Recently a colleague of mine sent a flustered reaction about a solicitation she had received by email where the sender had said they received her address from “Such and Such” Chamber of Commerce.  She went on to say, she wasn’t even a member of that chamber- how could they be distributing her email address?  Did HER Chamber share the information with another Chamber?

I responded with an explanation from my own observations and experience and received some good feedback on how helpful this information was, so I have decided to share it here for all. It seems this isn’t as intuitive or obvious as I used to think to many business people.

Dear Y,
No, I wouldn’t assume that your chamber shared your address with another chamber or anyone else for that matter.  This is simply a spammer who didn’t bother to change his form letter to the chamber that you are member of from which he (or a company he uses for marketing) harvested your email address.

Here’s the reality :

  1. All Chambers have member directories which include address & email addresses. This is a “benefit” so their members can do business with other members
  2. Some of these member directories are online- accessible from anyone in the world.
  3. People will abuse this, whether THEY are members of that chamber or not.
  4. It costs VERY little to hire someone to transcribe an online directory or scanned printed directory into a database of names & addresses that can be used for mail merges etc.
  5. THOSE lists get passed around ad infinitum (maybe you were in the THAT chamber five years ago, the 3rd party created list is not updated as chamber memberships change). I just had someone I know locally send me another Chamber’s mail list. I didn’t ask for it and I don’t use lists, but it was handed to me nonetheless. That person was trying to be a “good guy” by providing this resource to his business buddies.
  6. Spammers want to make their letters look legitimate and personable. “So and so” gave me your name gives them more credibility than having no point of reference.
  7. Sadly legitimate small businesses don’t even think they are SPAMMING when they do this. These are LOCAL businesses soliciting other local businesses.  They have so-called marketing firms or buddies tell them it’s a good idea, that they’ll get the client out in front of “5000” area businesses or such.  I even work with groups that use purchased lists- ultimately, even with assurances from the list source, those groups have no real control of how those addresses were obtained.
  8. I get emails AND phone calls AND mail from people CLAIMING they are also members of the Fair Oaks chamber when they are not. I get email AND phone calls AND mail from people who have harvested my address from various other sources (I can tell since I often use alternate email addresses for different groups and associations).
  9. A group I am with even had a past member posted a nasty blog entry a couple of years ago claiming that the group “sold” their contact information to spammers. This wasn’t the case.  Reality is—UNTIL a couple of years ago—the group’s member directory was posted online, making it easy for a spambot to harvest members emails. 
  10. This spamming and unwanted solicitatious behavior will not stop, especially with such easy targets of consolidated data.

Again, posting member directories with contact information was and still is TYPICAL behavior by associations and chambers. If you’ve ever been or are in any sort of group with a member directory, your email addresses, phone numbers, and addresses have all been exposed by many sources for a very long time.

Sadly, good intentions have been exploited by others. Small businesses unwittingly become spammers as they see nothing wrong with soliciting other local businesses (see my past post The Definition of Spam).