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Spammer's Trick - Past and Future Dates on Email

Your average low-life spammer will use any means at his disposal to get you to notice the garbage he inflicts on your inbox. One dirty trick that seems to be increasingly employed by spammers is to change the date on incoming emails so that they are more likely to gain your attention when they cross your inbox.

Most commonly, the spam arrives with a future date - sometimes months or even years ahead. If you have your email client configured to sort by date, this future date means that the spam message will "float" at the bottom (or top) of the list of emails. The message will remain in this pole position until you move or delete it or until the real date overtakes the spammer's bogus date.

Conversely, the spammer may set a date sometime in the past, thereby burying the spam at the "read" end of the email list or somewhere in the middle. Generally, your email client will indicate that you have an unread message somewhere in the email folder you are reading, even after you have apparently read all of the latest messages. If the folder has a lot of messages, you will need to search through the list of read emails to locate the unread one with the bogus past date. This process tends to focus attention on the garbage email, and this is, of course, the spammer's goal.

The spammer wants to increase the chance that his targets will actually read the message. Hopefully most of us will be wise enough to never do business with spammers under any circumstances. However, the spammer may send many millions of bogus-date spam messages. Perhaps only a handful of these recipients will be swayed into actually buying from the spammer due to the past or future date trick. Unfortunately, from the spammer's point of view, gaining those few extra sales is enough to make the bogus-date trick a worthwhile exercise.

Spam is an increasingly severe problem with no easy remedy. One simple way we can help, however, is to learn as much as possible about how spammers operate. Being aware of all their dirty little tricks, and spreading the word to other Internet users, is something that we can all do to make it just that bit harder for spammers to make a profit.

Last updated: 4rd January 2007
First published: 4rd January 2007

Write-up by Brett M. Christensen