Monday, September 17, 2007


Exclamation points are like simulated orgasms; they display intense feelings where none may actually exist. They attempt to spur us into a frenzy while watching dispassionately from the corner of their beady little eyes. If you were never again to use an exclamation point, your writing would not suffer.

They show up with great frequency in forwarded emails, especially the ones that purport to save us from some imminent danger. I received one today that warned me about the telephone scam involving 9-0-# on the keypad.

The introduction alone raised my hackles:

IMPORTANT AND TRUE! I checked this out at . . . this is true and also applies to cell phones!

Gratuitous capital letters, exclamation points, red ink -- could it get more hysterical? And, of course, these orgasmic tricks betray the presence of half-truths, if not downright lies. This is how the scam was described in the forwarded email:

“I received a telephone call last evening from an individual identifying himself as an AT&T Service Technician (could also be Telus) who was conducting a test on the telephone lines. He stated that to complete the test I should touch nine(9), zero(0), the pound sign (#), and then hang up. Upon contacting the telephone company, I was informed that by pushing 9-0-#, you give the requesting individual full access to your telephone line, which enables them to place long distance calls billed to your home phone number. DO NOT press 9-0-# for ANYONE!!!”

Here’s what actually said:

Status: Partly True. Is a scam like the one described in the above examples possible? Technically, yes, but the e-mailed warnings are overblown in that very few phone systems are vulnerable to it any more. This scam does not affect residential or cell phone customers — it only applies to businesses, hospitals, government agencies, and other organizations that still use telephone private branch exchanges (PBXs) rather than Centrex lines to handle their calls. On certain PBX systems (i.e., ones for which pressing '9' is the signal to obtain an outside line, and there are no restrictions placed on outgoing calls), a scammer could gain access to place expensive, long-distance phone calls by tricking an employee into initiating the #-9-0 sequence. Outside of a few other settings where one might have to press '9' to obtain an outside line (such as hotels), the likely result of pressing #-9-0 will simply be a fast busy signal.

So, here’s a radical proposal, folks: don’t ever forward anything in your email again. Not jokes, not dire warnings about scams, not secret messages intercepted from the Vatican -- nothing.
When you receive an email sagging from the weight of color highlighting, screaming uppercase letters, impudent boldface, and scary exclamation points, head straight for the delete key.

WE’VE GOT TO STOP THIS INSANITY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

SIDEBAR: Email Etiquette

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