There's another threat on the Internet these days -- only this one targets the scammers.
Project Knujon, or no junk spelled backwards, does the work that many other organizations have shied away from -- collecting and sorting through millions of spam messages submitted by the public, and then shutting down the illicit Websites. Since 2005, Project Knujon has shut down more than 50,000 fraudulent Websites.
"From our perspective, we want to target the transaction and not the advertisement," said Garth Bruen, Project Knujon creator and developer. "What we're doing is we're standing forward for the consumer. We want to fix this problem."
With a background that includes programming and public policy, Bruen started Project Knujon with his father, Robert, more than two years ago. The Project now receives about 20,000 pieces of junk mail a day from about 2,000 registered subscribers who submit on a regular basis. The registered users pay an annual $27 fee, which Bruen says helps support the project while weeding out spammers attempting to derail the site. In addition, the project also receives junk mail from about 2,000 other, non-registered users who submit anywhere from frequently to occasionally.
The shut down process begins once junk e-mails are submitted. Once received, the e-mails are then rapidly filtered by their URLs to find the fraudulent sites. Non-URL e-mail, such as deposit scams, are presented to law enforcement for investigation. Web space providers will shut down the spammers. Other junk mail is evaluated to determine the best course of action. The project also has a purge function, where members can examine reports and reinstate a Website if it's deemed legitimate.
Although shutting down one Website doesn't ensure that the spammers won't try to create another, Bruen said that the ultimately, the goal was to wear down the providers so that they prohibit the spammers from creating any more sites altogether.
"What we're hoping to do is reach a point of exhaustion of Web providers," he said.
The task is no small undertaking. Statistics show that spam comprises about 90 percent of all Internet traffic. A recent Consumer Report survey indicated that about 650,000 people ordered a product or service via spam in the period of one month. So far, Bruen and his father have received and sorted through more than 5 million pieces of junk mail.
While junk e-mail has been around almost as long as the Internet itself, Bruen said that he has seen a huge spike in large-scale scams and frauds only in the last two to three years.
"Five years ago, spam didn't have the criminal edge to it that it does now," he said. "The criminality has really taken off."
Some of the most salient crimes include counterfeit prescription drug sales, knockoff and stolen merchandise, predatory lending scams, vacation scams and identity theft. While the demographics of victims span a wide range, seniors and college students are often particularly vulnerable.
"Most of the people don't come forward and report their crimes," said Bruen. "People know that they've been had, but they don't want anybody else to know that they've been had."