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Who Keeps Spam Alive? Banks!

It is often said that the love of money is the root of all evil, and in the case of spam (unsolicited commercial email) that appears to be more than true. After all, the whole reason spammers flood your inbox trying to get you to buy drugs and porn is to make money, and several reports claim that more than 90% of all email is spam.

According to research done at several universities, the easiest way to shut down spammers is to go after the banks that process payments for them. The researchers found that the number of organizations involved in spam is generally large — including the spammers themselves who generate the emails, the botnets that use unsuspecting computers to forward on spam, the hosting providers that host the websites where spam-promoted goods are purchased, and the affiliate networks that provide the technology like shopping carts and billing systems. In their research, the spam they received contained almost a billion URLs, but all these URLs led to just 45 different affiliate networks.

But the real surprise was that over 95% of all spam transactions were processed by just three banks: Azerigazbank in Azerbaijan, St Kitts & Nevis Anguilla National Bank in St Kitts & Nevis, and Norwegian-owned DnB Nord in Latvia. This is the weakest link in the chain, and if we could shut down these banks, or at least stop them from funding spammers, then the spam problem would largely go away.

All it would take is for all the other banks to refuse to do business with banks that fund spammers. If your bank won’t hand over your credit card info to a spammer bank, that would cut off the spammer’s lifeline. A similar technique has been proposed to shut down online gambling sites.

So why haven’t the banks done this? Is it because they make too much money supporting spam?



  1. Sammy wrote:

    I think the “root of all evil” quote may be the most mis-quoted of all time. It’s the “LOVE of money”. Ya know, to be a nitpicking tool.

    Wednesday, June 1, 2011 at 11:54 am | Permalink
  2. starluna wrote:

    Good point, Sammy.

    Wednesday, June 1, 2011 at 1:14 pm | Permalink
  3. Iron Knee wrote:


    Wednesday, June 1, 2011 at 3:14 pm | Permalink
  4. No u wrote:

    meh, 99% of my spam goes right ot the junk folder and I never see it…but if you fall for that stuff you deserve to be scammed :p

    I’d rather banks spend time and money on things like not failing instead. Spam is around to remind stupid people that they are stupid 😀

    Wednesday, June 1, 2011 at 3:30 pm | Permalink
  5. Michael wrote:

    Actually, since you premised your statement with, “It is often said,” then the original version was correct. Your statement didn’t claim that those saying that money (not the love of money) was the root of all evil were correctly quoting the aphorism. Just to be an even bigger nitpicking tool. 🙂

    No U, spam and phishing (yes, I know the original article was just about spam, but the groups of people behind spam and phishing often overlap) are actually a lot more sophisticated than they were 5-10 years ago. They’re not just for stupid people (quite often the elderly) anymore. It’s actually becoming a bigger problem on the economy as a whole. There have been a number of cases where businesses have lost tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars from scams. That means lost jobs. Not only that, it’s important to look where the money goes: organized crime, quite often Russian. So unless you’re cool with human trafficking, prostitution, corruption, murder, etc., then stopping the flow of money related to spam and phishing is kind of important.

    Wednesday, June 1, 2011 at 7:56 pm | Permalink
  6. Michael wrote:

    Oh, and if you’d like to make sure banks don’t fail…here’s a solution: Repeal Gramm-Leach-Bliley, thus putting Glass-Steagall separation of investment and depository banking back into place.

    Wednesday, June 1, 2011 at 7:58 pm | Permalink
  7. Anonymous wrote:

    Michael – not on the table, I’m afraid, but a wonderful idea nonetheless.

    Thursday, June 2, 2011 at 8:14 am | Permalink
  8. Bard wrote:

    The downside is if you go after banks for this, you set a precedent for going after the banks to shut down organizations like Wikileaks

    Thursday, June 2, 2011 at 4:01 pm | Permalink
  9. Moridin wrote:

    It seems one of those 3 banks has stopped taking the spam money!/dnbnor_hjelp/status/73305600066461696 (which incidentally is also mentioned in the source article referd to in this politicalirony post.

    Thursday, June 2, 2011 at 4:41 pm | Permalink
  10. Iron Knee wrote:

    Bard, they already went after WikiLeaks through the banks — don’t need a precedent any more.

    Moridin, getting rid of one single spammer doesn’t mean they have stopped doing business with all spammers. Hopefully the bad publicity will guarantee they do.

    Thursday, June 2, 2011 at 6:44 pm | Permalink