Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Spam Economy

We all know that spam works because the evil spammers send out millions of spam e-mails - at almost no cost - and a tiny, teeny-weeny percentile of those who receive it fall for it. Even if 0.01% of people fell for it that would be 100 people in 1,000,000 and that would be worth it to them. Quite how anyone ever thinks, 'hmmm... I don't remember contacting this company to ask about a mortgage but that rate is pretty tempting...' is beyond me but it matters not.

Because I have an e-mail address in the public domain where anybody (and any bot) can find it I get a lot of spam. Over 1,000 a day. Almost all of it is successfully filtered into my junk file and goes unread but some inevitably slips through to my inbox. Where it goes unread because, while my computer hasn't spotted it's spam, I have.

Recently, I've been fascinated by one particular brand of spam that is getting through the filters on a regular basis. As you can see:
It seems to me that by sending the same e-mail to me 5 times in the same minute (and then again, 2 minutes later) they don't help their cause. Presumably they think that by sending it so many times (and with slight variations in the content) they are increasing their chances of getting through people's defences and having at least one e-mail land successfully where that 1 in 10,000 idiot might send them some money. But surely when they all arrive at the same time like that, even the 1 in 10,000 idiot is going to think something is up.

I mean, what are the chances of 5 different Corine OLearys sending me 6 almost identical e-mails in such a short space of time? And then 3 different Catalina Spicers doing the same thing 37 minutes later. By sending 9 e-mails like that they haven't made it 9 times more likely to succeed... surely they've just made it 9 times less believable.

In effect, they've done more work but reduced their hit rate from, say, 0.01% to 0.001111% (recurring) which is a dreadful thing to do to their profits. If they were making $1,000 a month by getting 1 e-mail through, they'll reduce that to $111 by getting 9 through. Which means that with a hit rate of only 0.001111% (recurring) they'll need to hit 9 times as many people in order to make the same amount of profit as before.

So to get the same return out of sending a million people one e-mail each, they'd have to send 9 million people 9 e-mails each which is 81 million e-mails instead of 1 million e-mails. That's 80 million more e-mails for no increase in return. What ridiculous goons they are.

Of course, to get through the filters what they do is change small variables in the content (not just the middle initial of the apparent sender) so that the anti-spam programs can't spot a pattern. When you see the variables they use you start to realise that they're reducing their options even further:




I mean... while it's a stretch to imagine anyone falling for any of it... if I accept that somewhere there's a chap falling for the 'Girls always laughed at me' pitch, surely even he wouldn't take the 'Baronesses always whizgiggled at me' pitch seriously. Would he?

Is there anyone in the world thinking, 'damn those baronesses. And those gars with their whizgiggling, I'm never using a national comfort station again. If only my putz was more preponderant than civil... then I'd have the last smile.'

22 comments:

Dominic said...

I'm not a spam expert, but it might be that your public email address is on a number of lists that the spammers have obtained. Thus you are getting one message for each list they spam that contains your address.

Anonymous said...

Slow day at the office eh?

Linda said...

hi dave if you want a laugh go to http://www.419eater.com/

i am fed up of getting penis enlargement spam . i am female i don't need it :-)

by the ay do you ever get anyone posting spam to this blog . a curse on them if they do .

peace
Linda

Stoobie_Land said...

An easy way to shine some humor on the situation is to change the sound your email application, be it Outlook iMail or Thunderbird, is to change the sound it makes when you receive new email. When something falls into your inbox swiftly followed by "I DON'T LIKE SPAM!", a quote from Monty Phython's Spam sketch, then you are going to have the first chuckle on your way to a happier inbox.

Speaking of which, I have mail.

Michele said...

You and your numbers, percentages, & probabilities. You were a statistician in another life, weren't you?

debbie said...

I've often wondered whether we could round up all the people that actually respond to spam and shoot them (or, in my less wound-up-by-spam moments, give them a good talking-to), hence rendering spam unprofitable and getting the spammers to give up bothering the rest of us. And frankly, if they're replying to this rubbish in their inbox, what other foolish things do they get up to? What else would we be ridding the world of??

nerys said...

I can see that appealed to the Mathematician in you Dave. :o)

I have had and read one or two of those emails where they tell you this enormously complicated and sad story about someone who's died with loads of money but for some reason the government of whatever country is going to (wrongly of course) take it all, so can they please deposit £5 squillion in your bank account instead? They are quite amusing.

Emma said...

Hmmm, percentages, tables, sums, detailed analysis...

What chapter are you stuck on? :D

Dictionary.com has [i]putz[/i] listed as Yiddish for 'the penis'. Oddly, Answers.com (Google's new dictionary of choice) has this discription:

putz: dial. in Penn. Dutch homes, a representation of the Nativity scene traditionally placed under a Christmas tree.

Which I think makes those spam emails much more lovely.

Dave Gorman said...

Another batch of the same today... with new variables. Including the delightful opening, Dames always hee-hawed at me...

Ben / S2K said...

I tend to get a lot of penis enlargement spam, usually in the same batch of email as the likes of "bigger breasts on a budget." The internet apparently thinks I'm a Hermaphrodite.

And don't even get me started on Russian Septic Tank Cleaner spam.

Paul P said...

...but what thats done to the graph!

The Kitchen Cynic said...

Who says that there can't be so many Catalina Spicers with new boyfriends? I bet there's loads. I bet there's one for every card in the deck, including jokers...(or is the novel-writing actually going too well to consider a new show, "Are You Cataline Spicer and does your new boyfriend have a tiny cock?")

Matt said...

I was one of the ones who did reply to this spam and used this product for 5 months and let me tell you, the Baronesses aren't laughing anymore.

Chris C said...

Nice to see that you are putting your honorary doctorate in mathematics to good use!

B-T-W, you thought that DC was bad when you were there over New Year, try being here in the summer...38 celcius with insane humidity!

Lucy said...

I'm afraid to say that more than once in my life I have been convinced by a 'Baronesses always whizgiggled at me' email, but that's only because i'm a memeber of the Baronesses Who Wizgiggle Appreciation Society so I sometimes get a little confused when receiving the newsletters.

Honeysuckle Rose said...

I love the way your mind works! I must find a way to work the phrase "preponderant putz" into a sentence today....

Dave said...

I had a splendid selection of these today as well. I quite liked 'and now my peter is indeed greater than federal'.

Anonymous said...

Hi Dave,

I have emailed you before, oooh about two years ago now, so I know you won't recall this whatsoever but I'm the chap who works for Apple, well, used to work for Apple anyway I'm now freelance and loving it in London. May I suggest a piece of software called SpamSieve? It only costs £15! Apple Mail's junk filter is getting old in the tooth and not great at spotting these spam mails but SpamSieve adapts itself and is really very good indeed, I've been using it myself for about a month now and it's excellent.

I hope that helps your small penis errr emails ;-)

Toby

toby at tobyriding dot co dot uk - that's another way to get around spambots by the way!

Dave Gorman said...

Ta Toby. I've just installed spamseive... will see how it goes.

Billiambabble said...

This made me howl.

Thanks :)

Blunt said...

you can always turn your spam into poetry

Jayne Ferst said...

Hi Dave - jumping back to this old post as I just opened my yahoo and have received this glorious sounding email from 'Cris knobbs' with the subject being 'giant massive shlong for Mercedes' - now, is that the car I wonder?

I like reading it like a serious piece of news - 'Mercedes reports a giant massive shlong. Business up 99%'.

I dunno, made me laugh anyway...