Spam & Scams
Email spam is a ubiquitous problem on the Internet. Anyone with an email address has most likely received spam, and if you're like me, and have email addresses that have been around for almost a decade, lots of spam. I generally get about 2000 spam email messages a month on the handful of email accounts I regularly use. Fortunately, about 99.9% of those are caught by my spam filtering service, and I never receive them. Personally, I use a service called Vanquish but there are many other good anti-spam solutions out there some in the form of software, some in the form of a service. None are perfect, but they can help you to reclaim your inbox if you find yourself innundated by spam as most people now do. From cheap software to cheap pills, mortgages to investment 'opportunities,' spam advertises just about anything. Of course, the old adage applies... "If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is." The reason email spam works is because it's cheap to send, and because of that, the advertiser only needs a miniscule response, as low as 0.001% of the people they spam (usually millions). If a spammer sends out a million spam emails, and that percentage buys the product, that's 1000 people. Not bad for minimal effort on the part of the spammer. Unfortunately, the real statistics (as of 2006) are even worse, with up to 8% of recipients actually purchasing products advertised via spam, and a whopping 28% responding to those spam messages (also thereby confirming their email address as valid to the advertiser). With over 12 billion daily spam emails sent, and nearly half of all email traffic being spam, this generates a myriad of practical problems for the Internet. Spam cost nearly $10 billion in 2006, just to cover the bandwidth that it consumes, not to mention clogging mail servers and slowing valid Internet traffic. Most spam actually originates from within the United States. This is because there there are millions of 'zombie' computers in the US (and in the world for that matter) that have viruses / trojan horses that essentially are under the control of primarily foreign spammers. So if your computer is infected with the right virus or root kit, they can use your computer to send out spam for them. Thats one reason why it is important to ensure that your computer is protected by a firewall and good anti virus software that is updated regularly. Now that I have discussed spam, I also want to point out that a growing number of unsolicited emails are not just spam, but fullblown scams. The old adage is most important to keep in mind here: "if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is." While scams come from all over the world, one of the most popular of these scams is coined '419' scams, because many of them originate in Nigeria and 419 is the section of the Nigerian criminal code that deals with fraud. When you're done reading this article, I would highly recommend that you read the article The Perfect Mark by Mitchell Zuckoff. It is the story of how a man named John Worley lost nearly everything as a result of falling for one of these scams. Many of the 419 scams in Nigeria originate from satellite Cyber Cafes in Festac Town near Lagos in Nigeria such as the one pictured. They lock the doors in many of these during the night so that scammers can work without interruption from armed intruders. There is an excellent article about the scammers in Nigeria here. One of the best ways to guarantee that you are the recipient of a lot of spam is to post your email address on many public web sites, where programs called email extractors scour the web and collect email addresses. Another way is to forward emails with tons of email addresses within it, those are often scoured for spam use. I urge everyone to generally follow the advice that if the email asks you to forward it to friends and family, DON'T. If the email has merit, they don't need to ask you to forward it. Also, before you beleive the stories contained in emails, be sure to verify them- and definitely be sure to do this before just blindly forwarding emails, or you can not only look foolish, but be responsible for passing misinformation and harming the people you forward the message to. The best way to do this is to go to www.snopes.com and search for the story- most all email scams and other stories (both false and true) are referenced on that site. They do a great job of declaring the stories as True or False, with data to back them up.