Microsoft Announces 15 Spam Lawsuits

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Microsoft yesterday announced it has filed 15 lawsuits, 13 in the United States and two in the UK, against defendants it alleges are responsible for flooding its systems with more than 2 billion fraudulent spam e-mails.


The U.S. lawsuits have been filed under Washington state's anti-spam statute which bars sending e-mail to people in that state containing deceptive subject lines, false return addresses or using someone's domain name without permission.


The U.K. lawsuits have been filed under that country's Misuse of Computers Act.


Microsoft, Redmond, WA, alleges that some of the defendants used deceptive and misleading subject lines to disguise messages that contained pornography, dating pitches and other adult services.


Also, one case involved a false virus warning in which recipients were instructed to download an "update" that was actually a toolbar that would track their online activity, according to Microsoft. None of the defendants were named, but Microsoft said some are "listed as known spammers on Internet registries which track spam activities worldwide," possibly referring to sites such as Spamhaus.org.


Washington's Attorney General Christine Gregoire, who is aggressively anti-spam, reportedly joined Microsoft in a press conference to announce the suits.


"We need an aggressive, sustained and comprehensive assault by industry, government and consumers to stop spam," Gregoire said in a statement put out by Microsoft. "Today's lawsuits are exactly the kinds of action we need to put illegal spammers out of business."


In September, Gregoire won a summary judgment against Jason Heckel, Salem, OR.


Gregoire sued Heckel and his company, Natural Instincts, in 1998 alleging that in marketing a $40 booklet, "How to Profit from the Internet," Heckel used misleading subject lines that read "Did I get the right e-mail address?" and "For your review -- HANDS OFF!" to get recipients to open them. The suit also alleged that Heckel used an invalid return address to which recipients were unable to respond.


The Microsoft announcement comes as anti-spam sentiment is running higher than ever. More than 30 states have enacted spam-related legislation. It is estimated that 40 percent of all e-mail is spam.


Multiple pieces of federal legislation are working their way through the House and Senate. Most agree that some sort of spam-related legislation is likely to pass this year. What effect, if any, it will have is up for debate.


Microsoft's lawsuits also come on the heels of similar activity by other ISPs. America Online Inc. in April filed five lawsuits against companies it accused of sending 1 billion unsolicited e-mail messages to its subscribers. Around the same time, AOL announced it had blocked more than 2.3 billion spam e-mails in one day, doubling the volume of spam it had blocked two months before.


In December, 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.


And in May, EarthLink was awarded $16.4 million in damages by a federal judge as well as a permanent injunction against Buffalo, NY-based Howard Carmack, aka the "Buffalo Spammer."


According to EarthLink, Carmack used 343 stolen identities to sign up for e-mail accounts through which he sent about 825 million spam e-mails pitching spamming software, herbal sexual stimulants and bulk e-mail lists. Carmack was arrested on May 14 on forgery and identity theft charges and faces from 3 1/2 to seven years in prison.


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