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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 Visual Studio Magazine.

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Reader Comments:

Mon, May 10, 2010

6 years later and things haven't changed.

Fri, May 28, 2004 Anonymous Anonymous

SPAM will be the death of the Internet

Wed, May 26, 2004 Mitch New Haven

When will the government realize that they are losing this battle. These spammers have absolutely no cares in the world. They feel that they can get away with anything. CRIMINAL

Wed, May 26, 2004 Red Ottawa

I can not believe that peopleget away with this.

Thu, May 20, 2004 Dom Anonymous

I have no doubts that spammers buy lists of subscribers from unscrupulous companies. In addition if you ever post your e-mail address on the net, a spam robot will find it by looking for the @ sign. A quick way to see how spammers get your e-mail address is to put your e-mail address in Google, and see how many times it appears.

Wed, May 19, 2004 Jessie Boston

My favorite line from this study is when one of the spammers was asked How long will you continue to spam? He said:
“When I either get arrested, or until porn stops selling. In other words - No time soon!” - a classic

Wed, May 19, 2004 Anonymous Anonymous

"Push" marketing (telemarketing, cellphone marketing, and email spam) seems to me is very insidious and relies on gullible consumers.

Wed, May 19, 2004 BaBa Europe / World

Sorry to say but all of you who mailed to this 'forum' to express their thoughts, ther mail is automatically registered, and who knows for what amount of $$$$ somebody will sell it. So don't be surprized if you will get again unwanted SPAM!!! Who is mailing SPAM should be punished like a CRIMINAL!! As we are the victims!! We have to create a strong lobby!!

Wed, May 19, 2004 Anonymous Anonymous

I am dumbfounded at the callousness and lack of caring that these spammers exhibit. As an IT person, I profit from these people as well, but as a father of 2, I can not stomach what these “people” are exposing our children to.

Tue, May 18, 2004 John New Port

CAN SPAM has a lot more flaws than simply its "opt-out" part. You have a question of enforcement as well. All in all it is a lousy law. You can tell by reading the article that spammers really know how to manipulate the law.

Mon, May 17, 2004 Storm Toronto

The problem with CANSPAM is that it is opt out. Opt out laws do not work because it puts it in the hands of the spammers to dictate how you shall be able to opt-out. Imagine that you want to opt out from porn spam, and the spammer makes you go onto his site to opt out. In addition what these spammers do, is that when you opt out all that does is tell the spammer that you are a real person.
Atleast you have a law in the US, we in Canada have no spam laws, it is the wild west up here.

Mon, May 17, 2004 Iian London

It is not the laws that will rid us of spam. It is when we stop buying the products that spammers sell.
It is when we do not go onto the links they supply.
It is when they stop earning money.
I think that a list should be created of companies that support spam. These companies should be boycotted.

Mon, May 17, 2004 Ali Anonymous

I look at things like a do-not-spam list being created, and I think it will have no effect on spam. I read Vircom`s other study about the laws, and their experts said that CAN SPAM is a good start, but will have minimum effects on spam.
It is discouraging, something as great as this and people exploit it with spam and viruses.

Mon, May 17, 2004 Dominic Anonymous

The big problem with spam is that it is reactionary.
Laws like CAN-SPAM is a knee jerk reaction from the Bush administration to make it look like they were doing something.
We use a lousy open source antispam solution that we have to wiat for them to create a fix for, everytime something new comes
It seem to me that the only ones who are not reactionary are the spammers themselves.
From the study, it is clear that they are the ones in charge, not Washington

Mon, May 17, 2004 Robert Charlotte

What I found particularly interesting about the study is the tricks the spammers use to get around antispam filters.
From an IT prospective I am pretty impressed with some of the enginuity these spammers show.

Sat, May 15, 2004 Anonymous Anonymous

I think answer is to let in only people you know. all else gets deleted.

Sat, May 15, 2004 Anonymous Australia

Because just like many people who have a negative impact on the world, they care only for themselves.
Bad Things Happen When Good People Do Nothing

Fri, May 14, 2004 Anonymous Anonymous

To say that these are just people trying to make a buck misses at least one point. Sure they need to make a living but there are limits on how you do that. Applying the same logic we can deduce that as long as your aim is make money it is all right to sell crack to grade schoolers. After all, no body is making them buy and the seller needs to make a living in these trying times.

Fri, May 14, 2004 louis San Fran

Will spam ever end?
I doubt it, I hope but as long as they can earn money and not have to worry about reprocussions, then spam will not stop

Fri, May 14, 2004 Anonymous Anonymous

why can't the government just get involved and pass a bill that will work.
I hate to admit this but I agree with the spammer who said that the US government has had zero effect in controlling spam.
If you ever reac the CAN SPAM law, you can easily see that no commercial e-mails legitimate or spam meets the criteria for CAN SPAM

Fri, May 14, 2004 Jenna Calgary

These people are like hoses with bliders on. it amazes me that they do not realize the harm they are doing. Speaking for myself, we get atleast 1,000 spams a day. for an office of 8, that is a heck of a lot.

Great article, you really showed these people for who they are

Fri, May 14, 2004 Dan NY

As an IT guy, Spam is a double edged sword. I have job security because of these jokers, but because we use a free open source filters, I have to spend countless hours adjusting and readjusting it.
At the end of the day, it is spammers like these that give people like me a job

Fri, May 14, 2004 Andy Michigan

Hey, all this spam and viruses for that matter keep me in demand at work. I selfishly look at it like job security for me. I as well use filters, so its not much of a problem for me personally.

Thu, May 13, 2004 Anonymous Anonymous

I find it hard to believe that anyone buys anything from a spam-induced suggestion. There must be a lot of brain-dead induhviduals out there.

Thu, May 13, 2004 Anonymous Anonymous

What interests me more is how spammers get away with it. Obviously they must be a way to contact the people to obtain the product, cannot that also be used to prosecute those who invade our space to sell products to us without our consent?

Thu, May 13, 2004 Anonymous Anonymous

I equate spammers to horse thieves. The punishment should be the same.

Thu, May 13, 2004 aovalles Dominican Republic

I dont like spam. I dont want to be distracted from important things. When I want to buy something I visit some website and buy it, if i want to receive some type of adds then I ask... But receiving all types of things that I am not interested in makes me waste my time which I would prefer to spend on better things than deleting garbage.

Thu, May 13, 2004 Lisa Anonymous

In a free society you can say that spammers have as much rights as anyone else to make a living.
What makes their career path particularly distasteful is that they do not seem to care who they are offending, be it man woman or child, as long as they can earn the all mighty dollar

Thu, May 13, 2004 Anonymous Anonymous

I can not believe that this Virginia girl tests her spam with the spam filter in her fathers office.
Maybe it is just me but that is so wrong.

Thu, May 13, 2004 Anonymous Anonymous

Fantastic Article, really hits home...
No wait a second, I can not use my e-mail at home because it is clogged with spam

Thu, May 13, 2004 Charlie Toronto

Hit the spammers where they live, don't buy their products, don't support any company that uses spammers to peddle their poison

Thu, May 13, 2004 Anonymous Anonymous

I have known strippers, I have known con artists, but spammers are a cut beneath them

Thu, May 13, 2004 Anonymous Anonymous

Maybe if you go after the people who hire these spammers, then you may be able to control the proble.
Slap Pfizer with a multi-million dollar fine, then they may try and control their resellers...

Thu, May 13, 2004 Anonymous Anonymous

Maybe if you go after the people who hire these spammers, then you may be able to control the proble.
Slap Pfizer with a multi-million dollar fine, then they may try and control their resellers...

Thu, May 13, 2004 Anonymous Anonymous

Maybe if you go after the people who hire these spammers, then you may be able to control the proble.
Slap Pfizer with a multi-million dollar fine, then they may try and control their resellers...

Thu, May 13, 2004 Anonymous Anonymous

Maybe if you go after the people who hire these spammers, then you may be able to control the proble.
Slap Pfizer with a multi-million dollar fine, then they may try and control their resellers...

Thu, May 13, 2004 Anonymous Detroit

Maybe if you go after the people who hire these spammers, then you may be able to control the proble.
Slap Pfizer with a multi-million dollar fine, then they may try and control their resellers...

Thu, May 13, 2004 Anonymous Detroit

Maybe if you go after the people who hire these spammers, then you may be able to control the proble.
Slap Pfizer with a multi-million dollar fine, then they may try and control their resellers...

Thu, May 13, 2004 Anonymous Detroit

Maybe if you go after the people who hire these spammers, then you may be able to control the proble.
Slap Pfizer with a multi-million dollar fine, then they may try and control their resellers...

Thu, May 13, 2004 Anonymous Detroit

Maybe if you go after the people who hire these spammers, then you may be able to control the proble.
Slap Pfizer with a multi-million dollar fine, then they may try and control their resellers...

Thu, May 13, 2004 Vinnie New Jersey

I wish I only got 65% spam, my spam is more like 80 - 85%. 1 good piece of e-mail for a half an hours worth of work.
Great article, Great Report worth the download

Thu, May 13, 2004 Anonymous Anonymous

How about chopping of fingers of convicted spammers? A new finger for each time they are caught. For those who "peddle flesh" without regard to the effect it may have on people, how about a finger and and eye for each conviction?
I would be happy to perform the surgery.

Thu, May 13, 2004 Anonymous Anonymous

All I know is that I no longer get telemarketing calls thanks to the Government and their Do Not Call list that they created. If they can find a way to do the same for spammers, then they've got my vote.

Thu, May 13, 2004 Jeff Chicaco, IL

Spam currently comprises over 65% of the email that my company receives. We recently switched to a different (i.e., more costly...) email service provider that blocks or filters much of this before it can waste time for our employees. The provider's statistics indicate that, on average, more than 85% of the email their clients receive is spam. If someone has to sort through 85 pieces of junk to get at 15 business-critical communications, how can that NOT affect productivity? I agree: Spammers are greedy and selfish; any legitimate businesses advertised via spam should be boycotted.

Thu, May 13, 2004 Hutch Denver, CO

Spam is indeed pestilential, not to be borne. However, for several reasons, it is an inappropriate target for government regulation or prohibition.

The only real way to reduce and eliminate spam is to let the actual sellers (as opposed to the spammers themselves) know that we don't appreciate it and will not condone it.

Boycott any firm that uses spam in ANY form. Tell them that you are boycotting and tell them why. Encourage others to do the same.

Once legitimate companies stop trying to sell their wares by spamming, we can know that spam is only coming from illegitimate sources and those can and should be dealt with by existing laws.

Thu, May 13, 2004 Anonymous Anonymous

Spammers, like many others, are looking for a quick way to earn the most money for the least amount of work. It's a typically perverse and invasive way of thinking that permeates more than just their business sense. Whenever someone feels they have the "right" to send you spam (which usually has a blatant lie at the bottom stating "you opted to receive this from us or one of our marketing partners"), they probably also turn in front of other cars on the road, think nothing of butting in lines, don't use signals when driving, take 9 items through the 1-8 items checkout lane, and various other selfish acts. Using spam as marketing is just another selfish act they can add to their list of selfishness, and justify it with "well, it's my right to email whomever I want".

Enjoy your rights. No one else does.

Thu, May 13, 2004 Anonymous Anonymous

The best way to stop spam is to quit buying their products and services. Has anyone ever purchased viagra from a spammer? If so, please seek professional help (both mentally and medically).

Thu, May 13, 2004 Anonymous Anonymous

Spam is approaching 50% of all email traffic. To say it has no affect on businesses and or individuals is ridiculous. It is not only a nuisance and an invasion of privacy, but also is beginning to be costly in that it is sucking up bandwidth. We need to figure out a way to put a cost to sending spam messages, like postage. At least then the spammers will have to pay.

Thu, May 13, 2004 Anonymous Anonymous

I think it's crazy for spammers to think that they are not causing harm to any users. First of all, there has to be space for all these billions and trillions of spams to be delivered to. That means added hard drive space to servers that handle mail, and bandwidth needed to handle it. not only for ISP's but also corporations. These costs get absorbed by the end users, not the companies. Secondly, corporations having to deal with spam reduces worker productivity (both in the technicians that are trying to fight it and the other employees going through having to delete them, if not, more hard drive space will be required). Again, this either cuts into profits or drives up costs. This is nothing short of blind ignorance and it seems to me that the actions of a few impacting profits or the costs of products for many is a form of theft. Just the same as shoplifters cause prices of products in stores to increase either to offset insurace, security or loss of goods.

Thu, May 13, 2004 Anonymous Anonymous

Sure...blame the government for your own social irresponsibility. Why should you accept blame for causing an undue burden on people's time and productivity? Oh, that's right - it's not illegal so therefore I can disregard even the pretense of courtesy or proper human conduct. What a relief!

Thu, May 13, 2004 Anonymous Anonymous

The person that stated that they do not worry about peddling flesh to children most likely does NOT have children. Spams containing material like this should be a punishable offense. It is bad when you have to close and lock a door to you computer room, just to open email because you are afraid one of your children may be in the room.

Thu, May 13, 2004 Anonymous Anonymous

In a dog-eat-dog world full of government laws designed to destroy human dignity and ruin dreams and aspirations, it is quite obvious that "spam" should be used to earn an honest living when it would be otherwise impossible to survive and earn one's way. Spamming, in providing products and services people need, is certainly better than getting involved in crime in order to get money... Governments should think ahead before trying to place too many restrictions on spam, or attempting to make it outright illegal. There is too much government control based on fear and it has never solved any problem of the world's problems. On the contrary, the more governments come up with their repressive laws, the more problems arise. Insanity is defined as doing the same thing yet expecting different results. I think it is also a good definition for stupidity!!

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