Originally, spam was reserved to mean bulk advertising messages posted on Usenews forums. The stuff that clutters up your inbox was more properly referred to as UCE, unsolicited commercial email. With the influx of a non-technical public to the online world, the distinction has long since been lost (in the same way that the distinction between the Internet and the Web has been lost) and every kind of unwanted message now tends to be labelled spam.
Not that it matters. We all know what spam is and we all hate it. Well, I say all but I assume that some people still respond to the blandishments of spammers otherwise spam would simply fade away. It has been estimated (though this, like all estimates, has to be treated with caution), that these days it takes about 100,000 spams to generate one response. It is only the fact that spam can be distributed at little or no cost that makes it economically viable. Internet users are becoming wiser but there are still enough naive people about to keep spam going.
Receiving large amounts of spam is bad enough but there is even worse. Emails must be addressed to someone but they are also supposed to carry the sender’s address. Spammers are not so stupid as to put their own addresses in the From: box. If they did, not only would they receive hundreds of complaints and bounce messages; they would also hear the heavy tread of the local constabulary on the stair. The essence of spamming is to sell to naive punters without being traceable by the authorities. The From: address is therefore always spurious. If you are unlucky, yours may well be the address a spammer uses.
I currently administer four domains and two of them are being used by spammers to make return addresses. Consequently I recieve almost as many bounce messages and complaints as actual spams. There is also the danger that people will begin to block my domains, meaning that I will not be able to use them to send email. You get the picture.
I am not alone, of course. Many people have suffered the same indignity. There’s not much you can do about it as spammers are hard to trace and even harder to bring to justice. One can only hope that they will stop using your address eventually and move on to someone else’s. Yes, not much of a consolation, is it?
The best technical brains have been pondering the problem of spam for years but have not so far come up with a solution. Yet the fact remains that there is one very simple way to stop spam: If everyone ignored spam and simply deleted it, it would soon disappear. Spammers would not send spam if they made no money from it. The flaw in this brilliant plan lies in the word “everyone”: we all know people who respond to spam and cannot be persuaded not to. You can never get “everyone” to do something, not even when it is such an obvious and desirable thing as getting rid of spam.