World’s First Internet Spam: Green Card Lottery

The Internet has become an integral part of many people’s lives. If there is a survey about the most useful inventions in technology, internet should be right up there with PC, telephone and even electricity. However, if there is one thing on the internet that bugs everyone, it has to be spam.

The Associated Press published an article highlighting the major events in the Internet’s 40-year history, and one of them is worth mentioning in this blog:

1994: Andreessen and others on the Mosaic team form a company to develop the first commercial Web browser, Netscape, piquing the interest of Microsoft Corp. and other developers who would tap the Web’s commerce potential. Two immigration lawyers introduce the world to spam, advertising their green card lottery services.

Oops! Who would have thought that among all the drugs, x-rated contents and getting rich quickly schemes, immigration would be linked to the birth of SPAM!

But it is no coincidence that green card lottery took home the honor. Even today, there are numerous scammers trying to make a few quick bucks off people eager to immigrate to the United States, and the DV Program is just perfect for them:

First of all, it is a lottery, literally. Anyone with minimum qualifications has a chance to win a green card. If this isn’t attractive, what is? So no matter what the odds of winning are, there will always be a huge crowd willing to give it a shot. Shady businesses never have to worry about the lack of spam targets.

Secondly, many would-be immigrants interested in the GC lottery know nothing about U.S. immigration, making them ideal for spammers.

Thirdly, the U.S. government has limited options to crack down such companies, because some of them may be operating legally, although unethically.

Search engines, on the other hand, aren’t doing much either. A search for “green card lottery” turns up quite a few questionable websites ranked high on top pages. Some of them are clearly marked as scam by service providers such as McAfee’s SiteAdvisor. Hopefully search algorithms will get smarter in the future.

Spammers and scammers use ever-changing techniques to lure victims, but they usually have a few things in common:

  1. Pretend to be U.S. government, or affiliated with government agencies;
  2. Design a logo very similar to that of USCIS or DOS, but hide legal disclaimer in a hart-to-find place;
  3. ChargeĀ  a fee to submit a diversity visa (green card lottery) entry;
  4. Promise better chance of winning if you pay them.

If you receive an email with regard to green card lottery, or come across a website that does any of the above, you should simply ignore them or proceed with extreme caution. Note that there are legitimate businesses, especially community based organizations, that may charge a small fee for filling out DV entry forms on behalf of applicants. This is reasonable, and is helpful to people who don’t know English well enough to complete the task. But submitting a lottery entry is absolutely free. Also the State Department (www.state.gov), which operates the official green card lottery program, only notifies selected applicants by mail – never by email.

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