So What Is Spam and Why Are They Sending It To Me?

Written by spamfighters  |  05. September 2003

What is spam? Have you ever received e-mail in your inbox with headlines such as "Need Viagra?", "Lose Those Extra Pounds Today", "Bad Credit? No Problem" or "Size Does Matter"? You probably didn't request this e-mail and you probably don't know who sent it to you. If you are reading this article, you may be one of the many e-mail users disturbed by the proliferation of Unsolicited Commercial E-mail (UCE) or "spam". Named after the Hormel meat product made famous by the Monty Python team, but spelled with a small "s" for property rights reasons, spam is quietly becoming a daily nuisance for many e-mail users. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) contends that they receive more than 130,000 spam complaints each day and that the average American computer user receives almost 2,200 spam e-mails per year. The FTC estimates that this translates into almost three trillion spam e-mails per annum and more than 48% of internet e-mail traffic. That is a lot of unwanted e-mail. And that accounts for only traditional forms of spam. Why are they sending this to me? First and foremost because the internet is anonymous. Spammers use a variety of methods so you won't know who they are or where they came from. Spammers usually use forged e-mail addresses (fake addresses in the "From" line) and frequently forge address information in the header part of the e-mail (the technical info). Or they will send it through what is called an Open Relay. This is basically someone else's legitimate webserver that forwards all e-mail that is directed to it, so that it will look like the spam came from them. In the same way, that the identity of people you may chat with on-line is hidden, spammers cloak their identity as well. The anonymity of the internet is as much a part of the problem of spam, as it is it's mass appeal. Spammers send unsolicited mail to virtually anyone with an e-mail address. Once they have culled this address, they send mail in the hopes that you will buy one of their products. Electronic mail is so inexpensive relative to traditional snail mail, that the sender of the mail has a tiny overhead compared to US Postal mail and potentially a higher financial return. Because spam is so cheap to send, it pays to send a lot, even if there is a lower response rate. And as long as some e-mail users buy products from those sending spam, the people behind the "spam" have a financial incentive to continue. If you buy products on the internet from spam e-mails you are subsidizing the spammers to continue.

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