Crime Hidden in Email Spam

Crime Hidden in Email Spam

Szde Yu (Wichita State University, USA)
Copyright: © 2020 |Pages: 13
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-9715-5.ch057

Abstract

Email spam is one of the most overlooked crimes. Most people and law enforcement agencies dismiss it as a nuisance and do not deem it worthwhile to devote too many resources to reporting or investigating it. Very few researchers would see email spam as a research topic worth exploring, either. However, email spam can be and has become an ideal disguise for criminal activities. Aside from the fact that email spam itself is a crime, this article intends to introduce readers to the ideas regarding how spam may be linked to other crimes, including scam, fraud, illicit drug sales, electronic fencing, sex crimes, and malware. Moreover, email spam can be used to facilitate covert communication among criminals and provide guidance for entering the dark web without drawing too much attention from the authorities.
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Background

Email spam is defined as unsolicited commercial electronic mail that includes any commercial emails addressed to a recipient with whom the sender has no existing business or personal relationship and not sent with the consent of the recipient, and commercial electronic mail is defined as any electronic mail message the primary purpose of which is commercial advertisement or promotion of products or service (Rogers, 2006). Sending spam emails can be treated as a criminal offense in the United States, according to the CAN-SPAM Act enacted in 2003. The Act imposes penalties on sending unsolicited commercial email if the provisions set by the Act are violated. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is in charge of enforcement of these provisions and it also provides regulations of which any violation can be declared criminal (FTC, 2009). The FTC regulations are as follows: 1. Don’t use false or misleading header information; 2. Don’t use deceptive subject lines; 3. Identify the message as an ad; 4. Tell recipients how to opt out and honor opt-out promptly; 5. Monitor what others are doing on your behalf (FTC, 2009). In 2008, the so-called “Spam King” Robert Soloway was convicted under the CAN-SPAM Act and was sentenced to 47 months in federal prison (Rabinovitch, 2007). The Act also allows states and Internet service providers to file civil lawsuits against spammers (Ford, 2005; Yeargain et al., 2004). Despite this, email spam has never been seen as a serious crime even though email spam is probably one of the most prevalent crimes as almost every person who uses email has received at least some unsolicited junk emails that aim at advertising, phishing or scamming. Most people tend to simply delete them or rely on the spam filter embedded by the service provider to screen them out. However, spam filters are not entirely reliable. As a result, users often have to check the spam folder to see if some important messages have been mistakenly flagged as spam (i.e., false positive). A false positive could cost a delay or omission in an important communication and sometimes this could entail significant consequences (Weinstein, 2003). Therefore, it is an understatement to say email spam is nothing more than a nuisance. In fact, email spam can be costly. Some research has indicated that the time and productivity wasted on account of email spam can amount to 20 billion dollars every year (Yeargain, et al., 2004). The energy used to transmit, process, and filter spam can be equivalent to the electricity used in 2.4 million households annually (McAfee, 2009). In addition, the cost of email spam can be much higher when it is being utilized as a communicative avenue for criminal purposes, such as scam, illicit drug selling, and sex crimes (Yu, 2015a). Unfortunately, the link between email spam and other crimes has long been overlooked. Accordingly, in this chapter the criminal activities associated with email spam are discussed regarding how email spam is being used by criminals to reach potential customers and victims.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Dark Web: Refers to websites that exist in an encrypted network that cannot be found by regular search engines and cannot be visited through regular browsers.

Scam: A dishonest scheme used to deceive and manipulate a person into voluntarily providing valuable assets or information.

Malspam: Spam emails that carry and deliver malware.

Covert Communication: Communication through methods that are designed to make such communication undetectable or unsuspicious.

E-Fencing: Selling stolen property on electronic platforms to make it look like normal electronic commerce.

Malware: Malicious software that is designed to compromise a computer, server, or a computer network so as to gain unauthorized access or to cause damage.

Steganography: A technique that aims to hide information or files inside an electronic file so that no one suspects such files or information is being delivered.

Email Spam: Unsolicited emails that are usually sent in bulk to nonspecific recipients.

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