Sending deceptive spam is now a felony in Virginia. Gov. Mark Warner predicts the law will have a substantial impact because so much Internet traffic travels through the state, home of AOL and other major ISPs. In a recent commentary (not available online yet), Hanah Metchis of the Competitive Enterprise Institute offers grounds for skepticism:
The problem of spam starts with the fact that it's very easy for spammers to hide their true identities and contact information. When e-mail headers are forged, it is difficult to discover who actually sent the e-mail. Police or private companies contemplating a lawsuit must hire experts to trace the e-mail to its source. Once a spammer is found, local police must often pursue him out of state, or even to foreign countries. Certain countries, such as China, are known for being "spam havens" where law enforcement officials are reluctant to cooperate with investigations. Because of these difficulties, anti-spam laws are rarely enforced….
Research has shown that the likelihood of being caught is far more important to criminals than the possible penalties. That is, a law that is effectively enforced but carries a light penalty will be a much better deterrent than a law with a heavy penalty that is rarely enforced.
Penalties for spamming have not, in fact, deterred spammers. Twenty-nine states have passed anti-spam legislation, and fraudulent advertising is illegal regardless of the medium through which it's distributed. And yet, because these laws are not regularly enforced, the amount of spam is constantly growing.
Metchis argues that technological fixes are much more promising than legislation. One of her examples, the Matador spam shield, has worked quite well for me so far. Unlike McAfee's Spamkiller, which takes forever to load, Matador inserts itself into Outlook, so it's up and running whenever you check your e-mail. It also catches a bigger proportion of spam, missing just 10 or so come-ons per day (out of around 150). In addition to filters, it uses a challenge-response protocol for iffy messages.
Of course, I was also pleased with Spamkiller when I first got it, but lately it's been letting through a lot of obvious spam.