Spam, or unsolicited e-mail, is everywhere and shows no signs of slowing down. In fact, it will never go away, at least not until people keep buying the stuff spammers offer. And oh boy aren’t there always some new suckers in the cyberspace. However, things get far less amusing when human health gets into play. Have you noticed that a high percentage of spam you receive today is health-related?
It is just this health-related spam that Peter Gernburd and Alejandro Jadad from the Centre for Global eHealth Innovation from Canada wanted to find out more about. In September 2007 issue of PLoS Medicine, an open-access, peer-reviewed medical journal, they published a very interesting paper on this subject titled “Will Spam Overwhelm Our Defenses? Evaluating Offerings for Drugs and Natural Health Products”.
In their research they used three e-mail accounts, unfiltered for spam, to gather all the spam they could get in the period of one month. Among all the received spam messages, they picked out the health-related ones, defined as those which included offers of interventions that could modify a physical, cognitive, behavioral, or emotional state in humans (e.g., medications, natural health products, devices, or professional services). All Web links included in such messages were further analyzed.
During the study period researchers received 4,153 spam messages, out of which 1,334 or 32% were health related. Majority of these messages (73%) were sent from the United States.
Scientists tried to order prescription drugs and natural health products from Web sites advertised in these messages. Eventually, they received 9 orders (5 prescription drugs and 4 natural health products). Some of the products they managed to buy where Clalis (for erectile dysfunction), Tramadol (for pain), Valium and Xanax (for anxiety and other disorders). There was no report of any evidence of credit card abuse by the spammers, except for one undelivered product.
What the study lacked, but authors promised to report on in the near future, was the analysis of the actual purchased pharmaceutical products to reveal whether they are genuine, fakes, and most importantly are they dangerous.
You can read the complete paper on PLoS Medicine Web site.