Short-and-distort stock spam?

The so-called “pump-n-dump” stock scam dominated the spam arena in 2007. It fueled the increase in “image” spam and was contributing to over 30% of total spam volume sent.

In 2008, the stock spam was barely noticeable. The decline could be attributed to the efforts by the U.S Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). But I would also hope that  anti-spam filters have significantly reduced deliverability rates for this kind of spam making it much less efficient and financially rewarding.

On Saturday, our spamtraps started to receive messages like this:

Subject: Amazon.com have some troubles.
Hello!
News agency Reuters informs about not to working capacity of a site
amazon.com in current of two weeks since June, 9th and corresponding
it to falling of share price. Be close at work with them

The spam campaign was sent through a “botnet” with varying subject lines:

Amazon.com have some troubles.
What happen's with amazon.com?
Amazon.com is not working.
Amazon.com crashed.
Why does not work Amazon.com?
Amazon.com is down?
Falling Amazon.com
Deenergizing Amazon.com
Amazon.com In what a problem?
About Amazon.com.

There were no links, phone numbers, stock symbols or attachments in the e-mail. It wasn’t a phishing attempt either. At first, I thought it was one of the “broken” spam runs, when spammers send irrelevant content by mistake or as a test run. But the determination of this spam run suggested something different. It seems like someone is deliberately trying to impact Amazon’s reputation. The only reason I can think of would be to temporarily affect its share price.

A potential future drop in the price allows someone to sell borrowed stock at a higher price than they need to pay in order to return it back. This type of stock trading is known as “short selling“. But if the stock trader relies on misinformation to manipulate the stock price, it’s known as “short-and-distort” trick.

The stock price for Amazon had started to fall last Friday, most likely in response to the technical issues experienced by their website. The trend continued on Monday and I would not be surprised if the spam campaign had made it worse.

The “pump-n-dump” spam was taking advantage of “penny” stocks and was going after small companies. If “short-n-distort” is a new trend in stock manipulation spam, then it will target big, well-known companies.