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Email Spam

Email Spam


Since the advent of e-mail, companies, private organizations, entities, and individuals have used spamming techniques to reach a wide audience. “Spam” is the electronic email equivalent of “junk mail.” In most cases, spamming is used to distribute unsolicited messages in bulk, primarily for advertising or marketing purposes. Spam can carry viruses and spyware or threaten your personal information and data.

What is spam?

Spam is the bulk dissemination of electronic emails, usually indiscriminately and for the purposes of advertising. While the majority of spam is delivered by email, spam can also be used to disseminate information and advertisements through instant messaging, blogs, online classified ads, mobile phones, Internet forms, and junk fax transmissions. Spam has also been disseminated through online game messaging.

Where did the word “spam” originate?

Spam derives from the mass-produced canned luncheon meat widely known as “Spam.” A number of sources have pointed to the 1970’s Monty Python episode featuring a number of dishes all with spam as the main ingredient.

How does spam work?

Spammers often establish disposable accounts using false names, addresses, phone numbers, and contact information to distribute messages. Most spam is sent through insecure proxy servers, in many cases from unwilling and unknowing parties.

Does spamming work?

Even though many email servers have the ability to filter out spam, it remains an economically viable form of advertising and distribution because there is essentially no cost behind maintaining, cultivating, and managing email lists.

What are the costs of spam?

In addition to the sheer irritation of receiving unwanted spam in your inbox, the public and service Internet providers also must pay for the productivity and fraud that can arise from spam. Many Internet service providers have been forced to increase their budget and add extra capacity just to manage the influx of Spam. The California state legislature estimated that spam cost U.S. organizations more than $13 billion in 2007.

Can spam damage my computer or software?

Yes. Spam can have deleterious effects including viruses and malware infections.

Is spam a social problem?

Within a larger social context, many individuals, businesses, and government organizations see spam as more than just a minor problem faced by individual Internet users. Spam has been linked to crimes, including fraud, and it costs Internet users billions of dollars every year. Government and private entities must use additional equipment, develop software, and hire additional experts to minimize the widespread impact of spam.

Who is vulnerable to spam?

While any Internet user or entity is vulnerable to spam, the most vulnerable are inexperienced users who may not recognize spam as a “phishing” scheme and unknowingly reveal private information.

How does spam impact my privacy?

Spam is an infringement on privacy on a number of levels. Spammers may appropriate your email address without consent. Spam can also result in financial theft, identity theft, and the forfeiture of private data or intellectual property.

Is spamming illegal?

While sending an unsolicited email is not an illegal act in itself, any commercial message that violates the terms of the CAN-SPAM Act can lead to penalties for the sender. Spam prosecutions have also been associated with mail fraud, wire fraud, e-mail fraud, identity theft, and money laundering. Many social advocates and politicians are pushing for government regulation and additional criminal penalties for spammers.

What is the CAN-SPAM Act?

In 2003, the U.S. passed a law providing Internet service providers (ISPs) with tools to combat spam. The law provides civil remedies in cases against spammers. Critics of the law claim that it is not effective enough to prevent spam.

Can spammers be held liable?

Spamming has been the subject of legislation in many jurisdictions; however, it is difficult to catch spammers. For years, spammers have learned to conceal their source and origin, making it costly and difficult to identify them. Criminal liability may be associated with other wire, trespass, or conversion crimes, and civil penalties may apply to privacy infringements or financial losses.

Should all spam be illegal?

Some see an outright ban on “spam” as a threat to civil liberties. They caution that widespread and unfettered anti-spam policies could be linked to censorship, preventing the dissemination of information and ideas. However, given the cost of spamming, many legislators also see the benefit of imposing criminal penalties for spamming.

How do I identify spam?

First, look at the sender’s name. Most spam has a first and last name, but it may not be one you recognize. Look at the file size and whether there are additional links in the message. Do not click on any links in an unrecognized email message. In most cases, opening an email will be harmless; however you should be wary of following any external links.

How do I protect myself against spam?

There are many ways to protect yourself against spam. Do not post your e-mail address on public forums and websites. Be wary when you sign up for “special offers.” This may be a phishing scheme to obtain your personal information. You should also use spam blocking tools and report any spam that you receive. Most e-mail providers have a button to indicate and label spam. You can also install a spam-filtering plugin such as SpamAid or SpamReader.