail matter, or from any letter or mail carrier, or which has been in any post office or authorized depository, or in the custody of any letter or mail carrier, before it has been delivered to the person to whom it was directed, with design to obstruct the correspondence, or to pry into the business or secrets of another, or opens, secretes, embezzles, or destroys the same, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.

This is Title 18, Section 1702 of the United States Code; it basically says that you’re not allowed to steal mail.

On the envelope, though, they refer to ‘TLT.18’; ‘tlt’ is not an abbreviation for ‘title’. The error, though, makes it easy to identify where this envelope came from: On-Target Direct Marketing. A number of their envelopes use ‘TLT 18’ to threaten would-be customers. On-Target Direct appears to just handle the logistics: a quick Google search suggests that the promotion itself is run by an outfit called RPM Communications, which appears to be unaffiliated.

Inside the envelope, there’s a flyer for the promotion and a scratch-off card; ‘if’ the numbers on the scratch-off card match, you win an amount ranging from $5 to $50,000. Everyone, of course, ‘wins’ at least $5 just for coming in to the dealer with the papers; that’s the whole idea of the promotion.



And it would appear that, in 2003, at least one person won the $50,000. One George Bouche is pictured on the flyer, and there’s a web page here that would seem to indicate that he’s a real person who really did win; an article here further backs it up. I was not able to track down any information on ‘Robert Lewis’, the other winner mentioned, but I don’t doubt that he’s real, too: it’s just that ‘Robert Lewis’ is a much more common name that ‘George Bouche’ — except in France, where they’re always talking about ‘George Bouche, ze eempirialist warmongair’.


How long can this work, though? In the electronic world, eBay has recently moved to communicating with its customers exclusively on their website in order to fight the people who send me a dozen eBay phishing attempts a day. Certainly by now nearly everyone with two neurons to rub together has figured out that 99.9% of the brown-paper envelopes they get with threats on the front are not from the government. These promotions undoubtedly draw people in with the promise of having won ‘at least’ $5, but the fact that the envelope doesn’t say ‘You May Already Be A WINNER!!!!1’ on the front shows that people do catch on, sooner or later.

Posted by tino at 12:46 12.07.05
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It’s not that eBay doesn’t send you mail any more. They do send you mail, but you can safely ignore all of it because all legit mail is duplicated on their new internal mail system.

Posted by: Nicole at July 12, 2005 02:59 PM

Maybe it’s a bit off-topic, but just try to get the USPS to enforce those “tampering with the mail” regulations. I was having a fairly regular problem with stolen mail. What I did about it was rent a P.O. box (I rented from the USPS, because they actually enforce the regulations that make 3rd party boxes a pain in the neck).

For some silly reason I thought I should report the problem. I was pretty sure that the postal people wouldn’t actually do anything about it, but I thought i should fill out a form and have it on file. I went to my local post office, and they asked me to wait. After an honest 20 minutes I was granted a short audience with the great imperial grand poo-bah postal dude. After explaining my problem in about two or three sentences, he informed me that all complaints must be reported to the main office in Washington DC. I should have gone postal right then and there but I kept my cool and left in silence. I had only stopped by expecting to fill out a fscking form.

The credit card and utility people had no problem understanding that I could actually live in one place and want my mail delivered somewhere else. I only had a few minor problems with mail order stuff (only that I wanted the catalogs and other correspondence to go to the billing address, and just the packages to the shipping (work) address.)

I had a huge problem with the Maryland MVA. Their computer system wan never set up to hold more than one address per person but they kludged it by putting your second address on their spare address line on-screen. The only problem was that they could only hold one zip code. They required that your P.O. box be in your same (home) zip code. I kludged this by “correcting” my home zip code on one visit, and adding the P.O. box on the second visit.

Hello, Maggot Vehicle Asshats, have you ever heard of identity theft? If you lose your license (quite possibly with your house keys too), which address would you rather have displayed? Out of all the things that i can think of that would be the worst to have stolen out of my mailbox, anything from the MVA would probably be number one. I mean, I am not actually trying to hide from the state. I’m willing to give them my address where I hang my hat every night. The only real reason they need that is so they know the right door to kick in, (and for state taxes). The best part of this story is that RealID solves everything for us. Alternative addresses are illegal.

Posted by: steel at July 12, 2005 07:45 PM