In between bouts of frustration with my inbox, I’ve been reading your various articles on spam. I think I’m slowly getting a handle on it all, but it sure seems crazy. And it really got me to wondering… why is there so much spam in the first place?
I feel your pain.
I recently did some research for another project of mine, Taming Email, and looked at all my email for last year. Not only do I get a lot of email, but my calculations show that 87% of it was junk. Wow.
Why is there so much spam?
It’s very simple, really.
Become a Patron of Ask Leo! and go ad-free!
I’ll define spam as “unsolicited email” – email you did not ask for.
There are, naturally, different types of spam, but in almost every case, sending spam is so cheap, that it doesn’t take much for a spammer to declare that a spam campaign (spampaign?) is a rousing success.
For example, say a spammer sends out 1,000,000 emails pushing a knock-off of the latest wonder drug. If only a tiny percent, perhaps even just one of the recipients purchases the drug through him, the spammer has made a profit. It doesn’t matter if it’s fake watches, body-part enhancement aids or cheap computer software … if only the tiniest percentage of spam mails result in a sale, then that spam was successful, and you can bet it will continue.
But wait! There’s more!
Then there are scams…
…it doesn’t take much for a spammer to declare that a spam campaign is a rousing success.
The most famous of these scams is the Nigerian scam, where you receive an email, “in confidence”, from some supposed high ranking official attempting to move large amounts of money out of their country. They need your help, and in return they promise you a significant portion of those funds. Once you engage, they then use various techniques to scam money from you until, at some point, you realize you’ve been had.
That’s common knowledge right? Nobody falls for that any more, right?
I thought so too, but it turns out you and I are dead wrong. I checked with my friends at ScamBusters.org and would you believe that $100 to $200 million are lost to these scammers every year!? People continue to fall for it at an alarming rate.
So you can see why variants of it are so incredibly popular right now. As I write this I’m getting notified several times a day of various lotteries I’ve won overseas. I still get variations on the Nigerian scam where the names and countries have been changed. There’s even a variant that has a religious theme now.
And they, too, all exist because they work. They don’t need to work often, but even the occasional success on the scammer/spammer’s part is enough.
But we’re not done yet! There’s still more…
One of the more recent entries into the scam and spam arena is “phishing”. That’s email that looks like it came from a legitimate source, like eBay, or your bank, or whatever, and it asks you to visit some site to confirm or update some information. When you get to that site, which again, looks legitimate, you’re asked to provide personal information like your credit card number.
The problem, of course, is that the sites weren’t legitimate, and you’ve just given your personal information to a scammer, who’s probably using, or selling, your information within minutes.
These are perhaps the most understandable traps to fall into. They’re new, and some are very well crafted. (Some aren’t, but that’s a different story, and people fall for those too.)
So why is there so much spam? Because it works. It’s dirt cheap to send out a ton of spam, and as long as even just a few people respond to spam, spammers see it as a success and will continue to find ways to get their junk into our inboxes.
So what about those few people? Are they ignorant? Naive? Uninformed? Desperate? Perhaps even, dare I say it, stupid?
Yes. No. All of the above. Maybe. Sometimes.
There’s no one answer to be drawn. Definitely many people aren’t as educated about scams as they should be, but that, like the Nigerian scam even, predates email and the internet. The promise of something for next to nothing is simply too much for some people, and thus they become direct victims.
And the rest of us become indirect victims as we wade through the sea of spam.