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Rhodri Marsden: Who buys the products advertised in spam emails?


There's one obvious cause, not often discussed, of all that spam informing us that hot women are desperately waiting for a sexually-charged encounter with us in Thornton Heath (they're not, believe me, I've checked). No amount of anti-spam technology can help, either. It's simply down to the people who insist on buying the products advertised and thus make spamming financially viable. While I'm sure the readers of this newspaper aren't the culprits, somewhere out there are a smattering of people desperate to get hold of some Viagra, but only when someone offers it to them via a poorly-spelt email.

I have sympathy for anyone who accidentally clicks on spam; we all like to think that we can spot these messages a mile off, but everyone makes mistakes. A phone poll conducted earlier this year of 800 Americans revealed that just over half had acted on a spam email, but while many admitted that it was an accident, 13 per cent said they had no idea why they clicked, they "just did", while 6 per cent just "wanted to see what would happen" – presumably the same people who would instinctively press a big red button marked "on no account press this big red button". But it's the 12 per cent who admitted that they actually wanted to buy the products on offer that are exacerbating the spam situation. Because seducing them into parting with cash is big business.

A report last week by security experts Sophos revealed that 40 per cent commissions can be earned by an affiliate who successfully directs someone to, say, an online drugstore to pay over the odds for the chance to swallow unprescribed medicine of dubious provenance. A mere two orders a day, and that affiliate can already be on £36k a year. Spam filtering is undoubtedly improving and not presenting quite the email menace it once did, but it's becoming rife on social networking sites such as Twitter instead. And while laws notionally exist to discourage the sending of spam email, no such laws exist for social networking. What to do?

Well, let's all make a concerted effort to get our marital aids from a doctor, not to believe pop-up messages telling us that our computers have a virus, avoid being tempted by counterfeit goods, and erase from our mind entirely the idea that someone sexy in Thornton Heath might be using a Russian spam network to attract our attention. Only then might the tide of spam start to recede. Don't hold your breath.

Email any technology gripes to cyberclinic@independent.co.uk or join the discussions on the blog at Independent.co.uk/cyberclinic