Last month, I took everyone on a journey through my spam folder, exploring some of the newest scams (Inbox, July 23). The most irritating was...

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Last month, I took everyone on a journey through my spam folder, exploring some of the newest scams (Inbox, July 23). The most irritating was the one that promises a free something or other, just for answering some questions or signing up to hear some sales pitch.


Previously, I thought this was some kind of harmless scam designed to collect addresses. Further investigation proves that it was all the more onerous, even as I discovered one new practice that is a clear improvement over how it was done before.


After writing last month’s high-minded column I received a solicitation for something that would land me a digital camera and a laptop — free. I have both, but that wasn’t the point. My less-fortunate colleagues always look at me with some envy. Wouldn’t it be cool if I could spread the wealth here?


Well, OK. I wasn’t sure that I was going to give the stuff away. I just wanted to take another shot.


There were three stages involved. The first was signing up for quotes for one thing or another. I checked two. The second was a selection of music and DVD clubs. I joined. The third offered jewelry, kids’ furniture, a cruise.


Wait a minute. I got the CDs and the DVDs because it required a small investment. But if I was going to get jewelry and a cruise, I would spend more money than it would cost to get a camera and a laptop.


I could almost see Mr. Spam-god thunder away: “Gotcha!”


So I logged off, ran away, and called my credit card claiming fraud. The spammer got me to sign up for this music club under false pretenses, and I wasn’t going to spend a dime.


But things change. A few days later I got a notice of shipment — that I was getting three CDs that I sort of wanted for a total of $7. OK, then. I’ll just buy another disc and cancel. No big deal.


Then, an epiphany of sorts. The club sent notice of this month’s selection, an album by Fleetwood Mac that I’d already bought. Twice. In order to prevent its arrival I just had to send a return mail.


This represented a great leap from past behavior. The last time I joined one of these clubs I ended up with a Barbra Streisand CD because I didn’t send a letter in time.


Now, all I have to do is hit “Return” and there are no worries. This is too easy. I’m not canceling the relationship due to fraud.


In fact, I’ll probably stay put for a while. It’s a good way to get cheap music, and the lack of a snarky return envelope takes away the risk.


The idea behind the return envelopes is that many people forget them and end up buying stuff they don’t want. It’s way too inconvenient to return stuff, so you get stuck with items you don’t want. And you’ll probably quit the club as soon as you remember to do so.


By offering e-mail replies the clubs are making less money. Fewer people are getting suckered. On the other hand, as they do business honestly more people will join these clubs because e-mail makes it easier to say, “No, thank you.”


If you have questions or suggestions for Charles Bermant, you can contact him by e-mail at cbermant@seattletimes.com. Type Inbox in the subject field. More columns at www.seattletimes.com/columnists.