The New York Times has an article about electronic greeting cards, talking about their popularity and focusing on some of the more off-beat ones:
[...] According to the Internet research firm Media Metrix, the top 20 e-card sites in the country had approximately 29 million unique American visitors in July, the most recent month for which data is available. The most popular site, AmericanGreetings.com, had over 7 million hits that month.
In most cases, these e-card sites are deliberately courting mass appeal. “Our sites are popular with a broad range of consumers,” said Frank Cirillo, a spokesman for AG Interactive, the group that owns the e-card sites AmericanGreetings.com, Egreetings.com and BlueMountain.com. “Some of our cards are edgier than others, but for the most part, our material is family-friendly.”
What is not “family-friendly”, though, is the use of fake “you have an e-card” messages as a vector for expanding zombie networks. You’ve seen them, surely; here’s a recent one that I got (click it for a full-sized version):
And that bogus link sends you to a web page that’s run by the scammer, in this case on a server in the Czech Republic. This one’s not even a sophisticated one: it attempts to directly run a Windows executable program, and so Windows — every version, even as old as Windows 95 — will actually ask permission to run it. You should say “no”, of course. But if you say “yes”, it will set your computer up on the scammer’s zombie network, and your computer will be among those sending out spam... and more fake e-card messages, designed to turn yet more computers into zombies.
The message, by the way, was not really sent “from” hallmark.com, though it says that in the message. It was really sent from a computer using a web hosting service based in the Dallas area. If you know what to look for, all this is easy to find.
But if you don’t know what to look for, how would you find it? If you got the message shown above, would you be sure you knew whether it was real or not? Maybe you’d notice the misspelling and suspect it from that. Maybe not. And if your birthday happened to be at the end of August, you might even be less likely to look at it with a critical eye.
Leave it to spam to ruin everything, eh?
As for me, it’s simple: I don’t care whether it’s “real” or not. I simply throw them away, unopened, unclicked. The truth is that I’ve never been much for greeting cards anyway, preferring someone’s own heartfelt sentiments to some packaged thing written by a drudge in an office, and that goes double for the electronic version. The Times tells us this:
For some repeat customers, these edgier e-cards have taken the place of a tossed-off text or e-mail message.
“I’ve started communicating more-or-less exclusively through Someecards because it says everything I’m thinking,” said Eric Kind, 34, an executive assistant at Lionsgate Television in Los Angeles, who sends upward of 50 cards a week from the site. “A friend from work sent me a card that said, ‘Sorry I thought you were gay.’ Now everyone I know is sending them.”
And yes, that’s really it: too many have gotten too lazy to take the trouble to send a personal note. But come on, surely it’s less time to write six or ten or seventeen words in an email message than it is to navigate the Someecards site to find the one that says, “Sorry I thought you were gay.” (Huh? That’s funny?)
Email’s made it easier than it’s ever been to drop a brief, personal line. And that personal touch from someone is worth more than a chorus of penguins singing to me from my computer.