Q: What is spam?
A: 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
Q: Will I receive spam
messages? If so, how many will I get?
A: 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
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.
Q: So is spam a big problem
on the Internet?
A: Yes, it’s one of the biggest problems
the Internet faces today. This is true for several reasons.
Q: Who sends out these messages?
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,
If you happen to pay for your access by the hour or minute, then having
to sort through all those spam messages can lead to increased time online,
which translates into higher monthly bills for 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.
A: 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 customers.
Q: But I don’t want to
get these spam messages.
A: 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.
Q: So what if I e-mail
them and tell them I don’t want to get their messages? Will they
stop sending them?
A: 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.
Q: So what can I do to
A: 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.
Q: 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?
A: 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
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 necessary.
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.
Q: How can I get more
information about spam?
A: 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.