AOL User Complaints Fuel Spam Lawsuits

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America Online said yesterday it has filed five lawsuits against companies it accuses of sending 1 billion unsolicited e-mail messages to its subscribers.


The e-mails hawked everything from mortgages, cable TV descramblers, college degrees and steroids to pornography, the company said. AOL seeks a minimum of $10 million in damages and an end to the e-mails.


AOL said the lawsuits, filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia in Alexandria, stem from 8 million individual spam complaints the company received after introducing its "Report Spam" feature last fall. The feature lets people report spam by clicking on a button.


"Our members have been reporting millions of pieces of spam to us every day, and every time they do that they help us collect the evidence we need to track down the spammers," Randall Boe, executive vice president and general counsel of AOL, said in a statement.


Michael Levansque of Issaquah, WA, and George A. Moore Jr. of Linthicum, MD, were the only individuals listed in the suit. The rest of the defendants were "John Does," but AOL said it hopes filing the lawsuits will give the company authority to subpoena service providers to track down the defendants, according to reports.


AOL also said that it recently issued hundreds of "cease and desist" letters to spam senders, effectively putting them on notice that they too could be sued if they continue to spam AOL members.


This news follows an announcement in December that AOL won nearly $7 million in a lawsuit against a "spam ring" that the Internet service provider claimed sent its members nearly 1 billion unwanted e-mail messages advertising adult Web sites.


AOL claimed that the award against CN Productions Inc. granted from the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia was important because it was the first case in which damages were awarded under a Virginia law that lets spammers be fined $25,000 for each day they send spam.


AOL also claimed that CN Productions accounted for 25 percent of the spam complaints it received from members.


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