Spammer is fine(d) in Russia.

Like many other Russian IT specialists working abroad, I start my day by reading Russian news online. Last Friday, I was pleased to see an article about a spammer being fined in Russia for the very first time.

Kirill Gureyev had sent spam e-mail to 7500 recipients. According to the Federal Anti-monopoly Service (FAS), he violated the Law on Advertisement. As a result, he was imposed a fine of 5000 rubles (about $200 US dollars)…

Yes, there is no typo there. It’s $200 fine for someone who makes ten times more with a single click on a “Send” button.

To find out more details on this I visited the official website of the FAS. The relevant article (in Russian) quotes a part of the law that prohibits any distribution of electronic advertisement without previous consent from the recipient. The fine ranges from 4 to 20 thousand rubles (or up to approx. $800 USD).

Interestingly enough, this case was possible due to a complaint filed by a victim of this spammer, who repeatedly replied to spam asking for the messages to stop. Without success, he reported an official complaint to FSA which led to a 3 month long investigation. Kudos to him! I wonder if 7500 complaints would have made a more significant dent in the spammer’s budget.

While it’s nice to see some movement on this front, it is also showing that the existing laws today have very limited use against spammers. This is one of the reasons why the volume and the variety of Russian language spam continues to increase.

The “spam” advertisement is really cheap yet very efficient. And even if you happen to violate a law, the punishment is just a small part of the price you pay. It isn’t at all surprising why many legitimate businesses in Russia order “e-mail marketing services” from spam gangs.

Here is a list of most common spam topics we come across:

  • Training and seminars (usually business oriented)
  • Spam services (both e-mail and SMS)
  • Products (everything from flashlights to furniture)
  • Real estate and rentals
  • Services (accounting, moving, business termination, etc)
  • Tickets to various events
  • Books
  • Dating

All these are sent exclusively through “botnets” — a network of computers infected with malware and controlled by the spammers. The majority of the traffic is destined to Russian recipients, but a significant proportion is also clogging mailboxes in other countries.

I find it ironic that I rarely see this sort of spam myself, while my Canadian colleague who doesn’t read Russian gets more than 30 per day in his Quarantine folder. He often asks me to translate those that contain a photo of an attractive lady 🙂

We can only hope that a more potent set of anti-spam laws would emerge in the Russian Federation. The legislation alone wouldn’t be able to stop the spam completely, but it’ll move it into the criminal area, where it belongs.