How do spammers get your phone number and email address? Why do they keep trying when they have to know you receive loads of junk every day? Is there a way to stop them from bothering you once and for all? Why does spam sometimes seem to come in waves?
We hate it too, and because we’re a digital marketing agency, our clients often look to us both to make spam stop and to make sure their email marketing doesn’t get caught in spam filters. Here’s everything you need to know about spam explained.
What is Spam?
SPAM stands for Sending and Posting Advertisement in Mass. It’s also that mystery meat you get in a rectangular yellow can. Neither option is known for high-quality content.
For the purpose of this article, we’re talking about the first type. It’s any message you get that’s unsolicited. The most common way to receive spam messages is in your email inbox, but they come other ways too.
Basically, any time someone sends messages in mass to tons of people at a time without the recipients requesting or consenting to receive it, that’s spam. It might come through social media messaging or your website’s contact form.
More Than an Annoyance
Sometimes the messages are relatively harmless. The subject line promises to help take ten years off your face or ten pounds off your midsection. They can also be offensive, using profanity to get your attention or hoping to attract you with porn. Hackers send spam in hopes of stealing your personal or financial data, and if you fall for it you could spend months or years dealing with the fallout.
How Spammers Get Your Contact Info
You’re pretty cautious with your personal information, but somehow it still gets out. Anywhere from dozens to hundreds of spam messages might flood your email every day. Your phone rings too frequently with numbers you don’t know. They find you in ways that range from sneaky to downright creepy.
- Where you @ – Spammers write programs that automatically comb through websites looking for the @ symbol because it’s normally associated with an email address. They store that information and make a huge list, then inundate you with spam. They might sell that list to other spammers so they can do the same.
- Phishing (pronounced “fishing”) – Spammers write email that looks like it comes from someone you know to capture your data. You might think it comes from your bank or your credit card company, but if you enter your login credentials, they record your keystrokes.
- Company leaks – Search online for “data breach” and filter by the last year alone. You won’t like what you see. For example, this year in just one incident, a massive breach leaked 773 million email addresses and 21 million passwords. It happens all the time, even with companies you trust. If your contact info hasn’t been leaked yet, it’s just a matter of time.
- Spammer creativity – Spammers can use automated programs to just make up names and send email. Bob@gmail.com, email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org all probably get results (don’t email Bob. He’s tired of it.)
Cisco Talos Intelligence Group publishes some pretty crazy statistics about spam. Check this out:
- Average daily legitimate email volume for August 2019 – 72.16 billion
- Average daily spam volume – 416.04 billion
- Percentage of daily email that is unsolicited, unwanted spam – 85.58 percent (85.58 percent!)
- Top senders by country (in descending order) – United States, China, Brazil, Czech Republic
Spammers are smart. They exploit human nature. For example, around Valentine’s Day phishing and spam email attempts revolve around dating sites, flower shops and Viagra. When Apple unveiled their latest and greatest, spammers pounced on the hype. Most of the time their efforts get caught in your spam filter, but that isn’t always the case.
Why Spam Filters Don’t Always Work
Why does legitimate email sometimes go in your spam folder while spam gets through to your inbox? That might be one of the mysteries of the universe. But the truth is, no matter how good your security setup is, some spam will always get through.
There’s profit involved, sometimes huge profit. So no matter what kind of mousetrap you build, smart spammers will eventually find a way to slip through. They’re motivated, and technology is constantly changing. Spam filters get more precise, so spammers immediately get to work finding a way around tweaks. It’s an endless cycle.
Some spam gets through (and looks like it came from Aunt Nancy) because people respond to phishing attempts. Spammers also send emails that look legitimate based on identities they stole or made up. It eventually gets blacklisted, but it comes from a free email address or throwaway domain based on forged or stolen personal information.
Also, spam filters rely heavily on subject lines and introductory content. It’s easy for a spam filter to categorize a message with a heading that says “Act Fast for 90 Percent Off!” However, it’s harder to make sense of random sounding subject lines or filter-evading scripts. Another trick is to use images to communicate spammy messages since filters can only “read” text.
How to Get Even More Spam
Has this happened to you? You feel like your spam levels are annoying but tolerable, then all the sudden you can tell something changed. Your phone gets far more calls from numbers you don’t recognize, and your inbox is flooded. It’s like you have a bullseye on your back and every spammer in the world is aiming at you. The most common reasons are as follows:
- You’re the victim of a breach. Any company you do business with could be vulnerable. Check https://haveibeenpwned.com/ to see if your account has been compromised, but know smaller breaches might not be listed.
- You unsubscribed from spam. This is so frustrating. Spammers sent you junk and you clicked on the little link at the bottom requesting they not send you any more. Basically you verified your email address is real and you open junk mail and scroll all the way to the bottom. Next time just mark as spam instead of responding.
- You posted your email address online. If you put it on social media, on a website or as a public comment, it’s considered fair game for those who want to use and abuse that information.
- You opted in or neglected to opt-out. When you signed up for something, buried somewhere was that little checkbox. You didn’t indicate you’d rather be left alone. The service for which you opted-in is either inundating you or they shared your email address with interested parties.
How to Get Less
It’s a numbers game. You’re always going to receive it, but if you’re careful, often you can reduce the amount that gets through. Keep your antivirus software updated on your work computer, home computer and mobile devices. Don’t share personal data, ever if possible.
Don’t share chain messages. Your soul is still safe, your mother will still be proud of you and you probably don’t even have a tent that might become infested with the fleas of a thousand camels if you refuse to pass it on.
Have a separate email address for subscribing to promotions. When your favorite store asks you for your email, give that one. When you need that 20 percent off coupon or information about their holiday sale, you can log in and search for it, but you don’t have to be inundated on a daily basis.
Don’t type your email address into popups unless you’re sure the source is trustworthy and you really, really want what they’re offering. Resist the urge to give out your contact information if the message to which you’re responding relies on fear to get a response.
Spam and Your Business Website
You might publish a business email so customers have the best chance of reaching you. That’s not the best idea, and it’s not what we advise on websites we build.
Instead, we build a contact form. When users complete the form, the website sends information to the correct contact person. There’s no email address to tell spammers how to get @ the business owner.
Unfortunately, automated spam bots can fill out those forms, entering information into the fields and sending the message. We have ways around that too.
It’s sweet, it’s enticing, and it detects and deflects spam that arrives via contact forms. A honeypot is a computer system configured to identify attacks, vulnerabilities or unwanted solicitation. With web contact forms, it’s often as simple as creating a field that’s meant to be left blank. Spambots can’t stand to leave the box empty, so they give themselves away.
You’ve probably encountered this effective spam blocking technique. Some require you to type in squiggly letters. Others just ask you to check a box verifying you’re human. We like the way they work, and we try to keep them as simple as possible so users aren’t deterred from conversion.
This filtering technique asks you to solve a simple math problem or answer a common knowledge question.
Why Sending SPAM is Bad Business
Email marketing works. So, business owners sometimes ask, why not buy a huge list of email addresses and send promotional material to everyone on it?
There are a lot of reasons, but the most compelling one is about trust. For your business to succeed, you need to build relationships and connect with your target audience. Spam does the opposite.
When you bulk send email to people who didn’t ask for it, you’re not connecting with anybody. You’re alienating thousands.
Most email services have an inbox that identifies what you’re sending as spam. That makes it highly unlikely email from you will get through to them in the future. Send enough spam trying to get people to visit or backlink to your site, and your website could receive a penalty from Google.
A Better Way to Make Connections
To win consumers and influence conversions, email others the way you would have them email you. Ask for their permission before you send anything. Use an email list building strategy that reaches the ones most interested in your products and services.
Only send email marketing that’s of value to the consumer. Don’t abuse the privilege by sending too often. Set up email marketing automation that sends email based on actions consumers take so what they receive meets them at their point of need or interest.
Spade Design can help you harness the power of email marketing and make connections without alienating consumers or sending spam. Schedule an online consultation to get started today.