Spam is a term used on the Internet to
refer to unsolicited e-mail and Usenet postings. These messages are usually
intended to entice the recipient into buying a product or service of some
kind or into participating in a get-rich-quick scheme. The senders (known
as spammers) usually distribute their messages to thousands or even
millions of people at once, and they do not ask their recipients beforehand
if they want to receive such mail. Therefore, you will often hear these
messages called bulk e-mail, unsolicited e-mail, or junk e-mail.
Will I receive spam messages? If so, how many will I get?
You very likely will, sooner or later. How soon this will
happen and how many messages you'll get depends on how easy it is for
spammers to get your e-mail address. They can do this in several ways: They
can scan Usenet postings, they can copy addresses off World Wide Web pages,
they can search chat rooms, and they can gather addresses from mailing
lists. They usually don't do any of this by hand; there are numerous
programs that will quickly search thousands of messages, chat rooms, and
Web sites and collect addresses from them. So, depending on how many
spammers get your address, you may only get spammed once every few weeks,
or you may get dozens of messages a day.
So is spam a big problem on the Internet?
Yes, it's one of the biggest problems the Internet faces
today. This is true for several reasons.
- Spam costs
money. You may not realize that every e-mail message has a cost
associated with it, but it does. Transporting data across the Internet
costs money because access providers must invest in increased
transmission and storage capacity as traffic increases. You can't
easily identify the cost as you can with mailing a letter, but it's
there. However, since Internet users generally don't pay more if they
transfer more data, spammers can send out millions of messages just as
cheaply as they can send one. The cost is shared by everyone who uses
the Internet, including you.
- Spam can
slow the performance of the Internet. Large volumes of spam have been
known to slow down e-mail delivery for hours or even days, and it
sometimes even causes some computers on the Internet to crash, further
impeding the network's performance.
- Spam is
just plain rude. Conduct on the Internet is governed by an unwritten
set of rules called Netiquette, and one of those rules is that it's
not acceptable to send out unsolicited mass mailings.
Who sends out these messages?
Spam comes from several sources. Sometimes a single
Internet user will collect a few hundred addresses and send out messages to
them. In other instances, a business may do it to promote a product or
service it is selling. However, the majority of spam comes from companies
whose sole business is to send out millions of messages a day for paying
But I don't want to get these spam messages.
That's just it; spammers generally don't care whether you
want to receive their messages or not. In fact, they know that most people
don't. However, as stated above, it costs no more to send a million
messages than it costs to send one, so there is no financial reason for
spammers to target only those who want to receive their messages. They only
need to receive enough positive responses (sales) to cover their costs of
operations, so they have an incentive to send as many messages as possible.
So what if I e-mail them and tell them I don't want to
get their messages? Will they stop sending them?
Usually this is easier said than done. Since spammers
know that most folks don't want to get their messages, they will often
forge the e-mail header, making it difficult (but not impossible) to
determine where the message really came from. Often the only way to contact
the sender is through a telephone number (sometimes a "900"
number) or a post office box.
Some spam messages will instruct recipients to send an e-mail message if
they don't want to receive future mailings. Beware of this tactic, however,
since it is often used as a means of finding out who actually reads the
spam, resulting in more, not fewer, messages in the future.
So what can I do to stop spam?
First and foremost, don't buy anything from spammers. The
only reason they send out all these messages is because it's profitable. If
people don't buy anything from them, they'll eventually go out of business.
There's another reason not to send money to spammers: You
have no way of knowing if you'll get anything in return. Think about it. If
these people go through so much trouble to hide their identity, can they be
trusted to conduct business in an honest manner? You don't give out your
credit card number to someone who calls you up on the phone, and you should
be just as wary of someone who contacts you via e-mail.
Waiting for spammers to go out of business may be a
long-term solution, but I want to stop getting all these messages now. What
else can I do?
There are several things you can do. First, realize that
spam is just as much of a headache for those who administer Internet sites
as it is for those who receive it, often more so. So if you can determine
whom to complain to, you can often get the spammer's account closed.
Finding the true origin of the spam can be made more difficult when the
mail header is forged, but if you learn how to read these headers, you can
usually figure out where the message came from. Just remember that you
should try to report the spam as soon as you receive it, since time is of
the essence for two reasons. First, reporting the spam as soon as possible
makes it easier for system administrators to track down the offender,
especially when the mail header has been forged. Second, if you report the
spam quickly, the spammer's account(s) can be closed sooner, making it less
likely that he or she will have time to receive e-mail responses and thereby
profit from sending the spam.
If the subject of the spam is an illegal activity, such
as a pyramid scheme or a phony investment offer, you can also contact the
appropriate law enforcement authorities. Most any activity that is illegal
when conducted via the postal service or telephone is also illegal on the
Internet, and the authorities will investigate it and file charges if
Finally, if you feel that legal regulations are necessary
to control spam, you can contact your state or federal legislators.
Legislation to regulate or even outlaw spam has been proposed at both the
state and federal levels. Whether such laws will be passed and what form
they will take will be determined in large part by the opinions of those
who use the Internet, so it is important for users to be heard so that this
issue can be addressed in a thoughtful and evenhanded way.
How can I get more information about spam?
Detailed information about spam and how to deal with it
is readily available on the Internet. Keep in mind that opinions on this
issue vary greatly. Some folks even like spam.