Spamming refers to sending copies of an email to a large number of recipients who didn’t ask for it. While spam can be sent through various mechanisms, we typically think of spam as being associated with email. Spam can refer to any unwanted email sent in bulk, but it often involves some sort of commercial angle, asking the user to click on some link in order to buy something.

Given the inexpensive nature of sending millions of emails to unsuspecting recipients, the spammers need only a tiny response rate in order to make their money. If nobody ever bought stuff that showed up as spam, the spammers would have to close up shop. Obviously that hasn’t happened. “It is estimated that spammers can make profit even if only one recipient out of every 100,000 purchases their advertised products.”5

Spam emails consume a great deal of Internet bandwidth.

A study carried out in 2007 estimated that spam accounted for 85% of email traffic and this percentage would increase to 90% by year end if the prevailing trends continued. Spam cost business 50 billion dollars around the world in 2005.6

Spam Filters

One of the easiest and most convenient ways to reduce spam is to use a spam filter. They are not perfect, but they are helpful. A spam filter attempts to automatically detect and remove spam email before you even see it. The technology underlying spam filters has continued to improve over the years and has become fairly effective.

Sometimes a spam filter will get false positives—legitimate emails that wind up in the junk folder. Other times spam filters will miss positives—spam emails that make it past the filter into your inbox. Still, good spam filters eliminate a great deal of spam email. These days I receive almost no unwanted spam in my inbox. Popular email systems (like Gmail and Hotmail) do a very good job of spam filtering. If you use a desktop email application (like Mac Mail or Microsoft Outlook) that does its own filtering, you get an additional level of protection.

You can reduce your exposure to the dangers of spam by doing a few critical things:

Never buy anything advertised in a spam email! Ever. How do you know whether it’s spam? Simple. If the email is advertising something and it is sent by a company with whom you have no existing business relationship, then consider it spam. Better safe than sorry.

Do NOT use the unsubscribe feature in a spam email. This may seem non-intuitive. Realize that the spammers have no interest in actually unsubscribing you. They do have an interest in finding out whether your email address is functional. When you click on the unsubscribe button, it sends them a message that your email is functional and valid. The value of your email address to the spam market just went through the roof and your spam problem just got worse.

5 Nadeem Jamali and Hongxing Geng, “A Mailbox Ownership Based Mechanism for Curbing Spam,” Computer Communications 31, no. 15 (2008): 3586.
6 Ibid.

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