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Why Are Electronic Greeting Cards a Bad Idea?

Question:  I recently sent a friend of mine an electronic greeting card. He replied that I shouldn’t have. He said that because of my good intentions, he’d now be getting even more spam than ever. Is he right? Did I just screw up? 

Electronic greeting cards seem like such a good idea. A quick point-and-click at an e-card service, and you can send a cute virtual “card” via email. Often they’re even animated, with sounds or music in the background.

Unfortunately, all too often they also have a hidden agenda.

You may be “giving” more than you think.

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The electronic greeting card “gift”

What’s the one piece of information an e-card service needs to have in order to deliver your card?

The email address of the recipient.

By entering an email address into an electronic greeting card service, you’re giving the greeting card company a very valuable gift: a known good email address.

Do you trust them with it?

Would the recipient want you to be handing out their email address like that?

Probably not, for several reasons.

Email address harvesting – the “not so bad” kind

Some companies will use the email address you gave them in two ways:

  • They will send the greeting card you requested to the recipient you specified.
  • They will later send marketing materials to that recipient. Technically, since they didn’t ask for it, this is spam.

I’d call this fairly benign. While the companies probably shouldn’t do this, the ones that fall into this bucket are generally trying to be somewhat above board, and may even have indicated that they would do this in the terms of service most people never read. They’ll probably also have and honor an unsubscribe link in whatever they send.

But, nonetheless, as a result of your sending a greeting card, the recipient got the gift of spam as well.

Email address harvesting – the “pretty darned bad” kind

Not all greeting card sites are “trying to be above board”, as I described above. Some are borderline evil.

No SPAM!Some companies will use the email address you gave them in two ways:

  • They will probably send the greeting card you requested to the recipient you specified.
  • They will start sending their own marketing materials to that recipient. They may then sell that known good email address to other marketing firms, who will flood the recipient’s inbox with even more spam; perhaps related, perhaps not.

That “known good email address” is valuable in the spamming world. As a result, some e-card sites are set up simply to harvest email addresses by folks who want to give nothing more than a holiday or event-related greeting.

Sadly, as a result, the recipient is also given the gift of spam – lots of spam.

But it gets worse.

Email address harvesting – the worst kind

So far, the worst that’s happened is that by sending a greeting card you’ve also potentially “given” the recipient a lengthy gift of spam.

Some sites do even worse.

Enter an email on one of these sites, and you may be giving the gift of malware.

Some – admittedly, probably only a few – sites will happily take the email address you give them, send the greeting card in order to appear legitimate, and then add that email address to their list to begin receiving emails laden with attached viruses.

In the worst case, the greeting card itself (which almost always involves clicking on a link) directs the recipient to a malicious web site, where his or her computer is infected with the latest virus, spyware, or other form of malware.

Quite the “gift” you’ve given, when it happens.

Are there ANY legitimate sources?

Of course.

Do you know which ones they are?

Are you sure?

Me neither.

If you have to send e-cards, of course stick to sites that you know without a doubt are both legitimate and do nothing more with that email address you provide than send exactly one greeting card – no more, no less.

And, with all due respect, the fact that a site’s privacy policy says “we won’t spam” doesn’t guarantee that they won’t. Even here on Ask Leo!, I say it – how do you know I’m not lying? In fact, you don’t. You can choose to believe, as of course I hope you do, but you might also choose to be skeptical. And I can’t blame you.

If you’re not sure – if you don’t know – then you’re taking risks with your friend’s email address.

Would they want you to?

I’m guessing not.


Deal only with reputable sources. If you’ve never heard of the service, steer clear. On the other hand, a larger company with an established reputation, say the Hallmark greeting card company, is more likely to maintain their reputation and play honestly. They have an extensive privacy policy on their website, and I choose to believe it … because they’re Hallmark.

Do it yourself. Let’s face it, basic online greeting cards are nothing more than a pretty picture with some well-chosen words. A few minutes with a graphics program and your own photos, and you can achieve similar results without involving a third party. Personalizing it with your own photo and message is likely to be more meaningful to your recipients anyway.

Use “old technology”.  Speaking of more meaningful, since it’s a little more work, a paper card that you purchase, sign, address, and put in the mail yourself is always going to mean more than something you can do in a click or two online. Send a real card.

The problem is more than just e-cards

Here’s the real dilemma: all the risks and problems I’ve just been discussing apply to any service for which you’re asked to enter someone else’s email address.

Ever seen those links that say “send this article to a friend”? It’s possible that the recipient you specify could get a lot more than just the article.

At a minimum, think twice before entering someone else’s email address into anything other than your own address book or email that you compose yourself.

Make sure you’re not about to give more than you bargained for.

Do this

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14 comments on “Why Are Electronic Greeting Cards a Bad Idea?”

  1. After receiving a card from I got a lot of spam. I always put this down to as it was an e-mail address i only gave out to friends and I did not get spam on that account before. – Beware

  2. If it’s an animated gif, try right-clicking on it and saving it, then email it to the person.

    If it’s flash, I don’t know if you can save by the right-click menu, but it should be in your temporary internet files somewhere. Otherwise have them email it you, then send it on to your friend. At least you’ll get the spam then, not your friend.

    Also, with that mailto thing, can you be sure that it really is the card that gets sent to your friend and not something else, like porn or a virus?

  3. After unsubscribing an invalid email address from (I route the malformed email at work, e.g., boob@ instead of bob@ …), we got more spam but the nature changed from ‘send a greeting card’ to pill pushing. Pathetic.

  4. I once registered to send a card via 123greetings; I’ve since been receiving 5-6 spam messages a day(From ‘editor bob’ or ‘123greetings’, from mortgage refinancing to enlargement pills. No matter how many times I mark it at spam, they get around it.

  5. I’m getting spam on my Yahoo email account from pill pushers and worse. I have no idea where and how the spam started. They even have many of my friends’s email addresses and names listed as the senders. So, if I filter those spam mails, I don’t receive my friends’s REAL emails?

  6. Leo, I suggest a new title for this article: Now at long last, you can indeed give the gift that keeps giving. LOL

  7. Did the first two commenters read all the information on the 123 site prior to sending their emails? NO, because the site asks if you want to go in for BoB’s, or other’s replies, or information. Read before you sign, caveat emptor.

  8. Is anyone safe your article makes me want to never open another email from a friend. I know they start out with good intentions but ends up with me paying the price. Beware of friends that have nothing to do all day but forward sites to you.
    I have a email for friends that send me sites made just for them.

    After they send me two junk mail I send them an email that says my email has changed. Works good I never open anything that is forward to me again.

    Thanks for you inside scope on this topic I would love to put on my blog. Thanks again Donna

  9. Egreeting Cards is a paid card service for all occasion
    cards. It does not sell the emails for spam. But, you
    do pay once a year to use their cards to send. They
    do have very nice cards. I do not use the 123 Cards
    anymore because of the spam.

  10. A family member once sent me a birthday greeting from MyFunCards. I thought it was a good idea and I subscribed and we all started sending each other eCards for various occasions. Then my anti-virus program flagged it once and I got nervous and stopped using it. I haven’t completely unsubscribed so I still get all their reminders about sending eCards at special seasons but I don’t feel comfortable about it anymore.

  11. Sending an e-card gives the live-e-mail list something that makes it even more valuable for marketing or spamming. You have the e-mail address owner’s real name. When an e-mail has the recipient’s full real name (and it isn’t in the e-mail address), the recipient is more likely to read, respond to, or click a link in an e-mail.

  12. @fred
    Don’t presume. I never signed up for the newsletter from 123greetings and I am the person who makes sure to tick off the newsletter option. And yet, I received the said newsletter from the Editor Bob.
    You sound to me like a 123greetings employee… siding with the spammers, laying out judgement on people what they must have and must not have read. Pathetic.

Comments are closed.