Moms will receive millions of greeting cards this weekend, but husbands, sons and daughters who send an electronic card should use a trusted source or they may see their own e-mailboxes jammed with spam.
Mother's Day is the third largest card-sending occasion behind Christmas and Valentine's Day, with about 150 million paper cards sold each year, according to the Greeting Card Association in Washington. And for those who send well wishes via cyberspace, using products from corporate titans such as Hallmark and American Greetings -- which expect 6 million of their e-cards will be sent this weekend -- are the safest bet, according to technology analysts.
"No-name offers could be coming from bad Internet neighborhoods: You wouldn't go there and you probably wouldn't want them to come to you, either," said Joe Wilcox, senior analyst at JupiterResearch. "Some holiday goodies -- screen savers, wallpaper or greeting cards -- are backloaded with stuff people probably wouldn't want on their computer. That can be adware, spyware or even something worse."
Adware monitors someone's Web surfing and displays pop-up ads related to the subject matter on the pages. Spyware can track personally identifiable information without the consent of a computer's owner or user.
About 70 percent of e-mail messages sent daily are spam, according to government and analyst estimates.
To help computer users avoid e-card companies with potentially harmful cyber strings attached, McAfee Inc.'s SiteAdvisor rates sites green, yellow or red based on the experiences of robotic computer testers.
The automated testers have patrolled 2.5 million sites, downloaded files and entered information on sign-up forms. Each computer is given a unique e-mail address that is used only once so the company knows exactly where future messages
came from, said Shane Keats, market strategist for McAfee SiteAdvisor.
The SiteAdvisor plug-in, which works with Microsoft Corp.'s Internet Explorer and Mozilla Corp.'s Firefox browser, can be downloaded for free and does not collect any personal information or require the purchase of other McAfee products.
The tool tests only the e-mail address used to sign up on sites so Mr. Keats could not say if the e-card receivers -- mothers in this case -- also receive spam.
The Washington Times sent interview requests via e-mail to eight of the sites McAfee SiteAdvisor rated as unsafe or a nuisance for any reason. Two responded.
The message from eforu.com blamed the spam on an infected server that was reformatted this week to correct the problem.
"Our newsletter is double-opt-in only," wrote Joe Daley, chief executive of SRC Technologies, the Hilliard, Ohio, company that runs 2000greetings.com and markets itself as a network security firm. "All members must confirm their subscription by clicking on a link provided in an e-mail they receive after sending a card."
The Can Spam Act of 2003 requires e-mail solicitations give recipients an opt-out method.