Fighting email spam
The majority of emails being sent over the Internet these days is spam, i.e. unsolicited bulk email. Generally, the longer an email address has been in use, the more spam it will receive. Also, any email address listed on a website or mentioned in Newgroups (usenet) postings will be spammed disproportionally. Spam costs billions of dollars in lost productivity. Hours spent deleting unwanted email or reporting spam senders or researching companies that send spam are lost from our work time and enjoyable lifetime.
The reason for the flood of spam is the amount of money to be made by criminal spammers. No matter how few people will buy the goods or services being advertised (or increasingly, fall for their scams), spamming is so cheap to the sender that it is profitable. There are too few obstacles. The SMTP-protocol, via which all e-mail travels, lacks the ability to verify the originator of a mail all the way from the recipient back to the sender. It was designed for a different age, when most servers were run by cooperating academics and not for profit.
Most spam you receive today is either sent from servers in foreign countries such as China, South Korea, Brazil or other Latin American countries (which are largely out of reach of US courts) or via broadband hosts in the USA. ADSL or cable internet hosts can be turned into spam robots by virus infections and other malware. There is increasing evidence that recent waves of computer viruses are created by spammers in order to open backdoors into high-bandwidth internet clients, which in turn can be used to spread large amounts of spam without any trace back to the originator.
Spams peddle all kinds of porn, pills, gambling and other questionable goods and services. An increasing number spams is even more criminal in nature, aiming at credit card and check fraud, identity theft, money laundering, etc. Most people have received "419" or Advance Fee Scams, aka "Nigeria Scam" or "phishing" spam (fake notifications from PayPal, eBay or banks to steal login information). Criminals set up websites of fake companies and send out job offers to recruit people to handle illicit transactions for them. Anyone falling for such fraudulent emails risks losing a lot of money and in some case may even face criminal charges. We investigate many of these scams and document them on our site. See the links below for details.
Operating internationally and abusing other people's machines mean that legal mechanisms are unlikely to solve these problem any time soon, even if the US Congress was willing to do so, which apparently it is not. The recently passed "Can Spam" act not only prevents individual spam recipients from suing spammers, it also emasculates more strict state laws that would give spam victims more rights to fight back. Clearly, industry pressure won over public interests in this case in the passage of this "You Can Spam" law.
For these reasons, technical solutions such as filters will remain the only viable solution for the time being. Spam filtering can be done on email servers or on the client machine, either as a stand-alone program or as part of the email application. There are many different techniques for trying to differentiate between spam and legitimate mail, some of which work better than others. The objective in all is to reduce the rate of spam as close to zero as possible without discarding legitimate mail.
jwSpamSpy is our mail filtering solution for any Windows email program using the POP3 protocol. We are using it to filter several hundred thousand emails per day at several sites. From the information extracted by it we build blacklists of spamvertised domain names and of 419 fraud email addresses that we publish on our website. We also document many of the scams that involve spam email to find victims. Try it out for free for yourself for thirty days.
Other anti-spam solutions are available at
Advance fee fraud (419)
Various spams and scams:
Moneylaundering job fraud:
Various online frauds:
Annoying and stupid:
Domain Blacklist Archive:
New pages added to the site: