…get my e-mail address, someone writes to ask me today.
They get them in hundreds of ways.
Partly, they obtain them by starting chain letters, which people then begin to circulate because if they don?t, their entire family line back to Adam will be pre-emptively wiped out (and they apparently really believe this, so they follow the chain letter instructions) or else they?re going to get leprosy (and they apparently really believe this, so they follow the chain letter instructions) or they?ll become millionaires by forwarding the message (and they apparently really believe this, so they follow the chain letter instructions). Once the chain letter instructions are properly followed, the spammer has a long list of new and proven-to-be valid addresses for spamming. Not only that, but they figure anyone who really believed that their entire family line would be pre-emptively wiped out, or that they?d get leprosy for not forwarding the letter, or that they?d become millionaires from doing so would probably also buy swampland in Nevada. Naturally, they end up on mailing lists that provide special benefits that no one else in the world is privileged to receive. So, in the end, the chain letters actually do bring something special to these already-special people.
Another method used is to ?harvest? addresses by requiring people to sign in when they visit web pages before they?ll be allowed to download or view something. Also, if you sell something and the people have to give you their e-mail address well, guess what? That?s a marketable item as well. (This is why many people who buy off the Internet set up ?throw-away? e-mail accounts on hotmail, etc. They use them until they?re getting too much spam and then they just dump them and obtain a new e-mail address.)
Finally, sometimes they just ?guess.? A program automatically generates billions of possible names and attaches those names to domain names, then sends out the message. AOL, for example, blocks approximately 1.7 BILLION messages PER DAY that are sent towards their systems.
System, network and mail administrators are working hard to reduce the amount of spam people receive. Note that I said, ?reduce? and not ?eliminate.? Spam will never be eliminated. Just as with telemarketers and junk mail that is delivered by USPS instead of the Internet, spammers make more money from sending the spam than it ever could cost them to do so. (Spamming is actually much more profitable than the other means, because a billion messages can be sent as cheaply as tens of thousands?and in neither case does it cost much more than sending just two or three messages.)
The Nigerian spam, which is what you referenced, has actually earned some individual Nigerians well into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. (It may be into the millions by now; I haven?t read up on it lately.) There really are people dumb/crazy/insane/unthinking/or-whatever enough to go for it and send a few thousand along in hopes of getting part of those millions the Nigerians claim to be offering. The U.S. (and other) governments periodically work with the Nigerian government to try to crack down, but the people running the scam aren?t easy to catch. And they?re rich (now) so they can afford to buy themselves out of harm?s way.
This was the long and, hopefully, semi-entertaining way of telling you ?Stuff happens.?
When it does, just press the delete key. That?s the only permanent solution to spam. – My response to a query regarding how spammers get one’s address.