Sunday, January 30, 2005

Economics of Spam

What drives the economy of spam? Andrew Leung estimated that "response rates to bulk commercial email is less than 0.005 per cent," but spammers can still make "lucrative living" by milking "50 in every million people [who] respond to unsolicited commercial email" because of very low costs of spamming (John Leyden, "The Economics of Spam," The Register, November 18, 2003). Who are the 50-in-a-million suckers? You guessed it -- men in love with "Big, Bigger, Biggest!" penises.
A security flaw at a website operated by the purveyors of penis-enlargement pills has provided the world with a depressing answer to the question: Who in their right mind would buy something from a spammer?

An order log left exposed at one of Amazing Internet Products' websites revealed that, over a four-week period, some 6,000 people responded to e-mail ads and placed orders for the company's Pinacle herbal supplement. Most customers ordered two bottles of the pills at a price of $50 per bottle.

Do the math and you begin to understand why spammers are willing to put up with the wrath of spam recipients, Internet service providers and federal regulators.

Since July 4, Amazing Internet Products would have grossed more than half a million dollars from, one of several sites operated by the company to hawk its penis pills.

Among the people who responded in July to Amazing's spam, which bore the subject line, "Make your penis HUGE," was the manager of a $6 billion mutual fund, who ordered two bottles of Pinacle to be shipped to his Park Avenue office in New York City. A restaurateur in Boulder, Colorado, requested four bottles. The president of a California firm that sells airplane parts and is active in the local Rotary Club gave out his American Express card number to pay for six bottles, or $300 worth, of Pinacle. The coach of an elementary school lacrosse club in Pennsylvania ordered four bottles of the pills.

Other customers included the head of a credit-repair firm, a chiropractor, a veterinarian, a landscaper and several people from the military. Numerous women also were evidently among Amazing Internet's customers.

All were evidently undaunted by the fact that Amazing's order site contained no phone number, mailing address or e-mail address for contacting the company. Nor were they seemingly concerned that their order data, including their credit card info, addresses and phone numbers, were transmitted to the site without the encryption used by most legitimate online stores.

"There was a picture on the top of the page that said, 'As Seen on TV,' and I guess that made me think it was legit," said a San Diego salesman who ordered two bottles of Pinacle in early July. The man, who asked not to be named, said he has yet to receive his pills, despite the site's promise to fill the order in five days. (Brian McWilliams, "Swollen Orders Show Spam's Allure," Wired, August 6, 2003)
So, when you get annoyed with spam, you know whom to blame!

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