Spam–And Not the Funny Kind

Well, that didn’t take long.

I’ve been on Twitter less than a week, and already I’ve gotten as much spam at this address as I had in the previous year and a half.

Granted, we’re not talking huge absolute numbers. Before this week, I’d gotten exactly two spam e-mails. Since I first tweeted last Wednesday, I’ve gotten two more.

Let me make it clear that I’m not blaming Twitter. If you have an e-mail address, you’re going to get spam. Period. Even if you don’t publicize it in any way, you’ll get hit by someone generating random addresses. Publicize the address and you’ll get even more spam. I’m sure I’ll get at least two more spam e-mails shortly after I join [latest must-use social network].

At least in the US, there are laws to prevent spam. Unfortunately, as The Register points out, the law only allows ISPs to sue spammers, not the individuals who get spammed. Nor does the FTC have any funding to go after spammers. So if you get a few dozen–or hundred, or thousand–spam messages, you need to convince your e-mail provider to pursue the sender on your behalf. Good luck convincing Google or Comcast. Even if they took any action, the cost of investigating, much less actually suing, would far exceed any damages they could claim.

But I digress. I didn’t intend to bitch about being spammed. What I wanted to talk about is how uncreative the spammers are. I see the same spams over and over. Take the attempts to spam the comments on this blog*. They fall into four categories. As I write this, there are twenty-seven comments in the spam trap waiting for my review.

* Granted, comment spam isn’t quite the same as e-mail, but the principles are similar.

  1. Flattery – Fifteen are compliments on my wonderful writing, the lovely layout of the blog, or the great music I’m sharing. It’s boilerplate text: I get the same compliments over and over. (I include the ones asking for suggestions for tools to keep the spammer’s blog free of spam in this category. There are two of those in the current batch.) Oh, and let’s not forget the ones who claim I visited their website and they’re just returning the favor. That’s so nice of them. Why do they all think I’ll be flattered when they go on to tell me they’re planning to steal my content to enhance their own sites? (The e-mail equivalent of these comments are the attempts to offer me loans at ruinous interest rates by telling me how wonderful my credit score is.)
  2. Offers to help improve my site – Four are offers to sell me search optimization tools or pre-optimized content. I love those latter ones: no reason why I should go to all the trouble of writing content, right? Just buy schlock that used to be high in Google’s rankings and I’ll make a fortune from the ads on my site. Because of course the only reason anyone would have a blog would be to use it as an ad farm. Note, by the way, that none of the links in the four spams in the current batch actually lead to sites selling SEO tools or SEO content. Two are selling clothing, one is selling fake rolexes, and the other is, I think, offering some kind of dietary supplements. I’m not certain about that last one. The site is in French, a language I don’t know.
  3. Sales pitches – Four are flat-out sales attempts. Typically three-quarters of them are a long list of links, and the rest are a short blurb about what they’re selling.
  4. Other – I’ve got four of them in this batch. Three are the kind of word salad we’ve laughed about in previous posts. I’m particularly amused by the attempt to sell Louis Vuitton suitcases by telling me that scientists believe the cause of “the disorder” is a viral infection. I infer that the disorder in question is the need for designer luggage. Or maybe the need to send spam.

So, twenty-seven spams. One using a method I haven’t seen before: someone in Poland is trying to sell space heaters by telling me that he’s not satisfied with the content on my blog. “I have not identified what I desired,” he assures me. I’m tempted to send him U2’s latest album. Maybe that’s what he’s looking for.

Why do they keep trying the same techniques over and over, usually using exactly the same words? Do they really get enough clicks to cover the cost of renting the software that spreads the spam? (I’m not even considering the cost of the website they’re trying to lure us suckers into visiting.)

I doubt it. My suspicion is that spam has reached the point where it becomes self-sustaining. People see how much of it there is, figure that if there’s so much, it must be because it works, and they send their own hoping to get rich quickly. That means more people see more spam, and jump on the bandwagon. The only ones getting rich, of course, are the ones who write the spam-sending software.

2 thoughts on “Spam–And Not the Funny Kind

  1. Now, that is an interesting premise, Casey- I mean, the possibility that spam may have become, in a sense, self-generating, based on nothing more than the belief that there must be some rewarding reason so many others are doing it, rather than empirical evidence. In essence what you’re saying is, spamming has become an act of faith which, of course, puts it in the realm of the spiritual (if not religious).
    Thinking of it this way allows me to feel a tinge of pity, and even compassion, for the nameless, penniless Nigerian (for example), dressed in threadbare, filthy clothing, sending his message, like a prayer, into the Great Web. Surely, surely, someone will answer and offer succor. He has burned his incense and candle, he has paid the Hag two copper pennies- let his hopes and dreams take wing, into the Cloud, from whence it will, surely, reach the eyes of someone who’s response will be his salvation.
    It’s touching, really, if one has the slightest bit of compassion. Of course, it doesn’t help that most of them are generated by robots- but, that’s another subject, surely.

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    • If the attempt pays off big, the spammer may consider it a religious experience…

      I doubt that this kind of commercial spam is coming from Nigeria. They seem to be too busy with the “I have so much money I don’t know what to do with it. Send me your bank account information and I’ll share the money with you” scams. From what I hear, most of the hardcore spam today comes from Russia. Russian robots, at that.

      For the record, in the two hours since I published that piece, the blog has gotten three more spams: two “Flattery” and one “Sales pitch”. Why does the latter joker think that talking about high end purses will help sell cheap knockoffs of cheap brand wallets?

      Like

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