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Why do Spammers Spam?

Are spammers mostly misunderstood individuals who are providing a valuable service?

Spamming is a lucrative business that can be started up for a ridiculously small amount of money. And in the end, spammers are mostly misunderstood individuals who are providing a valuable service. So they say.

Those are some of the conclusions from a special report published by anti-spam vendor Vircom. The report, "Why Spammers Spam", sheds some light on the shadowy world of junk e-mailers. By agreeing not to reveal any information about them, including their real or online names, and printing their responses to questions verbatim, Vircom was able to entice three spammers to talk about their industry.

"Virginia," a 19-year-old college student, started spamming to help pay for tuition. She said "…all I had to do was invest in a new Internet provider, and buy a list of e-mail addresses. I started up for pretty much nothing and turned a profit on the first day!" According to Vircom, "Most spammers can get started for under $1,500 and may earn back their initial investment within a few days."

As to the types of products they peddle, Virginia says she's had success with low-carb diet plans and discount travel. "Thomas" says "I have peddled everything from diet pills to porn. I usually get the biggest response from porn."

To make sure their spam gets through, Thomas says "I use two spam filters; one is open source that I downloaded for free, and the other is an enterprise copy of a commercial filter." Virginia uses the spam filter in her father's office. "If I can get through it, then I can get through most spam filters."

The spammers interviewed have a remarkable ability to minimize, in their minds, the impact their work has on businesses and home users. Answering the question "What are the costs to the public from spam?" "Matt" answers simply, "Nothing." Matt also doesn't think the government's efforts at controlling spam are working. "Right now, the U.S. government has had zero results in controlling spam. Perhaps if they review some of its problems then it will have an effect."

Especially revealing were answers on whether the spammers worry about the recipients who get their messages. "The possibility of children being exposed to certain types of messages weighed upon all of the participants, but they all maintain a distant, almost detached outlook," Vircom states.

Virginia said she does worry. "Definitely, that is why I will never market porn," she says. Matt has no such qualms. "I have peddled flesh in the past, and will do it again. I am not going to lie and say that I am above that. The fact is that skin sells!" According to Thomas, "When you [spam], you do not look at the names in your database as individuals. You have millions of them."

Ironically, although they say the spam problem is overblown, it's clear that even spammers don't like it. "I use a spam filter so I receive very few" spams, says Thomas.

A copy of the report can be obtained from www.vircom.com/Products/Modus3/Whitepapers.asp.

About the Author

Keith Ward is the editor in chief of Virtualization Review.

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