Online spam is a problem we’re all familiar with, whether it’s emails, texts, or social media DMs, most of us receive some sort of spam every day. But just how big is the problem, and how much has spam exploded in recent years? Could AI have had an impact on the growing levels of online spam?
We’ve put together some of the most intriguing spam statistics for 2023, alongside data from our own survey to investigate where the most spam comes from and just how much money spammers can make.
- 162 billion spam emails are sent every day, with 49% of the 333 billion daily emails sent, considered spam (numbers recorded for 2022).
- The majority of people (96.8%) have received spam messages in some form.
- The U.S. sends the most spam emails, with 8 billion per day on average, but Greece sends the highest proportion of spam emails, with 95% of emails sent containing spam.
- The most common topic of spam emails is prizes and giveaways, followed by job opportunities, and banking.
- Over two-thirds (68.8%) of people who had received spam and/or phishing messages reported their mental health being impacted at least a little as a result.
- Financial institutions are most commonly targeted by business phishing attacks, with 27.7% of scam messages being received by companies in this sector.
- Delivery services were the most common subject of spam text messages in the U.S. in the first half of 2023, with over 1.1 billion scam texts relating to this topic.
- The most common victims of scam calls are men aged between 35 and 44, with 46% of people in this group falling victim to a telephone scam.
- The ten countries that send the most spam emails produce 2,112 metric tonnes of CO2 every day, or 770,880 over the course of one year from spam emails alone. In one day, that’s equivalent to 5.2 million miles driven in a conventional gas car, or 1.8 billion miles over the course of a year.
- Over three-quarters (77%) of people who have fallen victim to an AI phone scam have lost money to the scammers.
Number of spam emails is increasing (even as % decreases)
The total number of emails sent every day increases each year. Between 2017 and 2022 that daily total grew from 269 to 333.2 billion, which means that over 64 billion more emails were sent every day last year than 5 years previously!
Over the same period, the percentage of total email traffic that is identified as spam, has consistently decreased (from 56.63% in 2017 to 48.63% in 2022). Security experts put this down to action against botnets (networks of hijacked computers that have historically been used to send spam).
Does this mean we’re all receiving less spam emails?
No! Unfortunately, the increase in the total number of emails sent, makes up for the decrease in the proportion of emails that are identified as spam. So in fact, the number of spam emails has slightly increased over the same period.
And in 2022, over 162 billion spam emails were sent every day!
We carried out a survey which found that the vast majority (96.8%) of people have received spam messages relating to scams through emails, text messages, phone calls, or other types of messages.
The most common channel people say they receive spam through is email, with almost half (49%) saying they receive spam via emails most often. This was followed by phone calls (26.5%), then text messages (14.7%), and messaging apps like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger came lowest with 9.8%.
Of the 96.8% of respondents who had received messages or calls involving scams, 57.1% of this group said that they had lost money as a result of the scam. The most common amount people said they had lost in total because of these scams was $100-$249, however, 2.9% said they had lost over $1,000.
Some countries have worse spam issues than others, often due to weak or non-existent anti-spam laws that allow spam operations to be carried out more easily.
The latest figures show that China has by far the most live spam issues, totaling 18,720. This is followed by the U.S. with 6,712, and then Saudi Arabia with 834.
|Country||Number of current live spam issues|
|United States of America||6,712|
Source: Spam Haus
There are 8 billion spam emails sent in the United States every day, making this the country sending the most spam emails in total. The country with the second-highest number of spam emails per day is France with 7.3 billion, followed by Germany and Russia, both with 7.1 billion.
|Country||Number of spam emails sent per day (billions)|
Source: Talos Intelligence
While the U.S. sends the most spam emails in total, Greece sends the highest proportion compared to its total number of emails sent, with 95% containing spam, followed by China where 94.59% of emails contain spam. The U.S. comes 29th on this list with 82.47% of all emails sent here containing spam.
|Country||All emails (volume in billions)||Spam emails (volume in billions)||Percentage of emails containing spam|
When it comes to sending and receiving emails, the environmental impact is something that can be overlooked. Data from Carbon Literacy shows that a short email sent and received on a phone can produce 0.2g of carbon emissions, while a spam email picked up by filters can produce 0.03g of carbon emissions.
We used this information to determine just how much carbon was being produced by spam emails sent from the countries that send the most spam. The 8 billion spam emails sent from the U.S. each day will generate 240 metric tonnes of CO2 emissions. Over a year this would add up to a total of 87,600 metric tonnes of CO2.
For the top ten countries combined, spam emails produce 2,112 metric tonnes of CO2 every day, or 770,880 over the course of one year. In one day that’s equivalent to 5.2 million miles driven in a conventional gas car, or 1.8 billion miles driven over a year.
Spam emails can contain a wealth of different topics from scammers posing as your bank to fake prizes telling you how to claim your ‘jackpot’. We asked our survey respondents which themes they see most commonly in the spam emails they receive.
The topic most commonly seen in spam emails is prizes and giveaways, with 36.7% of people saying this is one of the top themes they see. This was closely followed by emails relating to job opportunities (36.3%), and banking-related scams came in third at 34.6%.
*Respondents were able to choose up to three options.
Robokiller estimates that Americans received a total of 78 billion automated spam texts throughout the first half of 2023, with most texts being received in January and May (14 billion each). In total, this is a $4 billion increase year-over-year compared to the same period in 2022.
|Spam texts per month USA|
|Month||Estimated number of scam texts|
There were over 1.1 billion scam texts relating to delivery services sent in the U.S. in the first half of 2023, making this the most common topic used in these kinds of texts. This was followed by bank-related content with 365 million texts and travel-related content with 179 million texts.
|Estimated top robotext categories 2023|
|Apple + hardware||141,134,560|
Scammers using SMS scams stole an estimated $13 billion between January and June 2023. These scams typically impersonate legitimate businesses, like delivery companies or banks, and trick people into clicking links or sharing personal information.
The number of people in the U.S. who lost money due to scam calls more than tripled between 2014 and 2021.
The latest figures from TrueCaller show that a total of $29.8 billion was lost to scam callers by 59.4 million people in a one-year period, meaning victims lost $502 on average. The number of people losing money to scam calls has increased dramatically compared to 2014 when 18 million people lost a total of $8.6 billion.
|Year||Number of Americans who lost money to scam calls (millions)||Total money lost (billion USD)||Average money lost|
In total, men are victims of scams over the phone more often than women. Of all people who had been the victim of a phone scam in a period of 12 months, 59.4% were men, and 38.3% were women.
The most common victims of scam calls are men aged between 35 and 44, with 46% of people in this group falling victim to a phone call scam. This is followed by men aged 18-34 (40%), and women aged 18-34 (31%).
One study into telephone spam found that the scale of spam calls varies greatly from country to country. In this context, spam is defined as unwanted calls including fraud and nuisance calls.
Chile has the highest rate of spam calls, with 56.9% of phone calls nationwide being unwanted, and 8.9% (or 15.6 million) of all calls being classed as fraud. This is followed by Indonesia where 56.4% of all calls were spam, with 1.4% being fraud.
Other countries with a high spam call rate include Argentina (56%), Hong Kong (54%), and Brazil (46.4%). The U.S. ranks 16th on the list with 25.3% of all calls being classed as spam.
|Rank||Country||Spam Calls Rate||Fraud Call Rates|
The number of spam calls each person receives also varies by country. People in Brazil currently receive the highest number with an average of 25 nuisance or fraud calls each month. Hong Kong comes in second with 20, followed by Chile with 18 spam calls per person per month on average.
The countries where people receive the fewest spam calls are the Netherlands, Hungary, New Zealand, and Ireland with only one spam call per person per month on average.
|Rank||Country||Spam Calls Per Person Per Month|
A 2022 report from IBM found that the click rate of an average targeted phishing attack was 17.8%. However, when phishing campaigns included phone calls (voice phishing), they were clicked by 53.2% of recipients, making them three times more effective.
One example from researchers at UC San Diego found that online spammers made around $7,000 per day on average, this amounts to approximately $2.5 million per year. However, this figure can vary widely depending on the scam operating, with some making very little and some making much more. (Source: UC San Diego)
While some phishing scams are targeted at individuals, many of these operations target businesses in an effort to obtain sensitive information or install malware on company computers.
Financial institutions, including banks, are the most common targets for business phishing attacks, with 27.7% of phishing emails or messages being sent to these companies. This is followed by SaaS and webmail companies at 17.7%, and social media companies at 10.4%.
|Industry||Share of phishing messages received|
With the use of AI tools on the rise, scammers are also making use of this technology to catch people online and over the phone.
A survey by McAfee found that 25% of adults had experienced a scam that used an AI voice. 10% of respondents said that they had personally been targeted, and 15% said it had happened to someone they knew. Of those who had fallen victim to an AI voice scam, 77% had lost money to the scammers.
Many of these scams include AI voice cloning, where the voice of someone you know is cloned and used to gain your trust in order to convince you to share your personal details or send money.
In our survey, 81.1% of people said they were aware that AI software is being used to imitate people’s voices in telephone scams, and a similar number (80.8%) said they were concerned about it. However, 63.1% said they were confident they could tell the difference between an AI voice and a human voice.
The release of the AI chatbot, ChatGPT, in 2022 provided users with a handy tool that could answer questions, generate content, write emails, and carry out a whole host of other tasks. But the launch of ChatGPT also gave scammers a way to refine their attacks and increase their frequency.
Research carried out by Darktrace found a 135% increase in ‘novel social engineering’ attacks in early 2023 following the widespread rollout of ChatGPT. These attacks are designed to create a sense of urgency, fear, or curiosity which persuades victims to take action.
Almost three-quarters (73%) of people said that they were concerned that hackers could use generative AI tools like ChatGPT to create spam emails that were almost impossible to distinguish from genuine emails. A Tooltester study found that 63.5% of people can’t identify content made purely by the ChatGPT 4.0 model.
Email providers and cybersecurity companies often use AI to detect online spam and filter it into junk folders or prevent it from accessing a victim’s computer. In fact, Google says its AI-powered spam filtering technology blocks more than 99.9% of spam, phishing, and malware from reaching users’ Gmail inboxes. Google also states that their AI-enhanced filters block almost 10 million spam emails every minute.
During our survey, we also asked people their opinions on different topics relating to online spam, and how it has affected them.
Most people (86.5%) said they thought the number of scam messages and emails they receive had increased in the past year. Concerningly, over two-thirds (68.8%) said their mental health had been impacted by an online scam, with 41% of people saying it had impacted their mental health considerably and 27.8% saying it had been affected a little.
Around four in five (79.6%) people said that they knew someone else who had been the victim of online scams or fraud, with 28.8% saying they knew of more than one person who had been affected.
The overwhelming majority of people (95.9%) think that they’re able to spot spam or fraudulent messages, with 56.6% saying they can pick them out easily. However, 39.3% said they can generally spot them but not always. Almost three-quarters (73.3%) also think that spam filters do a good job of blocking spam emails from entering inboxes.
We carried out a survey of 1,044 people in the U.S. between 02/10/23 and 09/10/23 to ask about their experiences with online spam and scam-related communications.
The breakdown of the survey respondents was as follows:
- Male: 54.2%
- Female: 44.9%
- Non-binary: 0.4%
- Preferred not to say: 0.5%
- 18-24: 4.5%
- 25-34: 38.1%
- 35-44: 38.3%
- 45-54: 10.9%
- 55-64: 5.4%
- Over 65: 2.7%
This article has been written and researched following our EmailTooltester methodology.Our Methodology