The New York Times has reported on a major effort by Russian criminal investigators to crack down on illegal spammers that reside in the country:

“On Tuesday, police officials here announced a criminal investigation of a suspected spam kingpin, Igor A. Gusev. They said he had probably fled the country. Moscow police authorities said Mr. Gusev, 31, was a central figure in the operations of, which paid spammers to promote online pharmacies, sometimes quite lewdly. suddenly stopped operating on Sept. 27. With less financial incentive to send their junk mail, spammers curtailed their activity by an estimated 50 billion messages a day.”

According to the article, there are around 200bn spam messages in circulation every single day and while the reduction is relatively small, it’s still good to see Russia taking a more active role in attempting to reduce a problem that seems to be endemic in the country.

How do you solve a problem like spam?

Spam is a complicated issue as the term has become a catch-all moniker for all sorts of email messages. The legal definition is a commercial email message received from a sender that does not have the legal right to send messages to you (for consumers, this means that you haven’t opted in). But for many of us, spam merely means a message you receive that you don’t want!

This latter definition is a much wider subject for another time as this article is focusing on illegal spam; the messages are either aiming to con you into buying a low-quality products or attempting to scam you by phishing for your credit card details. The common denominator is they don’t have the legal right to send to you.

Despite the fact that you can probably recognise an illegal spam email from a long distance, it’s surprising how effective illegal spam can be.

A spammer only needs a sucker to be born every 139 days

At the end of the day, the only reason that there are 200bn spam messages sent every day is because it works!

Just do the maths: you can very easily go onto eBay and pay £100 for a million email addresses on it. If you are a spammer and are selling herbal pills for around £30 a pop, you might be making a £25 margin on every purchase. This means using these million email addresses, you’d need to sell five products in order to get a return on your £100 investment. On a million sends, this represents a click-through rate of 0.0005%!

In America, we have a saying: “There’s a sucker born every minute”. When it comes to spam, if you take the 0.0005% click-through used in this example, you’d only really need a sucker to be born every 139 days to begin to make a 25% return on investment!

All this merely goes to show is that spam is big business. When it comes to technology, there are always going to be people that use it in bad ways to perform illegal activities. So while this move by Russia is to be welcomed, it is likely the spammers will just find another way or move elsewhere.

As email marketers, we need to do our bit to help recipients differentiate by following all the necessary best practices to the best of our ability. And increasingly there are more and more powerful technological solutions too. Google’s Priority Inbox is a good example and ISPs such as Hotmail have also been taking steps in this direction recently.

So while we’ll never be able to get rid of illegal spam, we can at least all take steps to make it less of an issue for recipients, which can only be a good thing for the industry.