Computer Crime Research Center

2002: The year of spam

(by Graham Hayday)

A plague on all your in-boxes

One in every 14 emails arriving in UK in-boxes this year contained unwanted marketing messages or promises of sexual nirvana.

How to avoid falling for text message scams

And the problem's getting worse. According to research from email security outfit MessageLabs, one in every 199 UK emails could be classified as spam in January 2002. By June this figure was one in 36 and it now stands at one in eight.

US spam levels also increased in 2002, with around one in 37 emails being identified as spam in January, rising to one in three come November.

The so-called 419 scam, in which email recipients are asked to help get a large sum of money out of Nigeria in return for a substantial commission, was a particular problem this year.

If anyone is gullible enough to fall for the con, they will usually end up handing over a sizeable amount of money before arranging to meet his or her 'contact' in a hotel lobby to collect their cut. The contact never turns up and the victim is left out of pocket.

In September, an employee of a Michigan law firm stole $2.1m from the company to pay Nigerian 419 fraudsters. Needless to say, her promised cut of $4.5m never materialised.

The UK National Criminal Intelligence Service (NCIS) estimates that up to five Americans are waiting in London hotel lobbies every day to meet people connected with the 419 scam.

Mark Sunner, MessageLabs chief technical officer, said: "It has become increasingly evident in recent years that spam has the ability to severely compromise UK business productivity and these new statistics bear that out. Indeed, research commissioned earlier this year... revealed that 10 per cent of the working day is spent dealing with spam, a situation which will only deteriorate in the future."


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