When unicorns go bad: Salesforce and pump-n-dump scams

About six months ago, I noticed a significant uptick in spam email. But not just any spam, oh no. I found myself flooded with stock pump-n-dump spam, in incredible quantities.

What is pump-n-dump?

A pump-n-dump scam is where a scammer buys a large quantity of a cheap stock, then floods the world with hype to drive up the price of the stock. When it starts to rise, the scammer sells all his shares, the stock collapses, and the scam victims lose their investments.

Occasionally, the companies parasitized in this way can go out of business (small companies will sometimes use their own stock as collateral for loans, with the agreement that if the price of the stock drops below a certain point, the loans come due immediately).

And as I collected examples of this spam, I noticed something interesting: all the pump and dump scam spam originated from Salesforce, the $300 billion American tech giant.

American company Salesforce supports stock pump and dump scammers

So what does Salesforce have to do with penny stock scams, and why on earth would Salesforce be supporting pump-n-dump stock scammers? Hang on, let’s go down the rabbit hole.

When I say I’ve been getting stock scam spam in incredible quantities, I mean it. I’ve received 1,794 examples of stock pump-n-dump scam emails between March 17, when I first started collecting them, and October 30. That’s 1,794 scam emails in 227 days, or an average of about eight a day.

Salesforce stock pump and dump spam emails

There are a lot of them. They come from multiple From addresses and claim to be from various “investment” companies, but they all have some characteristics in common:

  • They all originate from IP addresses owned by Salesforce subsidiary Exact Target
  • They all advertise URLs hosted by Salesforce subsidiary Exact Target
  • While they come from different email addresses, they use similar graphics, language, and promote the same sets of stocks

How many different companies do they claim to come from? Lots. Every time I see an example of one of these spam emails, I build a rule in my mail reader app to route future examples to the Salesforce scam spam folder. Between March and October, here’s a list of the From addresses used in these scam emails:

Salesforce stock pump and dump email rules

Each From address will be used to send anywhere from three to twenty or so scam emails before it’s abandoned and the scammers move on to the next.

What does Salesforce make of all this?

On paper, Salesforce/ExactTarget’s spam policies seem good enough. In practice…

In practice, Spamcop has disabled reporting to Salesforce, because Salesforce (a) doesn’t pay any attention to abuse reports and (b) doesn’t follow spam best practices, specifically by not requiring double-opt-in and not honoring remove requests.

Spamcop disables abuse reports to Salesforce for email spam

This isn’t a new problem, either. Spamcop stopped sending abuse reports to Salesforce/ExactTarget at least as far back as 2011, and maybe earlier.

Unsurprisingly, manual emails to Salesforce and ExactTarget abuse addresses do nothing.

So what’s all this about? What does Salesforce gain by assisting stock pump and dump scammers?


Pump and dump scams require broad reach. They are also extremely profitable when they work. So it’s worth spending money to make sure you can reach as many marks as possible; profit varies directly with the number of gullible dupes you can con into buying the hyped stock.

And Salesforce/ExactTarget isn’t cheap:

Salesforce/ExactTarget pricing for spam

Note those prices are (a) billed annually up front and (b) are per organization. So even the cheapest plan is $4,800 out of pocket at the start, and the spammers are using multiple phony organizations in their spam.

This is, I’ll warrant, a nontrivial source of Salesforce revenue.

So Salesforce has a positive financial incentive to aid and abet these scammers, and thousands of folding, spendable reasons to disregard abuse reports.

“You,” me, and More Than Two

That feeling when you wake up one morning to find a book you’ve written is featured on a TV show about serial killers…yes, that’s a thing.

I don’t watch TV shows about serial killers. I honestly didn’t even know the TV show You existed. If you’re similarly unaware of the vagarities of popular entertainment, it’s a show about a serial killer who stalks and murders women. In the third season, he marries another serial killer and they stalk and rape women together. Yes, that’s also a thing.

So imagine my surprise when I woke to learn that a recent episode featured my book More Than Two, and the most hilariously awful attempt at group sex ever imagined by Hollywood, which has a long history of pretty flippin’ awful depictions of group sex.

Yeah, um…yeah.

The episode isn’t as big a trainwreck as you’re probably imagining. Oh, no. It’s worse.

Anyway, I have a lot of complicated feels about this, which I talk about here:

You, me, and More Than Two

New book out!

The second book in the Passionate Pantheon series of far-future, post-scarcity erotic science fiction, Divine Burdens, I co-authored with Eunice Hung is out!

This is…unusual erotica.

When Eunice and I wrote the first book in the series, Divine Burdens,, we spent a lot of time shopping it around to publishers, who kept telling us there was no way to sell it. Erotica, we were told over and over (and over!), is niche. People like what the like. Someone who reads shapeshifter werewolf porn won’t read shapeshifter vampire porn. Unless the book fits a genre, there’s no way to reach its audience.

Well, these books don’t fit a genre.

They’re kinky AF, they are set in a far-future society ruled by AIs who are worshipped as gods through ritualized sex, and they have fetishes so exotic they don’t have names (we checked).

So not what most publishers wanted.

Well, we persevered, and now the second novel is available! And the third is in its fourth draft, and the fourth is in its second draft, and we’re planning the fifth…ahem. Anyway.

So, yeah, this book…isn’t like the first. The first book was Utopian post-scarcity erotica. With this one, we wanted to see what would happen if we took a post-scarcity society and flipped the Utopia on its head. Divine Burdens is erotic horror.

Top athletes competing for the honor of running through a forest for three days, pursued by Hunters trying to capture them and commune with the God of the Hunt through their bodies! An exile being taken to the temple of the God of the Deep and face violation by tentacle! A volunteer playing host to a sacred parasite that lives within her, flooding her body with powerful aphrodisiacs while she and her fellow volunteers undergo rituals that are half religious worship, half medical exam!

“Amakoli will preside over tomorrow’s Winnowing,” High Priest Henlith said. “Right now there are, correct me if I’m wrong, twelve contestants competing to be this year’s Sacrifice. After tomorrow, there will be four.” He raised a mug. “Tomorrow, we will measure the worth of the contenders. Tonight, let us feast!”

A ragged rowdy cheer filled the hall. Savine leaned over to Lija. “Do you think you’re going to make the cut?”

“I don’t think it,” Lija said. “I know it.”

“Arrogant,” Amakoli said from her chair. “I like it. That’s a winner’s attitude.”

“Care to make a wager?” Savine said.

“What did you have in mind?”

“Simple. If you make the cut, I’ll be your bondslave. If you don’t, you’ll be mine.” Savine bared her teeth. “I mean to make sure you don’t.”

“How long?”

“Shall we say five days?”

Lija snorted. “You don’t sound very confident.” She glanced at Amakoli, who watched their negotiation with interest. “I propose a counter-offer. If I make the cut and you don’t, it’s fifty days, beginning the day after the end of the Sacrifice.”

“And if I make the cut and you don’t?” Savine said.

“Same. Fifty days.”


A small drone of gold metal shaped like a wizened old man fluttered down from the ceiling on crystalline green wings. It whirred mechanically as it opened the book it carried. “Bet recorded,” it said in its musical voice. Savine smirked at Lija.

After dinner that night, the great hall erupted into a boisterous party, rowdy even by the standards of those who worshipped the Hunt. Music filled the space, dominated by deep thrumming percussion that set the floating globe-lights to vibrating. Mood-altering substances flowed freely from the Providers, from large tankards brimming with intoxicants to small crystal vials filled with hallucinogens and libido-enhancing liquids. Contract drones darted about recording bets. Lija heard her name mentioned several times.

Brin approached Lija with a teardrop-shaped vial filled with faintly glowing liquid that danced with tiny blue specks. “Drink this,” she said.

“Okay.” Lija swallowed the contents and chased the sweetness down with a shot of brandy. She wiped her mouth with the back of her hand. “What was it?”

“Dunno,” Brin said. “I asked the Provider to give me something interesting.”

The fires in the huge fireplaces roared high. People danced in the space around the long table. Occasional small groups of two or three or four went off to the little screened-in alcoves, to come out some time later happy and, frequently, with less clothing.

Kerrim and a bare-chested Jassin whirled by, dancing with each other. Kerrim held a large mug and, against all odds, spun about without spilling whatever was in it. “Lija!” Kerrim called. He waved the mug in her direction. “I just made a bet with Liat about whether or not you’ll be the next Sacrifice.”

“Oh? Did you bet for or against?”

He grinned. “For. Let’s toast!”

Lija looked around. “I don’t have a drink.” 

“Here, take mine.” He handed her the mug and summoned another from the Provider at the end of the table. “To you and a successful Hunt!”

They smacked their mugs together. Lija drank the clear liquid. It burned her throat and stung her eyes. “By the Hunt, what is this?”

“Potent!” Kerrim said.

Jassin grabbed her hand. The three of them whirled together. The world softened around the edges. Lija’s body flushed. Her face grew warm.

Jassin and Kerrim linked arms and danced in a small circle around Lija. She giggled. Across the room, she saw Tatian and Amakoli talking in a corner near one of the fireplaces. Then Jassin scooped Lija off her feet. She squealed as he twirled her through the air.

“Hey, I was thinking—” Kerrim started. Lija grabbed him and kissed him. He melted into her arms. “Mmm, you read my mind!” he said when she broke the kiss.

“Don’t be greedy!” Jassin said. He put his arms around Kerrim and kissed him deeply. 

Lija’s vision went fuzzy. A face swam into view. “Would you like to kiss me?” Lija asked the blurred shape.

“Yes please,” Savine said. She draped her arms around Lija and kissed her gently, with great attention, tongue flicking lightly across Lija’s lips.

“That’s nice,” Lija giggled.

“If I win our bet,” Savine said, “I am going to enjoy hurting you so very much. I will hurt you every single day for fifty days.”

“If,” Lija said.

We’ve put a tremendous amount of love and work into every aspect of these books. Seriously, you wouldn’t believe. There are places where a six-hour conversation becomes two lines in a book.

We’ve even started a Passionate Pantheon blog to offer a behind-the-scenes peek at the worldbuilding you won’t get to see in the novels, like, for example, the citizens of the City as modern-day reinterpretations of the Fey.

If that sounds like your jam, check it out!