Spam Trends Worth Noting

Trends can tell us a great deal about what is going on in any particular industry.

Spam is no different. If we understand the trends that the bad guys are following, or creating, then we can better learn how to fight against junk email messages that are not only irritating, but also dangerous.

Below, some of the trends we have been seeing as of late have been broken in to different categories: spam levels, spam topics and phishing.

Spam levels

Before we begin talking about trends in spam levels it is important to note that these numbers are obtained by recording the number of emails that a spam filter identifies as spam. False negatives are not counted in these results and some numbers reflect false positives in their results.

In 2002 spam accounted for nine percent of all email messages. After that, spam levels spiked dramatically; growing to 40 percent in 2003 and then 72.3 percent in 2004. Spam levels fell for the first time in 2005 when they accounted for 68.6 percent of all email messages. This decline was short lived, however, as 2006 saw spam levels rise to 86.2 percent. The years 2007, 2008, and 2009 saw levels fluctuate from 84. 6 percent to 81.2 percent and then back up to 87.7 percent before climbing to an all time high of 89.1 percent in 2010.

After reaching that high, spam levels began a sudden decline falling to 75.1 percent in 2011 and 68 percent in 2012.

What we can take away from this is that while spammers have been hit hard by recent spam fighting technologies, they are still a rather dangerous threat. The numbers have not fallen to an acceptable rate; in fact 68 percent is still rather high when you think about it. In short, efforts to keep spam at bay still need due diligence by businesses of all sizes.

Spam topics

One of the more interesting trends to follow is the topics that spammers use when sending out their email campaigns.

Whenever there is a major world event, like the World Cup or the Olympics, you can be assured that the cyber criminals will take advantage of worldwide interest and use these as their subjects. Outside of these internationally appealing topics, there are some others that tend to be used more than others.

Originally, scams were a popular topic for spammers. The 419, or Nigerian Prince, scam was popular as were emails promising millions in the European lottery.

The topics have changed though. More spammers are trying to appeal to what people want, not their inner most greed. As a result, the most popular topics used by spammers are:

  • Adult/dating – 41.3 percent
  • Pharmaceutical – 29.3 percent
  • Jewelry – 8.7 percent
  • Diplomas/degrees – 4.8 percent
  • Weight loss – 4.3 percent

Ironically, in these tough economic times the theme of jobs or work only captured 1.4 percent.

As more people develop online relationships through social media, their comfort level in finding a date online has also drastically increased. Spammers know this and use this to their advantage.

People are also more savvy about shopping online so high priced items like pharmaceuticals and jewelry are also common targets for spammers looking to hook their prey with money saving deals.


While the levels of phishing emails never quite reached the levels of spam, they are even more dangerous as they can lead to serious financial losses and damage to a company’s reputation.

In 2004, phishing was only at .1 percent. It rose gradually over the next two years to .3 percent and .36 percent in 2005 and 2006 before reaching the all time high of .62 percent in 2004. Yet like spam, the numbers sharply fell over the next few years dropping to .41 percent in 2008 and .31 in 2009 and finally .23 in 2010. The year 2011 saw a rise back to .33 percent and 2012 dropped to .27 percent.

However, while these numbers look insignificant is should be noted that the .1 percent in 2004 equaled 18 million phishing emails. This downward trend also shows that cyber criminals have taken more to spear phishing, or attacking high value targets as opposed to an attack that casts a wide net.

We can also safely assume that the lower percentages of phishing emails means that their attacks are successful enough to keep the bad guys in business.

Written by Jeff


  1. Clarisse Mulder · September 23, 2012

    I’ll be very honest. It’s not easy these days to differ spam from an actual e-mail. After all, not all spam gets filtered, and there are times when real e-mail ends up in the Junk Mail folder. But usually I base it on the name of the sender then the title. Does it sound like over the top? Normally spam mails do, perhaps to get you so excited to open the mail. Does it offer me huge amounts of money that I know I couldn’t get without significant hard work? If I get to open spam, I make sure I report it (I’m using Gmail, by the way), so hopefully it gets filtered the next time.

  2. Joan Fommer · September 25, 2012

    I used to be very naïve when it comes to spam, especially when it concerns about jobs. You know, they sound so real! It took me a while before I figured out what a huge damage it could cause. Fortunately it never reached to a point that a malware was installed in my PC or someone hacked into my account. I just received more of them as time went on I had no choice but to leave that user account. I hope with blogs such as this, people will be more educated on how to deal with spam and phishing.

  3. Jessica Craig · September 26, 2012

    I bet news and celebrities as a whole are also a huge topic for spammers. Is there any statistics how much they amount to? I believe they outnumber weight loss but this is only a guess of mine.

  4. Emma Jackson · September 27, 2012

    This is such a nice list, definitely worthy to share to friends and family! I’ve been often asked by others what spam is or how it works. This will hopefully answer their questions, and they’ll be a lot wiser on how to deal with them. But I definitely wish spam will be no more. It’s just so annoying! They sometimes make up more than 50 percent of my email, and there are times when I was close to responding to one of them because they sound so legit! These people are really getting smarter, and it scares me to hell.

  5. Jeff Orloff · September 27, 2012

    Very true Clarisse. That is why it is so important to have a solution in place that can help stop spam before it arrives in the user’s inbox.

  6. Jeff Orloff · September 27, 2012

    These are huge topics, you are right. I have written some articles about how big news items are often manipulated by spammers.

  7. Marina Garcia · September 30, 2012

    I can distinctly remember Olympics spam. I was hoping to get more news about how to obtain tickets for some of the games, and then I encountered an e-mail that mentioned it! I really thought that was it. Fortunately, I felt something was fishy since when I hovered over the link it doesn’t lead me to a secure page. So I really think it was spam and deleted it immediately. I also reported it to Gmail (since I’m using Gmail at that time). I’m hoping it helped and that such types of e-mails were not received by others, especially those who were gullible.

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