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Survey: Why do people respond to spam?

Almost one third of consumers questioned admit to answering e-mails they suspected were spam, says a new survey.

Most people may think they're smart enough not to answer an obvious spam message. But is that really the case?

Almost one third of consumers questioned admitted answering e-mails they suspected were spam, says a survey released Wednesday by the Messaging Anti-Abuse Working Group (MAAWG).

Among those who responded to spam, 17 percent said they clicked on it by mistake, 13 percent said they sent a note to the spammer to complain, while 12 percent said they were interested in the product or service.

Why do people respond to spam?
Why do people respond to spam? Messaging Anti-Abuse Working Group

The MAAWG's survey study, "A Look at Consumers' Awareness of Email Security and Practices," also discovered that about two-thirds of the people considered themselves "very" or "somewhat" knowledgeable about Internet security. Most of them use antivirus software, but 21 percent said they take no action to prevent spam or dangerous e-mail from hitting their in-box.

Messaging Anti-Abuse Working Group

Further, the survey found that 80 percent of users questioned doubted their computers were ever at risk of being infected with a "bot" that can send spam and create other problems without the user knowing it.

"Spamming has morphed from an isolated hacker playing with some code into a well-developed underground economy that feeds off reputable users' machines to avoid detection," says MAAWG Chair Michael O'Reirdan. "Consumers shouldn't be afraid to use e-mail, but they need to be computer smart and learn how to avoid these problems."

The study was based on phone and online interviews conducted in December and January with 800 computer users in the U.S. and Canada who said they were not "security experts" and who used e-mail addresses not managed by an IT department.

The Messaging Anti-Abuse Working Group is a global organization comprising ISPs, network operators, and other tech companies. The group's goal is to reduce the abuse and threats affecting electronic mail by focusing on technology, industry collaboration, and public policy initiatives.