Spamming is big business

Spam is the annoying junk mail that floods your inbox. But no matter what discount drugs are offered or what body parts the messages promise to enlarge, make no mistake about it - spamming is big business.

“My spam messages need to be effective. I need to write the message well to convince people to buy the product,” says said spammer Andy.

The reason Andy wants to be so convincing? He gets 50% of the cut, so not only is he clever in his wording, he also uses hacked material to carefully select his audience.

“When we send messages, we target specific people who would most likely be our potential buyers,” Andy said.

Those against the practice say that these methods are serious violations of privacy

“Spammers work on a network of hacked computers. So immunity of personal data is violated,” said Vladimir Magerov from the Russian Association of Electronic Communications. “Spammers get access to personal or company computers and can control them. In this respect, the war on spam is just in its beginning stages.”

The Spamhaus Project is an organization that combats spam. According to their website, 5 of the top 10 spammers are either Russian or have Russian ties.

If one asks the spammers themselves why they got into the business, it all comes down to one thing: money!

“I can make $10000-15000 a month. And that's not a lot for a spammer. It is possible to make up to a couple million a month,” said Andy.

Andy’s financial success is based on a simple business model. The spammer sends out a series of messages, and when an e-mail user follows one of the links in the message, the organization will send the product to the user and then send the spammer his cut of the sale. The spammer, of course, is well aware of the psychology behind consumer spending.

“99% of all purchases in the world are impulsive buys. And having a credit card makes it easier to shop impulsively,” said Andy.

Right now the burden in fighting spam lies with individual companies and e-mail service providers.

“State involvement in the process could be useful, but it would be very difficult,” said Anton Zabannykh, Head of Yandex Mail. “It is very hard to collect evidence against a source of spam. Also, if we start punishing businesses that use spam, it would be easy to frame a company, sending out spam messages as if they were coming from them.”

Beyond the legal challenges, the Russian Association of Electronics Communication estimates that spam accounts for around $468 million worth of lost revenue in Russia, a claim that a spammer would dispute.

“I don't think spammers hurt the Russian economy. On the contrary, we bring money from other countries into the Russian economy,” said Andy.