Free Catalog Abuse

I just saw this article on how spam lord Alan Ralsky was getting a taste of his own medicine when his place of residence was revealed and then a group of anti-spammers signed him up for tons of junk postal mail. Funny story related to this:

I used to work this temp job in in Boston for the marketing department at Saga International Holidays, which sold vacation packages through some fairly nice and detailed printed catalogs.

My job was database admin. We were converting our old VAX database system to an AS/400. (Literally went from a closet full of tapes and wires to a single box on the floor, just like the commercial!) So before I was going to import everything into the AS/400, I was running queries and sorting and all that to try and clean up as much of the records as possible before the import.

And then I saw a pattern…

I was sorting by zip code at the moment, and running a script to try and clean out duplicates and mismapped records. Well it was no mistaking it – literally hundreds – possibly even over a thousand – subscriptions to *all* of our brochures, all going to the exact same address under different names.

It was amazing. The names were completely hilarious – everything from Abraham Lincoln to Seymour Butts. Some R.R. Address in Kansas or something like that. We had maybe 10-12 catalogs that we published throughout the year. Some were around 70 pages thick. This address was getting *thousands* of our catalogs every year.

We had these little tear-out postcards that we stuck into other magazines as well as our own for fulfillment, where you could sign up to receive our catalogs. Some of these fulfillment cards had multiple address fields, so you could enroll your friends.

So we went down to the fulfillment house, which was a separate company, where all the data entry operators were. They would key in all the data from those cards. We would get like four mailbags full of those cards every week. We went through some of the cards, and lo and behold, there was Mr. Seymour Butts and his whole gang, written in this insane, violently cursive handwriting that looked like whomever wrote it was in their own plane of existence. The handwriting alone was like from a Stephen King novel – “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” kind of stuff, over and over again. Very creepy.

So we could only wonder what that person was all about. Were they just using it for fuel? Making it in to some strange adobe compound to build his house with? Or was it some kind of sinister act, to drown someone in unwanted mail?

We never found out what all those catalogs were for, but I ran a block on anything even remotely related to that address that night short of banning the zip code…