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Economic woes cause e-mail SPAM to soar

By Evan Schuman
Published 3/4/2002 11:15 AM

WHIPPANY, N.J., Feb. 26 (UPI) -- The U.S. economy's decline into recession last year had an unexpected impact -- unsolicited e-mail advertisements, known as SPAM, soared.

"During an economic downturn, people are looking for ways to make money fast and companies are looking for the cheapest ways to advertise," Margie Arbon, director of operations for Mail Abuse Prevent System, told United Press International in a telephone interview. MAPS is a non-profit that compiles lists of Internet service providers whose customers send SPAM.

"(The) problem has started to explode in the last year or so. It's now really starting to become a big problem," said Ken Schneider, chief technology officer for Brightmail, which makes anti-SPAM software for large ISPs, including Earthlink and Verizon.

The situation is made worse because ISPs also are cutting back on staffing, which means fewer people at e-mail abuse desks to catch and stop people from sending SPAM, said Arbon, who said the increase in SPAM in the past year has been estimated in some cases at 600 percent.

"The ISPs are simply not as good about enforcing their acceptable use policies as they were a year ago," she said.

The problem certainly is not limited to the United States. Ray Everett-Church, chief privacy officer for the EPrivacy Group, said many of the e-mail SPAM messages he tracks down were routed through ISPs in China, Korea, Costa Rica and the Czech Republic.

The reason SPAM is growing in such weak economies is that it is a very low-cost way to make a living. For about $200, millions of names be purchased and contacted.

"Spamming costs so little to get into that if even one sucker out of a million buys your miracle weight-loss product, you have more than paid for your initial expenditure," Church said.

Beyond the productivity and technology costs of the SPAM messages flooding consumer and business machines, marketers complain aggressive SPAM campaigns undermine legitimate E-mail marketing efforts.

Ironically, it comes at a time when marketers were starting to move their business away from U.S. Postal Service mail to e-Mail, a reaction to last year's U.S.-based anthrax mail attacks, said Louis Mastria, director of public and international affairs for the Direct Marketing Association.

"If consumers have to wade through tons of bulk e-mail SPAM, the chance that our legitimate messages will get through is watered down," Mastria said.

The hallmark of a legitimate e-mail marketing campaign, DMA's Mastria said, is that prospective customers have an opportunity to say they do not want to receive the e-mails. But that also is a very popular trick used by spammers.

Spammers will send out millions of random e-mail addresses, hoping some find their way to actual people. By making the offer to remove anyone who does not want the message, the spammer is attempting to verify it is a true e-mail account. Once verified -- even though the message most likely will be a request to not send any more advertisements -- that mailbox quickly is overwhelmed with more SPAM.

"It reduces the effectiveness of legitimate e-mail marketers," Mastria said. "It's a genuine concern. There's no question about it."

Copyright 2002 United Press International
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    Copyright 2002 United Press International. All rights reserved.