Spam - The Costs, Psychology and Business Behind Spam Emails

Spam: The Money, Psychology and Business of Spam

How much spam?

Spam, or unsolicited business-email, is estimated to make up at least 88% of all internet email traffic (Softscam UK, May 2007). The huge volume tells you there must be money in sending spam.  But how much?

There's money in sending spam!

McAfee, of Santa Clara, Calif., calculates that if half of the population in the United States (about 150 million of the total 300 million people) use email every day, and if only half of them (75 million) are gullible (probably a very low estimate), and only 1 percent of these (or 750,000) buy into scams in spam on a given day, and if those victims were to pay $20 per scam, the potential market works out to $15 million a day, or $105 million per week, or about $5.5 billion per year, in just the United States.

Types of spam

All spam isn't the same, so the reasons why people respond to a spam email depends upon the purpose or type of spam. Spam can fall into 5 major categories:

  1. selling legitimate products (or services),
  2. selling illegal products or services,
  3. selling scams/frauds (no product or service is delivered after payment)
  4. Virus, Worm, Spyware or other malware-containing and
  5. Miscellaneous, nuisance or message spam (hoaxes, political statements, etc.)

Why do people click on spam... and buy the products or scams?

Why people click on spam  at all is as varied as the types of spam and motivations behind each. Judging by the huge number of spams selling penis-enlargement, weight-loss and hair-restorers; we can guess that the  psychology behind feelings of inadequacy account for a large part of the motivation, along with the (erroneous) perception that a surfer or emailer's activities are anonymous on the web.

Beyond that, the Spammers work hard to trick recipients or appeal to their weaknesses to beguile them into clicking on their ads.  Phishing spams are a clear example of this.  The emails are designed to look like a legitimate business email, so you don't realize that you have clicked on a fake link.

The subject lines have become more sophisticated, making successful filtering difficult for both spam filtering programs or humans.

Approach and avoidance, psychologists describe as reasons why people click on most spams.

Weight loss plans that claim no effort is required ("lose weight while you sleep!") and "hot" stock tips are examples of "approach" motivation.

Spams that warn of "new virus alert" or "Your bank account may have been compromised" are examples of "avoidance" motivation.

Some spams use both methods: sexual enhancement products are an example this.  The "approach" motivation is the "sexual boost", while the "avoidance" is the anonymity of not having to see a doctor for a prescription or of having a "dissatisfied partner".

Psychologists have long maintained that people are predisposed to either of those two major forms of motivation. Some are predisposed to focus on getting ahead (approach motivated), while others tend to try to avoid falling behind (avoidance motivated).


For More Information See Our Spam Resource Page

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