I’ve come to despise my email inbox. Really, really, despise it. How much do I despise it? Glad you asked.

I hate it more than going to CVS. I hate it more than sitting at Starbuck’s. I hate it more than Verizon. I hate it more than the outrageous prices at Erewhon, the private equity-funded organic grocer. I even hate it more than private equity.

Okay, not that much. But close.

My email inbox is a veritable hellscape, overridden with messages from companies, organizations, and individuals I don’t wish to hear from. Hard as I try to forever disengage with them, they invariably return with a vengeance. Email has become an interminable game of Whac-A-Mole, usurping at least 10 minutes of my time every day hitting unsubscribe, moving to junk, and pounding delete. The avalanche of unwanted messages is mounting, and if the current trend continues, I imagine a year from now deleting emails will be how I spend most of my waking hours.

Let’s take a tour of my inbox.

First, there are the scamsters, one of whom I’m embarrassed to admit recently fooled me. It was what looked like a legitimate invoice from the Geek Squad notifying me that my $495 membership was about to auto renew. I’ve used Geek Squad in the past and shopped at Best Buy, so I feared the company had stored my credit card info and decided to treat itself to an automatic membership sale.

That’s not unfounded paranoia: I subscribe to dozens of publications and hard as I try to stop them from storing my credit card information and automatically renewing me, they do it anyway. I’ve begged my credit card companies to reject automatic renewals, but they’re in cahoots with the merchants and won’t grant me the service. Forget points, my dream credit card would be one that sent an email requiring me to approve every transaction before its recorded. Those emails would be welcomed because they would save me a week or more of wasted time every year disputing charges that I never authorized and never intended to. An extra week of leisure time is easily worth more than the points I earn on my cards.

It was about 6 a.m. PST when I received my Geek Squad invoice. I immediately feared having to call a toll-free number and hear the dreaded, “Due to unusual heavy call volume…please listen carefully as our menu options have changed…did you know the answers to our most frequently asked questions can be found on our website?… we know your time is valuable, and we appreciate your patience…your estimated wait time is six years.”

Might someone out there know why all companies use the same obnoxious script? Do you not feel some pangs of pity for me that I can recite the script word-for-word?

It was 9 am on the East Coast when I got the Geek Squad auto renewal. I thought it might be easier at that hour to get through to Best Buy than the credit card outfit for which I pay an exorbitant fee for supposedly premium customer service that I’ve never yet gotten. Someone promptly answered the phone (first sign of a scam), and I would guess he was in India. After a few minutes of engagement, I sensed a scam and told him so. He took great umbrage. “I’m Geek Squad and I’m trying to help you,” he said, threatening to hang up. The “representative” asked for the invoice number, and I foolishly gave it to him. I’ve since figured out the scam: He could match the bogus invoice number with my email address, and he likely had caller ID, so he captured my phone number. With all this info, he was off to the races.

I could have saved myself considerable time and angst had I first searched “Geek Squad auto renewal scam.” Learn from my mistakes!

These days it’s near impossible to tell a scam from a legal shakedown. Months ago, I received emails from a Canadian-based company called PicRights demanding payment for using some photos on my website that it said were copyrighted. The automated emails arrived near midnight California time. PicRights’ online reputation is very sketchy, so I ignored their threats.

I’ve recently received an email from a California law firm called Higbee & Associates claiming to represent the Associated Press and PicRights Europe and demanding payment of $2,800, plus late fees, if I didn’t pay up within five days. Higbee’s letter advised that if I was a “non-commercial entity” to “let us know as you are probably receiving this letter in error.” Higbee’s online reputation also is far from pristine, but as a courtesy I let them know I don’t make a penny from the starkmanapproved website. A young woman in Las Vegas who previously worked as a dog walker and concierge followed up saying I was still liable for damages.

Street view of Higbee law firm address.

The Associated Press confirmed Higbee represents them. Shame on the Associated Press!

Another cast of characters stinking up my email inbox are millennials sending out blast emails addressed to me personally. They think they are really clever putting in the subject header such things as “Re: Following up” or “Next steps.” One particularly brazen header was, “Just tried calling you” and listed my actual phone number. When someone tries deceiving me from the get-go, they have no chance of gaining my trust and getting my business. The blast emails invariably pertain to services for my PR firm, which I shut down more than five years ago.

I’m against capital punishment, but I am in favor of public wedgies where the developers of marketing software intended to deceive are pulled up by their sustainable cotton underwear and left hanging in their skinny jeans on poles and posts scattered across the Bay area. San Francisco is a cesspool of crime, but I’d risk a visit to the city to behold the spectacle and shout obscenities at the offenders. I’d feel empowered.

Then there are the online publications and newsletters that land in my inbox like “Civil Patriot,” “Patriot All American,” “Ozy Daily Dose,” (not to be confused with “Ozy Presidential Brief”), and a host of other publications with dubious names that share their unwanted prose and insights with me. It’s a hazard of subscribing to so many supposedly legitimate publications, which then sell my private contact info for nary a penny. When I try to unsubscribe, the questionable publications ask me to provide my email. I’m reluctant to do so for fear of making matters worse.

Seemingly every merchant from whom I buy goods feels that I want to maintain a pen pal relationship with them. I recently ordered some area rugs and the company immediately began hounding me with special referral and other offers. I’m not sure about you, but for me buying area rugs is not a regular occurrence, and when friends and families call, I never think to sell them solutions for their floor covering needs. 

Also annoying me are the myriad sales offers, which are only good until a certain date, and come with seemingly a dozen reminders the deadline is imminent, then warnings only a few hours remain, and then an email saying the sale has been extended, prompting another spate of emails. For all the advancements in technology, this “sale” strategy was honed long before the internet. When I lived in Detroit in the 80s, there was a furniture retailer called Art Van, where the absolutely, positively best sale of the year started every Wednesday and continued till Sunday, and then was extended till Tuesday. Alas, Art Van went bankrupt after getting acquired by a private equity firm.

The most dreaded emails are the “Do Not Reply” messages containing critical and often erroneous information from my bank and other institutions I rely on or do business with. These emails require me to immediately drop what I’m doing and call them. This happens with alarming frequency, hence the reason I know the “heavy call volume” script. In a sane and just world, sending “Do Not Reply” emails would be banned, the senders jailed for life.

‘Tis the time of year when corporate marketers and online engagement specialists step up their game and bombard me with phony holiday wishes, hoping to sell more goods and services. The messages ring hollow, as the only holiday greetings that resonate with me are on printed Hallmark cards, which assure me the sender cared enough to send the very best. If marketers and engagement specialists wanted to extend genuine goodwill, they’d forever take me off their distribution lists.

Thanks for reading and letting me vent. With that, have a happy holiday and all the best in 2022. It’s not a Hallmark card, but if you subscribe to this blog, the sentiment is heartfelt. I appreciate the support and always feel welcome to send me an email!

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