AOL, EarthLink File Spam Suits

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AOL and EarthLink said separately yesterday that they filed lawsuits against alleged spam rings responsible for 285 million unwanted commercial e-mail messages.

AOL said it filed a complaint in U.S. District Court in Orlando, FL, late last week against three Florida residents it holds responsible for sending at least 35 million unsolicited commercial e-mails to AOL members over five months.

The complaint alleges that Charles Henry Miller Jr., Heidi Miller and James Connor broke federal law and state laws in Florida and Virginia, where AOL is based, by providing software to Thailand-based spammers to evade AOL spam filters.

The case is a continuation of legal action originally brought in federal court in Virginia last April. In that case, AOL sued Jonathan Beyer and Joseph Conrad, who are U.S. citizens, accusing them of running a spam ring from Thailand.

In its investigation, the company added the Millers and Connor to the case, alleging they supplied the computer network Beyer and Conrad used to send spam and developed software to evade AOL's spam filters. However, a U.S. District Court judge dropped the Florida defendants from the suit in December, saying Virginia was not a proper venue.

EarthLink's lawsuit was filed Feb. 17 in U.S. District Court in Atlanta against 16 individuals in five states that it claims are part of a spam ring responsible for sending 250 million spam messages.

The defendants were named from suits originally filed by the Atlanta Internet service provider in August against 100 unnamed defendants, known as the "Alabama Spammers" for their use of phone lines in the Birmingham, AL, area.

EarthLink said the spam ring used spoofing and other fraudulent methods to disguise their identities and set up fraudulent EarthLink accounts, which they used to hawk Viagra, herbal supplements and adult and spamming services. EarthLink charged the defendants with violating federal and state laws, including anti-racketeering statutes.

In the AOL case, the Millers, who are married, and Connor operate Connor-Miller Software, an Ocoee, FL, firm. The company's Web site says it offers Web hosting, design and Internet marketing services. E-mail requesting comment that was sent through the site's contact page was not returned. Charles Miller told Reuters that the company simply provided network services and never sent commercial e-mail.

AOL spokesman Nicholas Graham said AOL would go up the chain of spam rings and target all those involved.

"We're going to send a signal ... that setting up a computer network for spammers and designing software to evade our filters are very serious infractions of the law," he said.

EarthLink and AOL have aggressively pursued spammers. EarthLink in May won a $16.4 million civil judgment against Howard Comack, who was held responsible for a spam operation that churned out 825 million unsolicited e-mails. Just a week later, New York's attorney general indicted Comack, who is due to stand trial next month in Buffalo.

AOL has filed 25 cases against spammers since 1997. It also aided in Virginia bringing a criminal complaint against two North Carolina men in December.

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