Guess what? Spam pays

You know that saying that crime doesn’t pay? Every day it’s becoming increasingly clear to me that spam does in fact pay.

As I delete comment spam after comment spam from PVRblog, I’ve noticed the products being sold are almost all over-the-counter or shady pharmacutical drugs that can be easily bought, sold, and shipped. Most of my email spam mirrors that as well.

It’s a low-risk thing when you think about it. You buy a minimal amount of inventory, then broadcast your message from one of the hundreds of businesses setup to help you, or free spam cannon programs you can download. They say that some percentage of folks buy stuff in spam, and even if that’s only 0.1% success, when you send out 5 million messages, you can make $5,000 if each sale gives you a profit of one dollar. If your profit is higher (and it should be), you can sell much less and still make that much money. Imagine it: one day of doing the devil’s work and you’ve made as much as you will in a month of work at a $60k desk job.

Four to five years ago, I used to spend quite a bit of energy on combating spam. I read anti-spammer email lists and newsgroups, I used a spamcop account, and I sent messages daily to every abuse@hostingprovider address I could track down that hosted these bastards. I watched hundreds of other vigilante spam fighters do the same and as we shut down site after site and got person after person cut off from their service, I noticed they kept coming back, only multiplied. Eventually I grew weary of the work I put out that didn’t seem to have much impact on the problem and started filtering my spam instead.

A few days ago I got some spam from a guy that has been sending me the same exact niche spam for 8 years. I know the guy that is doing it, I know where he lives, and I can tell you what dialup account he’s using right now if I looked. I’ve reported him a dozen times and gotten him kicked off ISPs but all these years later he’s still hawking his crappy products. Obviously, the guy never gave up and I’m convinced there’s a financial reason for it. Spam pays, and it probably pays big.

All this is a long way of saying that I have no doubt that every word of Mark Pilgrim’s post about the future of weblog spam is the gospel truth. I’ve seen it happen in email and usenet, and it’s going to happen to weblogs as well, and as hard as we fight, it’s not going to do a whole hell of a lot of good (Jason posted pretty much the same thing a week ago).

Even with my technical knowledge, a handful of custom filtering server-side and client-side programs, spam is getting through to me in such quantities that I wish I didn’t have to rely on email so much. Weblog spam is making me rethink commenting on any movable type site I run. It’s exhausting, pointless to fight, and I really wish we could come up with a magic bullet that removes the economic incentive to spam.

update: an Ask Slashdot post on attacking the spam business model