Spam In 2004: Less Porn, More Phishing

Porn ebbed while phony inheritance notifications rose, according to America Online's second annual state of spam report, released Wednesday.

The account, compiled based on AOL members' reports, showed that porn spammers had largely shifted from embedding images in their messages to text-only messages. What's more, said spokesman Nicholas Graham, there were fewer reports of porn-related spam for the year.

But phishing soared in popularity in 2004. Among the most infamous scams were e-mails notifying recipients of fictional inheritances. And, said AOL, two of the top 10 most popular spam subject lines related to online frauds: "You've been sent an Insta-Kiss," and "You have 17 New Pictures." The e-mails often actually directed users to Web sites that requested personal information that could be used for identity theft.

Spammers also apparently changed tactics--from offering help to consumers in financial distress, to appealing to their greedier instincts. Gone from the top 10 most popular subject lines were the recession-fueled lures "Get out of debt," "Work from home," and "Lowest insurance rates." In their place were the more bullish "HURRY HURRY Hot Stock on the RISE" and "Breaking news on the Top Pick stock."

As in 2003, online drug offers remained popular with spammers, but in 2004 Vioxx frequently appeared. Last year, the brand name nearly synonymous with spam was Viagra.

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