So much junk

I’ll go ahead and say this right upfront: Email makes my life better, richer, and more efficient. It made my dream of being a widely read writer a reality when I first started publishing weekly journals back in 1998. But as with all good things, email can also become a disaster in the wrong hands.

My story begins Monday last week when I checked email on my phone. Something was amiss. All I saw was a long string of messages saying, “Mail Delivery Failed.” I had fifty seemingly identical messages. All day Monday, every time I checked it downloaded a new set of fifty emails. Message after message, saying, “Mail Delivery Failed.”

It’s true, I’d sent out a group email the night before, and I often get one or two messages like that because I type the address wrong or someone changes addresses or whatever, but this was something else. For one thing, I’ve never sent a group email large enough to get this many returns. And another thing: when I looked closely at some of the returns they had addresses I had never heard of. I was under attack.

I also knew it was different from those email viruses going around that send junk to everyone on your contact list. None of these returns were from anyone I ever knew. I was getting returns in Japanese and German and Thai and Arabic. Not my contact list.

When I got home, I went to my laptop, tagged the returns as junk mail, and deleted the rest of them in my inbox. Then I went riding, to burn off some of the frustration.

From that point forward, Outlook did a great job grabbing the incoming returns and stuffing them into junk. By the time I went to bed Monday night, I had 7,340 messages in my junk folder. It seemed like a lot. I deleted them all hoping my problems were over.

They weren’t.

For the next couple of days I got page after page after page of the same “Mail Delivery Failed” messages. They were all unique, with different bounced email addresses. Outlook sent them all to my junk folder, but my server cache, wherever that is, filled up so that friends could no longer send legitimate emails to me since my inbox was too full.

By Friday morning, the return message rate had decreased to the point I was once again receiving legitimate messages from friends. Even my own predictable junk mail from catalogues and political candidates found a way through. I had stopped deleting the emails in my junk folder because I wanted to know how many I would receive. Why fight through an adventure if you can’t quantify the damage, is what I always say.

So here is my diagnosis: Some scammer, who knows who, who knows where, found my email address and password and used it to send his spam so that it appeared to originate with me. When the messages were rejected, either by a canny server or because the address was stale, they bounced back to me.

My friend and computer go-to guy, Frank, said it would probably be over in a few days after the spammer moved on to someone else’s fresh address.

In the meantime, I had been tagged as a spammer. I was receiving worldwide rejection from people (or, computers) I would never meet. I only hoped Homeland Security didn’t get one and put me on their comprehensive suspicious-character-don’t-let-him-do-anything-especially-fly-on-an-airline list. I also hoped al-Qaeda didn’t get one, or SPECTRE. Blofeld holds long grudges.

Well, it’s now over. I didn’t have to change my email address because of this attack, which made me happy because I like my address. There are only three people using Stonefoot since we created it ourselves using the name from one of the giants in The Last Battle from The Chronicles of Narnia. I would hate to give that up without a fight. Other than temporarily cluttering my hard drive there was no damage done.

By Friday evening, all I was receiving was typical standard junk. No new “Mail Delivery Failed” messages. The final count in my Outlook junk folder was 44,266 emails. Seems like a lot. It was a reminder there are many things that make my life better that I cannot control.

Sometimes life throws so much junk at you, you might as well stop fighting it. Just wait until it tapers off, delete the records, and start fresh.


QUESTION: What junk are you dealing with this week? What is filling your inbox?


“I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32

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