Spamming involves sending unwanted electronic communication and is often considered junk e-mail. Spammers lure individuals to read e-mails through enticing words in the subject line. The majority of spam is related to commercial advertising promoting questionable products or services. Often, sending spam is an attempt to commit identity theft or other types of fraud over the Internet.
The act of spamming has three common elements. With spam, the user's identity and e-mail address are deliberately hidden. The e-mail is sent to a large number of e-mail addresses, often at the same time. Also, spam is unsolicited; the recipient did not intentionally select to have the e-mail sent to his or her account.
One type of spamming is cancelable USENET spam. USENET is an online discussion group. Spammers who conduct this type of spamming are hoping to target individuals who rarely post and are more casual observers. The spam is a single message delivered to 20 or more newsgroups. The message is a stream of advertisements or posting that has nothing to do with any of the topics discussed.
One of the most common types of spam is email spam. This kind of spam is sent directly to an individual's email account. Spammers can obtain addresses through various methods, including through USENET postings, watching the Internet for addresses, or obtaining email lists. Sometimes spam can be easily identified before opening, as the subject line may contain an obvious advertisement or simply be gibberish.
Chain letters, pyramid schemes, and get rich quick schemes are examples of unsolicited email. Other types of spam advertise pornographic items, unknown companies, and sketchy health products and cures. Advertising spam is not the only type of email spam, however; other types can be much more dangerous.
More sophisticated spamming, called phishing, involves unsolicited emails that appear to be from real and trusted companies, such as banks, shopping sites, and payment services. The spammers send out emails indicating that some kind of immediate action needs to be taken with the user's account. These schemes rely on people believing the email and replying with critical information, such as credit card numbers and Social Security numbers, or clicking on a link to a fake site that asks for account information and password. The spammers then can use this information to steal a person's identity or make purchases in the name of the victims.
While spammers go through a great deal of trouble, the unsolicited emails are not very effective. It is estimated that 5% of email users will respond to a phishing email. Fewer than 15% of people actual read spam, and less than 5% will purchase a product from sent spam. Phishing is often more successful; one study found that nearly half of people who visited a fake phishing website submitted private information.
The term "spam" is believed to have come from a 1970s Monty Python skit. In the sketch, all items on a menu contain the canned meat SPAM®. The term for excessive multiple email posting first became popular in the 1990s.