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E-mails to Seminole: heavy doses of spam

It seems like the ultimate communication tool in a democracy. But most e-mail is just chain letters, ads and scams.

Published August 17, 2005

SEMINOLE - Technology can be a wonderful thing, allowing people to keep in touch with each other - and their elected officials - at the click of a mouse button.

A first glance at city e-mail accounts belonging to Seminole council members seems to indicate that lots of people want to talk with their elected officials. Consider these e-mail counts as of Monday morning:

Mayor Dottie Reeder had 263 e-mails in her inbox, not to mention a whopping 1,139 in her deleted file.

Council member Janet Long had 263 in her inbox; Pat Hartstein had 154; and Bob Matthews had 786.

Council members Jimmy Johnson, Dan Hester and John Counts collectively had fewer than 60 e-mails in their collective inboxes.

But a deeper look shows constituent e-mails are few and far between. Instead, most of the correspondence is typical spam - ads for drugs, invitations to pornographic sites, stock tips and money scams.

"We get a lot of stuff," Reeder said.

The large counts were, in some cases, caused by council members' failure to check the city's e-mail system. Until they had a short lesson during a workshop a few weeks ago, some seemed unclear about how to access them.

Council members say they were checking the e-mails, which are forwarded to home and laptop computers. They just never came back to the city system to clear out their files. Even now, it's hard, Reeder said, to get the time to do it because there are so many e-mails.

Some of it does have to do with city business. In Reeder's basket were notices from such groups as Pinellas County Economic Development and a note from resident Nina Lupini thanking her for her compassion regarding the plight of mobile home park residents when the park is sold.

Matthews had messages from Seminole fire Chief Dan Graves reporting on the health of an ill firefighter.

Johnson had sent the other council members e-mails praising the city's new banners and informing them of Chamber of Commerce luncheons.

But the vast majority had nothing to do with Seminole city business.

Counts and some of the others received a plea purported to be from Naeem Cheema, manager of the National Bank of Abu Dhabi. The letter asked Counts to masquerade as the next of kin for a deceased account holder and promised to split $12-million.

Counts said he simply deletes such items and does his best to see they are blocked so there is no repeat mail. Counts has, he said, been lucky to only receive such spam as the Cheema letter, stock tips and computer software sales pitches.

Reeder is less lucky. She gets many drug ads, as well as the stock tips and letters like Cheema's. But she also gets other things.

One e-mail from "Warren" was titled "I found your pics on this site."

When opened, it was an ad for a pornographic site that promised "probably the youngest and hottest models on the net!"

Reeder said she deletes everything she does not recognize and anything that says "Viagra."

"It's awful. It's just awful," Reeder said.

As for the heading referring to "pics" of her on the net, she said, tongue in cheek, "To my knowledge, I've never had a picture taken that would impress anyone."

[Last modified August 17, 2005, 01:09:16]

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