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Canada will not be associated with the global center of pharmaceutical spam anymore

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Billions of email users around the planet may not be able to criticize Canada anymore for most of the annoying spam in their inboxes. For a long time, Canadians have been unfairly maligned as some of the world's worst peddlers of spam, theoretically responsible for flooding accounts with typo-ridden sales pitches for low-cost erectile dysfunction tablets. In 2010, on an average 300 billion spam messages were being sent everyday, and estimates suggest around 85% were often linked to some kind of pharmaceutical drug scam, mostly from an online «company» called Canadian Pharmacy.

The Canadian International Pharmacy Association, the organization that represents legitimate online pharmacies in Canada, gets regular calls and emails asking whether certain companies are above board. Spammers have capitalized on the price disparity between prescription drugs in Canada and the United States in a bid to catch the attention of American email users. They send a staggering number of emails and wish to fool just a small part of the recipients into thinking they're dealing with a trustworthy operation.

We hear about that type of situation and we know it exists said spokesman Tim Smith. It's a concern for us when we see activity like this. We have definitely seen a grow in inquiries from people looking for legal companies, mostly American customers who are plagued by the outrageous cost of medication and healthcare in the United States and are out searching he said. Tom also notes he's also heard from victims who have lost money to spammers. Virtual outfits like Canadian Top Pharmacy, Montreal Drug Store, Canadian Pharmaceutical Mall, Canadian Quality Prescription Drugs and Best Canadian HealthCare Pharmacy have made big business out of fraudulent drug offers, but changes at the top levels of the spam world suggest Canada is starting to get left out of pharma scams.

This also a big concern for a largest maker of security software for computers, headquartered in Mountain View, California "Symantec". In the last three years, "Canadian Pharmacy" has certainly been the largest and most productive pharmaceutical spam brand in the wild states a report by the security researchers at MessageLabs Intelligence, which is owned by online security laboratory Symantec.

Suddenly all that changed in the end of the last year. In October, one of the world's most prolific spammers, an organization called Spamit, ceased operations, and analysts immediately noticed a enormous drop in overall spam traffic. Russian authorities have estimated the outfit had collected $120 million over the past 3 and a half years in connection with its spam before it shut down. Then in December, another large organization, Rustock, stopped sending out spam for a two-week period, without explanation.

Rustock had been responsible for almost half of the spam regularly sent out, MessageLabs estimates. The company has since resumed spamming but its output is nowhere near as high as it once was and its tactics seem to have changed. The spammers spamming on behalf of this particular 'Canadian Pharmacy' brand have moved to ... other brands, the templates are somewhat different now and the web site pattern has also shifted as well, said Paul Wood, a spokesman for Symantec. It suggests an instability has taken place in the pharmaceutical sector of the spam community. Email scams that used pharmaceutical drugs as a lure had dropped from the 80% range of all spam to almost 64.2% at the end of 2010, and in January dropped again to about 59%, according to MessageLabs. While there are still a few major scam sites using Canada as fragment of their names, spammers appear to be trying more generic names like HealthRefill, Medsleader, MedrugsPlus, Internet Drugs Pedia and Men Drugs Shop, says the MessageLabs report.

It's very likely that most email users haven't noticed much of a difference in their inboxes, even though changes in the spam business have been impressive in the last few months. That is because pharma spam has long been targeted by IT professionals, Stern said. With pharmaceutical spam, because it was so voluminous, it was priority one for us and all the other spam vendors, because if you let one through then you've let through 10,000 in the next second, he said. Stern said, the amount of spam in inboxes will remain about the same but organizations will see reduced IT costs because of less spam to contend with. Stern and his colleagues have been following Canadian pharmacy scams for some time and in 2008 conducted an investigation to see what would come off if they actually responded to a spam letter offering Viagra. They sent a staffer to visit a Toronto address given as the company's headquarters, which turned out to be a Subway sandwich store in a strip mall.

Surprisingly, a parcel did eventually arrive in the post its postage indicated it came from Mumbai and inside a battered envelope was a plastic bag containing a few blue pills. A toxicology report revealed they were not genuine Viagra. A second order placed through another email resulted in a package arriving from Shanghai, with a number of pills taped inside a magazine.

They also were not real Viagra pills but did contain the active ingredient - sildenafil in the drug. Stern said that even with the dramatic decrease in spam levels and the changes with the major players, other groups will definitely emerge and the battle to contain spam will continue. Spammers will go through (websites) every few minutes, so it takes a lot more energy to take them down than to put them up.


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