The truth about ICQ spam

ICQ Spam

For a long time now, ICQ has suffered from spam. And while much of the spam we associate with our e-mail has some legitimate purpose (it's usually advertising), ICQ spam is more often completely pointless. There is some legitimate advertising, which is bad enough, but getting worthless messages and being encouraged to "forward it to everyone on your ICQ contact list" is so stupid it's actually funny in a way. It reminds me of Melissa, which was a virus which automatically sent itself to 50 people in your e-mail program's address book. Unless you get infected with a virus, however, there is no way to force you or your computer to do this, however, so the ICQ spammers try to prey on your emotions to inspire you to do it yourself, manually.

The first site of this nature which I saw was the "ICQ Snowball Fight". The site likened ICQ URLs to snowballs, the idea being that whoever sent you the URL of the site had hit you with one, and so you should hit everybody on your contact list with one too, the more the better. Can you imagine if everybody on ICQ did this to everybody? Imagine signing on to ICQ and finding everyone on your contact list had suddenly sent you an URL linking to some site about ICQ snowballs.

That's how ICQ spam works, and there are a whole host of these things rising up in direct proportion to the popularity of the (very popular) instant-messaging program. Here are examples of some others I've seen:

"A child is missing. Send this page to everyone on your list. If you don't you are a heartless person." This page was about a missing child. An interesting attempt by the spammers to prey on people's guilt. How many missing children pages are there with thousands of such cases on them?

"For every person you forward this URL to, you will get a dollar. I made $60." Nobody has any way of knowing who you send URLs to. Even if they did, nobody would have any reason to actually give you a dollar for every one you forward. Rest assured, no money will be forthcoming for it if you do.

"You must forward this to everyone on your contact list or ICQ will delete you." A ludicrous claim. ICQ will not delete anyone for failure to forward spam.

"Forward this to everyone or a virus will kick in in 5 minutes." Viruses don't "kick in" unless they have already infected your system. I didn't forward this one, and I still have no virus. (It's been longer than 5 minutes...)

"A girl dying of cancer gets 10 cents for every person you forward this URL to." Another money one. As before, nobody can prove you forwarded it to anyone.

"Don't download ICQ99, it has a virus in it! Don't open the URL, just forward it to everyone. This is important!" ICQ99 has no "virus" in it, unless you download it from a place where it has already been infected.

"You've received ICQ flowers!" This site had a cute picture of a flower vase with some flowers growing in it (they all looked like the ICQ flower icon). The site also encouraged you to forward the URL to everyone on your list to let them know they were your friends. While this approach isn't a scam (it doesn't make any claims of doing anything), it still gets annoying when everybody starts forwarding the flowers to everybody else.

"If you forward this to everyone on your list, a naked indian runs across the screen!" I didn't do it, but it wouldn't have worked anyway. ICQ has no naked indian easter egg.

"If you forward this to everyone on your list, your ICQ colors will change. TRY IT, it's REALLY NEAT!" Ditto.

"You will marry the man/woman of your dreams if you forward this to everyone." Does this need any explanation?

"TarePanda makes your dreams come true!" This website had a picture of a cartoon panda and a field where you could enter some text (you were supposed to enter your life's dream there). It then had a list of how likely it would be to grant your wish, which varied directly by how many people you forwarded the URL to. If you sent it to no people, the panda would never grant your wish. If you sent it to 50, he would grant it right now.

"If a guy named SlaveMaster contacts you on ICQ, DO NOT talk to him! He has killed 56 women so far that he has met on the Internet! Send this to all the women on your ICQ list. Send it to all the men, too, just to be safe." Besides being hilariously impossible (how do you know this guy has killed 56 women, when the police don't know?), this just adds to the hysteria surrounding the dangers of the Internet.

"This really works! Trust me, I don't normally forward things." This particular one came from a person who, on average, forwards 3 spam URLs a day.

"Please forward this to everyone. If we reach 2 million users, ICQ will stay FREE!" Mirabilis (the company which owns ICQ and runs the ICQ server) couldn't care less how many people you forward spam to. It will not affect their decision to make ICQ a pay service (when and if that decision comes) in the slightest.

"Be an angel and forward this to everyone!" The idea of THIS site was that you would be an "angel" if you actually forwarded the page. Hmmmm, I don't quite follow the logic.

"Please forward to everyone! Don't open!" Why am I not supposed to even open the URL? And then why would anyone else want it?

"Just hit the forward button and send this to everyone!" It doesn't get much worse than this.

"The ICQ Friendship Chain! Forward it to everyone!" Similar to the ICQ flower thing except without the flower picture.

"An ICQ hug! Send this to everyone and see how many hugs you get back!" Yet another friendship one. Cute, and the idea that you'll get a lot of hugs *almost* makes it seem less annoying.

"The ICQ Water Balloon Fight!" Like the snowball one.

"If you forward this to everyone, your Windows wallpaper will turn to Brittney Spears (if you are male) or Ricky Martin (if you are female)!" Hmmm... ICQ now has a built-in gender detector? Or does it go by your specification in your ICQ info? What about for the people who left it as "Not Specified"?

"Send this to everyone and a pic will appear that you will like!" That's a matter of taste, isn't it?

...And I didn't list all the sites which don't even have any content, but simply say something like "This site is VERY COOL! Pass it on to everyone!"

I also found a website which was about an alligator. I forget exactly what its purpose was, but I seem to recall the alligator was going to be put to sleep, and the site wanted you to forward it to everyone, because if the URL reached 1 million people, the alligator's life would be spared. It reminds me of those ads they used to have with a picture of a gun pointed to a dog's head, with the words "If you don't buy this we'll shoot the dog."

And now, the grand finale...

"Send this to at least 10 people, or we'll be able to get your social security number!" The logic behind this one is so mind-bogglingly nonexistant that it's actually sad to think that people buy into this one. But somebody must have, because they forwarded it to me. The idea was that a group of people had hacked MSN and gotten their user list, and if you forwarded the spam to 10 people, your name would be removed from their list of people to hack. But if you didn't forward it to that many people, "your name will not be able to be removed from our hacking list." First of all, it absolutely begs the question "How does forwarding spam create the possibility of removing a user from a list?" Imagine if, to delete a user from a system, a sysadmin had to send spam to 10 people first. Anyway, the spam went on to explain what would happen to you if you didn't comply... First they would get your password. Then they would get your credit card number, social security number, and home address. (They claimed that MSN has a central website where all this information is available for display. And while it's true if you've signed up with them, MSN must be keeping your password and home address SOMEWHERE, it's pretty unlikely that it's freely available on a public-access website. I realize we're talking about MSN here, but still.) In the conclusion, the spam said "Don't believe this? We don't care at all because not following the directions given will harm you in over 10 ways." After explaining in painstaking detail how they would get your personal information, the alleged hackers cleverly decided not to describe the rest of the 10 ways. (What's the matter, script kiddies? Can't even think up IDEAS for destruction?) As I say, the thought that anyone, even a computer-illiterate person, would actually believe this drivel is disturbing. This one was actually sent to me through e-mail, not ICQ, but it was from someone I know on ICQ, so maybe it counts. Either way, it was so bad I couldn't resist including it here. More than anything else I have seen yet, it convinces me that if you send out a mass-mailing saying "If you send this to anyone else, your immortal soul will be sold to Satan, so SEND IT TO 20 PEOPLE NOW!", somebody will actually do it, using the logic "It says to send it to other people... I better do it!"

These are only the most amusing/interesting I've seen. I'm sure there are others... If you find any funny ones, send them to me and I'll add them.

With this uprising in spam comes the inevitable question of why. What motivates the originators to attempt to clog the Internet in this way? As mentioned previously, a lot of spam actually has a real purpose: It's advertising. I actually do not mind that so much; After all, the companies have to make money, and they're trying to tell you about a product or service they offer. This kind of spam is usually tailored to your interests. For example, if you're on a mailing list for pet product advertising, you probably got on it because you bought something or visited a website or downloaded a file having to do with pets. It's an attempt to tell you about stuff you might be interested in, and even if you're not interested in the product it may at least be interesting to read. Besides, most of those mailing lists have "unsubscribe" options you can use to take yourself off.

But this is a whole new breed of spam. It serves no function other than to replicate itself and its own uselessness. Why do people want to propagate this? Perhaps they get a kick out of seeing how far they can spread it. It might be amusing to someone to send people a "forward this" message and see how many people get it. I suppose the ultimate thrill would be to have your own spam which you started forwarded back to you by someone you don't know; Then you'd know it had travelled a bit. Whatever the reasons behind it, a new kind of user education is necessary. People need to know that when they get a message which encourages them to forward it and there is no good reason, or even if there is a purported but obviously unrealistic reason like monetary rewards, they are not doing themselves or anyone else a service by forwarding it. E-mail spam used to be mostly advertising, but now it too is beginning to pick up on the "forward this for no reason" trend begun by ICQ. Most ISPs have an "abuse" address which you can contact to report e-mail abuse. I haven't reported any spam yet, because so far it isn't that big a problem. A few occasional junk messages can be deleted fairly quickly. Besides, I'd feel like a stodgy twit blowing the whistle on someone for something so trivial. But if more people keep doing it, spam has the potential to become a very serious problem. Right now it may seem silly or stupid and something to smirk over as you push "Delete", but imagine getting 40 or even more of these things a day. We may be headed there if this keeps up.

I don't want to make a big deal out of a small matter, but again, this could develop, so I'm trying to tell people the real story behind this before it gets that far. If you think I'm over-reacting to a minor annoyance, I'm sorry, but I am worried by what I've seen. While the spam itself may be just a bunch of silly messages, the attitudes of the people who actually forward them are downright disturbing; When I ask people "Do you really think you'll get money for doing that?" or "Why did you forward that for no reason at all?", the responses are always along the lines of "I dunno, it just said to forward it to everybody so I did." This sheeplike attitude says something is seriously wrong with a lot of people. These people unthinkingly act because somebody told them to do so, seemingly without any consideration for whether their actions make sense. In the end, then, that's what really worries me. The spam itself is only symbolic of it.

So am I making a big deal out of nothing? By putting these thoughts on this page, did I waste people's time by putting vapid nothings on the Internet just as the spammers do? Or am I striking at a serious issue? If you have any opinions you'd like to add, I'd be happy to hear them.

In closing, let me just say this:

Forward this site to everyone on your ICQ contact list so they will know the truth about ICQ spam! :)

(For some more interesting online hoaxes, check These are perpetrated by e-mail, not ICQ, but they're an interesting read anyway. Also look at the now-semi-infamous site Lies, Damn Lies & ICQ Messages.)

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