You probably rarely open your email account’s spam folder, and for good reason: Malicious email is on the rise. These electronic messages attempt to engage you with offers of untold wealth – if you’re willing to place money in escrow, of course – and cheap medications without a prescription. 

We delved into the murky depths of spam emails (specifically those mentioning the “Little Blue Pill”) to understand the tactics deployed in these messages and how hard they work to earn your business. Want to know how to sift through the junk? Scroll down. 

Falling for Pharma Spam


Spam emails are unsolicited messages sent out en masse, from anonymous sources, in an attempt to gather information or persuade purchases. Typically, the messages do not give you the option to unsubscribe and in some cases can contain malware that can infect your computer. 

There are several characteristics of promotional emails that one can be cognisant of to make sure the content is valid before making a purchase. It is important to be able to distinguish between standard promotional emails, which come from more reputable sources that you may have interacted with in the past, and spam emails that fill your inbox with junk.

The very first red flag will sometimes be in the subject line of an otherwise unopened email. Catchy phrases that mention a combination of medication, saving money, erectile dysfunction, or a “cure-all” pill can be meant to lure you into dangerous links or websites. 

Once an email has been opened, another clear indicator of spam can be the email address of the sender. By clicking (or tapping) on the email alias (the sender’s name), you can see the actual characters that comprise the address. You might notice that they don’t look “normal.” 

This can seem complex to the average user, but it can become easy for a trained eye to spot. Email addresses that are composed of random characters and unrecognisable organisational suffixes should be deleted immediately. Even though the “From” field in an email may mention titles like Doctor, the full email address exposes that they have no relation to medical professionals. 

Spam emails will also sometimes purposely misspell words to make it through a traditional spam filter. While your Gmail account may be on the lookout for emails offering Viagra, it may not necessarily know what to do with emails trying to sell “¥iagra” instead. You should never click on email links that use this simple scheming method. 

The easiest form of phishing in a spam email is sometimes the most basic. Links with commands like “Click Here” hope that you will respond reflexively before examining any other elements of the email. They want to draw your eye away from the obvious characteristics we’ve described to trick you into buying possibly unregulated products that could cause harm.

Here’s a Special Offer for You

Most common phrases used in spam infographic

We looked at the most common subject line phrases to see how these spam emails are grabbing the attention of their readers. 

The most commonly used phrase (it was used in 19 percent of the emails we looked at), was “Chase all the rainy days away.” An emotional grab like this may be more likely to entice someone, particularly if the sentiment of feeling happier or more fulfilled resonates with them in some way. An empty phrase with trigger words compels the reader to add their own value or meaning and mentally establish an independent reason to open the email rather than delete it. 

Many of the email subjects were also sexual in nature. By suggesting that you can “drive your partner crazy" or that the “Dr. has the fix,” these spam emails prey on men with symptoms of erectile dysfunction by suggesting a quick or inexpensive cure. Since sex-related problems, such as erectile dysfunction, can affect as many as 1 in 10 men, these targeted attacks can influence a large audience. Some even get right to the point – “limp dick” showed up in 12 percent of the emails we looked at. 

Spam: Gotta Catch ’Em All


So how do spam filters work to keep these kinds of emails from getting through? There are a number of solutions most email providers apply to block harmful content. 

The first step is understanding where the email came from. Anti-spam organisations keep a list of the networks (referred to as a Real-time Blackhole List or RBL) that are commonly used by spammers. Spam filters look up the network to see where the email was sent from, and the “spam score” increases if the network matches one on the list.  

The next thing a spam filter looks at is the software that sent the email. Traditional email providers, like Gmail or Outlook, are designed to make sure that mail is accurately delivered and spam does not reach your inbox. Spam, on the other hand, is delivered by software meant to imitate legitimate mail servers. Instead of working to send mail directly to a recipient, spam software sends as many emails as possible to multiple people in the shortest time frame. 

The last step is analysing the content of an email. Spam filters look at the body of an email for common spam characters, as well as header filters for falsified information. Content similar to what we’ve discussed should be identified by a good filter. Filters also look for flashy HTML (such as large fonts, blinking text, and bright colours) that isn’t traditionally used in email communication. 

Digital Doctor on Board

Most frequently used spam subject terms infographic

In order to attract your attention, spammers often user crude language. When we examined the most frequently used words in these spam email advertisements, the word “dick” rose to the top of the list. It was followed very closely by the word “limp.” These messages present seemingly easy solutions for erectile dysfunction; many of which do not normally involve a doctor or treatments. But that doesn’t stop the advertisements from using the term “Dr,” which ranked as the fourth-most common word seen in the emails we reviewed, or “medications,” which ranked fifth.

Buried in Spam

Far more spam emails are being sent out than you might think. In fact, about 74 trillion emails are sent every year, and roughly 89 percent of those emails are thought to be spam or viruses. 

It is estimated that spammers make $200 million U.S. a year by engaging in shady practices such as selling fake drugs to unsuspecting victims. And as we’ve seen, sometimes the consequences of spam emails can go far beyond the cost. 

Taking Back Your Inbox

Reaching into the depths of the spam inbox to find a solution to your health problems is the wrong route to go. These emails are creatively crafted to make readers think that there are great alternatives to consulting an actual doctor – especially when it comes to price and ease of access. However, the best thing you can do is leave these messages alone, mass delete all of them, and then proceed to partner with a trusted retailer with great prices, service, and support. 

If you’re experiencing erectile dysfunction, reputable online options like Superdrug Online Doctor are there to help. With consultations by GMC registered medical professionals, you’ll never have to worry about being taken advantage of. It’s medicine – be smart and choose wisely with Superdrug Online Doctor.

By the way...Superdrug Online Doctor is committed to safeguarding your privacy and ensuring that your personal data is protected. 

We never send unsolicited messages - only registered patients will ever receive emails from us.

And even if you are a patient, we will never include information about your health in an email - all your communication with our doctors will be via your secure and private patient account with us.

Methodology

Email content research was conducted using WordStat to analyse spam emails collected during the month of July 2016. 

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If you have any questions, please contact press@frac.tl.

Sources