Chances are that most of us have tons of unwanted spam sitting in our inboxes right now. It’s something we’ve grown to accept as a necessary evil when it comes to having an email address these days. We all agree it’s an annoyance, but to the spammers who spend their time sending these messages—it can mean big money.
Spam is a slang word used to describe unsolicited emails. By definition, it comes from a source and identity that is anonymous, with no option to stop receiving future messages. It’s rarely sent by the companies that are making the advertisement, and instead comes from spammers who send these messages on their behalf. It’s a lucrative business that generates millions of dollars in revenue each year.
Essentially, this is how it works: a company will enter into an agreement with a spammer to send advertisements on their behalf to unsuspecting recipients. Sometimes the emails will be filtered through special anti-spam software and not even get to an inbox, but other times, it will. And surprisingly, 3 out of every 1 million spam emails sent each day achieves it’s goal of capturing revenue. This might not sound like a lot, but let’s assume that 9,000 emails are responded to, and each reply is worth $20—that comes out to at least $180,000 that a spammer earns each day. There’s a number of things that need to be in place for them to succeed at this, but overall, the business of distributing unsolicited mail can be surprisingly generous. Spammers only needs a small percentage of recipients to be tricked in order to be profitable.
Although spam is sent by nameless individuals who devote themselves to spreading mass emails, lots of well known companies profit from their activity. In some cases, these corporations will use spam to generate leads and collect information from consumers—giving them access to personal data in a matter of minutes. The email is typically sent from an international IP address to avoid both tracking and U.S. laws. And of course, the email almost always promotes "scam" activities that would require the user to turn over sensitive financial or personal information to the sender of the email.
Another way that spammers discover email addresses is to search common public sources on the internet like chat rooms and forums. They often have special software applications that scan web pages and follow links, and then use programs to collect email addresses to solicit consumers. An astonishing 90% of all email messages sent around the globe are believed to be spam.
One of the other methods is social media—which started trending back in 2013. All the spammers have to do is build several fake user accounts on a platform such as Pinterest for example, and then re-pin images to get on the popular page. Curious users will click on the images, and be redirected to a third party site where they either give personal information or pay for a product that’s being advertised. It’s certainly an unethical practice, but it’s quickly becoming a common way for spammers to make a lot of money.
Fortunately, the US Federal Government and most email service providers have put things in place to reduce and eliminate spam email. Laws have been passed that prevent this kind of activity, mainly through the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003. The law was enacted as a way of establishing and setting the national standard for sending commercial email. Since the law was created, trust has slowly increased, and customers are becoming comfortable giving out their email address and other data to companies that they want to hear from. However, there still remains the uphill battle we face as consumers to get rid of the unsolicited mail we don’t want to receive.
Seems like it might be best to accept that some spam will always get through no matter what we do. It’s not worth worrying about overall, as long as you understand the ways to prevent getting tricked into giving your money, or personal information out to spammers who are searching for it.
There are a number of techniques you can use to prevent your email address from ending up on spammers' lists and keep your information private. Using your email to get anything free, posting it in a chat room, or entering in a contest can lead to mountains of spam emails if you aren’t careful. Also, clicking on links from someone you don’t know can definitely trigger a wave of unwanted mail.
Anti-spam software is sometimes undervalued, but the programs really do work hard to stop unsolicited emails. They keep our inboxes clean and we barely ever notice them. But like all things designed by humans, spam filters aren’t perfect. So regardless of what you choose to do, the simple answer is that we all have to live with it.