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Sinking Your Teeth into the Spammer Food Chain

To understand the problem of spam, you really need to know who's doing all the inbox overloading and what they're advertising with their floods of e-mails. Surveying the Internet, you can quickly see that the number of reputable marketers use spam to advertise goods and services is nearly nil. That doesn't mean that reputable companies don't sometimes send out e-mail that the recipients don't want or didn't expect. But few legitimate companies engage in the kinds of complex spamming campaigns that are responsible for most of what is filling your inbox.

To the contrary, the most commonly mailed spams advertise pyramid schemes, get-rich-quick scams, phone-sex lines, pornographic Web sites, and quack medical products. Most ironically, vast quantities of spam advertise spamming software, spamming services, and lists of millions of e-mail addresses you can buy so that5 you too can become a spammer. You may even encounter spam that's out to sell you antispam filters!

Spammers actually fit into three categories of people who may be responsible for putting a particular pience of spam in your inbox:

  • Advertisers
  • Spam service providers
  • Spam support services

The first category is the advertiser. You can't have spam without somebody who wants to advertise something. They may be sophisticated technical experts who do their own spamming, or they may be computer illiterates who saw an advertisement and decided to hire a third party to send spam for them. Whoever they may be, they are generally the people responsible for whatever message is contained in the body of the spam, and generally the one to whom you make out the check when it's time to buy the miracle hair-growth or body-part enlargement product.

Spam service providers are people who have built up the hardware, software, and expertise to pump out a bazillion spam e-mails. According to antispam experts, the great majority of the spam you receive comes fro a relative handful of professional spam service providers. They advertise their service to the latest sucker — er, "distributor" — of the latest make-money-in-a millisecond scheme and charge them a few hundred bucks to send a few million spams. Even though the distributor may never make a penny from the spamming campaign, the spam service provider has made his money, and that's all he cares about.

Spam support services can include ISPs and Web site hosting services that take any customer, no matter what kind of criminal or fraudulent activity they're engaged in. These ISPs are often in areas of the world where the laws may be either different or nonexistent. China, Russia, Brazil, Argentina, and South Korea are among the leading countries where spam service providers have found ISPs willing to provide support services, just as long as the checks keep clearing.

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