Video: There's a reason why your spam has increased

By Rehema Ellis Correspondent
NBC News
updated 1/22/2007 7:51:44 PM ET 2007-01-23T00:51:44

At a cyber cafe, the cappuccinos are steaming, and so are lots of customers whose computers are clogged with spam — junk e-mail.

"I've noticed if I ever open them, then I end up getting five times as many," says Internet user Heather Philpot.

And it's getting worse. After some success with software filters that blocked unwanted e-mails, spam seems to be coming back.

According to one study, last year the amount of spam soared from about 30 billion messages sent per day to 60 billion.

"I would say when you put the marks up as to who's winning the war on spam, we have good months and bad months," says Scott Weiss with IronPort Systems.

What happened? Experts say spammers went back to the drawing board and figured out that using pictures instead of words would get around all the sophisticated technology that was designed to keep your computer safe.

"Right now, most software programs that filter spam can't tell the difference between a picture of your grandkid and a picture of a stock tip, so pictures are getting through where text wouldn't," says Bob Sullivan, technology correspondent for MSNBC.com.

Spammers are also evading filters by using quotes from best sellers like the Harry Potter series, or using headlines from actual news stories cut and pasted together. But there is some progress being made for consumers. Last year, the Federal Trade Commission sued nearly 90 spammers and won.

"We've obtained more than $10 million in redress," says Lois Greisman with the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection. "We've also obtained civil penalties in excess of several million dollars."

What can consumers do on their own? Experts say update your anti-spam filter software regularly, be skeptical and delete the spam without ever opening it.

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