Technology in terms you understand. Sign up for the Confident Computing newsletter for weekly solutions to make your life easier. Click here and get The Ask Leo! Guide to Staying Safe on the Internet — FREE Edition as my thank you for subscribing!

Can’t we just charge spammers per email they send?

Leo, we all have the problem with loads of spam, which not only annoys us,
but costs us in download charges. Most spam comes in mass messages forwarded to
great numbers of people. To stop or to slow spam, is there no possibility of
reversing the email charges so that instead of recipients paying for downloads
the senders are charged as a per-address basis as uploads? This would take edge
off their businesses.

In this excerpt from
Answercast #51
, I look at the difficulties in tracing spam back to its
origin in an attempt to stop it.

Become a Patron of Ask Leo! and go ad-free!

Charging spammers

In theory, what you’re saying would work, except we don’t know who the
spammers are. In a very real sense, when an email message gets sent by a
spammer, there really is no specific and easy way to say, “This is the account
of the spammer that should be charged.” There just isn’t.

Spammers use so many different ways of spoofing and faking and falsifying
where the email is actually coming from, there is no legitimate or reasonable
way for us to trace it back to a spammer who would pay for it.

Stopping spam

And in fact, you’re absolutely right.

If the spammers were forced to pay, spam would disappear overnight because
the whole point of spam is that it can be sent out for effectively free to
millions and millions of people. If even only a small percentage of those
millions and millions of people fall for the spam (or purchase the product or
do whatever), then it becomes profitable.

But unfortunately, there is simply no way to attribute spam to a specific
place that would get charged. There just isn’t.

Where does spam come from?

Think about it. So, often the spam that you get actually comes from
addresses of people that you know. They may not have sent it. You don’t want to
charge them, but the spammers have forged the “From” address.

Even the information in the email headers that will supposedly trace back
the spam to a specific server can be faked.

And in fact, even when it’s not, zombie networks (individuals’ machines) can
be infected with botnets, which means it could be your machine that’s
actually sending out the spam!

If the spam were to get traced back to you, would you pay? I don’t think so
and that’s the whole point. What we want is the spammers to pay.

Fighting spam

Through a lot of detective work, many organizations are able to trace out
large botnets or large spam-sending organizations.

Not through tracing individual emails back to their source, but through
tracing millions and millions of emails back to common sources and the
sources of botnets that are on infected machines.

But it’s a way more complicated endeavor to trace spam back to its
origination – through its true origination; through its true spammers who are
sending it; than something like a simple charge would require.

Subscribe to Confident Computing! Tech problem solving & safety tips & a weekly confidence boost in your inbox every week.

I'll see you there!

10 Reasons Your Computer is Slow

Slow Computer?

Speed up with my special report: 10 Reasons Your Computer is Slow, now updated for Windows 10.

NOW: name your own price! You decide how much to pay -- and yes, that means you can get this report completely free if you so choose. Get your copy now!

6 comments on “Can’t we just charge spammers per email they send?”

  1. Maybe we can’t charge the spammers, but our ISPs can prevent mail from sites that are known to send a lot of spam. If it happens to be a big organization like AOL, the responsibility should rest with AOL to take action against it. If all ISPs worked trogether on this, they would prevent LOTS of spam. Somehow, I doubt they will do this. They have already had years to do something and have failed to take any action. Also, if our justice system would make this a crime with LARGE fines, we would have at least a tool to use when a spammer is apprehended.

    Reply
  2. If they charged spammers I would be in big trouble.
    Millions of spams go out under my domain name. I get hundreds of of undeliverables in my inbox.
    No spammer is going to put themselves as the return address of the email.
    At this point is has been going on for 3 months and I am ready to delete my domain.
    There is nothing anybody can (or is willing to) do to stop spammers. They just move to another innocent persons domain as their return address. If they get blocked they just use another domain, make a new domain ($3-25) or make a new email account at MSN, Yahoo or Gmail for free.
    By the time the legal system gets to them they are long gone.

    Reply
  3. Really??? The spam is selling something or directing you to some website. Let’s start charging the person/company doing the advertising. They know who they hired to send out the spam, let them pay. If they can’t control it then they can stop. The spammer is going to get paid by someone, so they aren’t doing it for free. OR…several companies have suggested that we adopt the new email format where each mail server preserves where the mail is coming from and makes every piece of email traceable – right back to the original computer. If someone is using your computer to send out mail, trace it back to the source. We can use technology to fix this.

    Reply
  4. Even if the source of spam is disguised, there has to be a way for the spammer to receive orders for Canadian pharmacies, penis enlargement pills or whatever. I’ve never understood why the feds don’t trace a route back to the spammer this way. I’m sure there are many intermediaries, but the spammer has to receive the order somehow.

    Reply
  5. My way of fighting spam is to have a personal policy of NEVER purchasing any product that is frequently spammed – no matter how much the saving might be. Doesn’t reduce spam by any means, but it certainly doesn’t reward the spammer (or the company / product owner) that pays some idiot to spam their product(s) on their behalf.

    Reply
  6. We will never be rid of spam, because there will ALWAYS be someone ‘un-savvy’ enough to fall for it. Some of my most recent spam has been job opportunities sent from MYSELF. Why would I send myself info on jobs i know nothing about? Yet SOMEONE must think “gee, I must have forgotten all about it, how thoughtful for me to e-mail it to myself” or the spammers wouldn’t try it again and again.
    Bottom line – if it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is.
    “Trust no-one, and keep you laser handy”

    Reply

Leave a reply:

Before commenting please:

  • Read the article.
  • Comment on the article.
  • No personal information.
  • No spam.

Comments violating those rules will be removed. Comments that don't add value will be removed, including off-topic or content-free comments, or comments that look even a little bit like spam. All comments containing links and certain keywords will be moderated before publication.

I want comments to be valuable for everyone, including those who come later and take the time to read.