How Spam Works

The Big Spamming Companies

If you would like to send a lot of spam, then there are a number of companies set up to send "bulk e-mail." The largest of these companies are able to send billions of spam e-mail messages a day. They increasingly operate out of foreign countries to avoid U.S. laws and lawsuits trying to block spam. Detroit Free Press: Spam king lives large off others' e-mail troubles describes a typical spam operation:

The computers in Ralsky's basement control 190 e-mail servers -- 110 located in Southfield, 50 in Dallas and 30 more in Canada, China, Russia and India. Each computer, he said, is capable of sending out 650,000 messages every hour -- more than a billion a day -- routed through overseas Internet companies Ralsky said are eager to sell him bandwidth.

There are hundreds of companies like this. For example, here's a paid ad that appeared on Google in August 2003:

The company is offering to send 500,000 e-mails for $99 and says, "Imagine emailing 500,000 recipients and 1 out of every 1,000 orders your product, that's 500 new orders!" Similarly, if you type "bulk e-mail" as a search term in Google, you get this assortment of paid ads in late August 2003:

All of these vendors are claiming that they are "spam-free." That is, they claim that they use e-mail lists where the recipients have specifically requested to receive bulk e-mail. This is often referred to "opt-in" e-mail. You may have ordered a product or filled out an online form that had a checkbox at the bottom that said, "Please unclick this check box if you would not like to receive e-mail from our partners," or something to that effect. You either did not see that checkbox because it was way at the bottom of the form, or you misread it. If your name gets onto the wrong opt-in lists, then you will receive a great deal of spam.

It's important to note that checking a checkbox like this doesn't always lead to spam. In some cases, non-spamming sites are only asking you to opt in for good, non-advertorial e-mail, such as a newsletter. These sites may use pre-checked boxes for convenience.

Now, let's find out what you can do to stop spam.