Two major Internet service providers are heading to court to protect their subscribers from unwanted commercial e-mail. EarthLink and America Online have filed civil complaints against two alleged spam rings this week.
AOL announced Wednesday it has filed a civil lawsuit against four defendants in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, Orlando Division. AOL accuses the defendants of violations of the Virginia Computer Crimes Act, the Federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, and State of Florida Common Law. AOL is seeking an injunction against further unwanted e-mail, $1.6 million in statutory damages, plus other damages.
AOL has been investigating the Florida defendants since January 2003, the company says. AOL cites more than 35 million spam e-mails in its lawsuit. Those messages generated approximately 1.5 million complaints from AOL members, the company says.
Defendants include Connor-Miller Software, based in Winter Garden, Florida; two officers of the company, Charles Henry Miller Jr. and James Connor; and Miller's wife, Heidi Miller. The company was unlisted in the Winter Garden-area telephone directory, and the company did not immediately respond to an e-mail seeking comment on the lawsuit.
AOL's lawsuit alleges the defendants conspired to set up and maintain a bank of e-mail servers in an office suite in Ocoee, Florida, for use by a spam ring. The lawsuit further alleges that Connor wrote code for the bulk e-mail software program the spammers were using in an attempt to evade AOL's mail filters and avoid detection.
AOL alleges that two other members of the spam ring are Thailand residents Jonathan Beyer and Joseph Conrad. AOL alleges that Beyer, a U.S. citizen residing in Thailand, headed the spam ring and, in addition to spamming, also operates a number of adult Web sites. AOL alleges that Conrad, also a U.S. citizen residing in Thailand, assisted in establishing and running Beyer's Internet operations.
AOL has already taken legal action against Beyer and Conrad in a lawsuit filed in April 2003, now pending in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.
In a separate action, EarthLink filed a new complaint in a legal action against what it called a multistate spam ring. The 16 individuals and corporations sent out more than 250 million illegal spam e-mail messages, EarthLink alleges.
The lawsuit identifies alleged individuals and corporations in Florida, California, Tennessee, Michigan, and Nevada. In August, the company had filed a lawsuit against 25 unidentified spammers, but Tuesday's amended complaint names the 16 defendants.
The "Alabama spammers"--so-called because of their frequent use of dial-up lines in the Birmingham, Alabama, area--represent a technically sophisticated criminal organization that "engaged in a massive scheme of theft, spamming and spoofing," according to EarthLink's amended complaint filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Atlanta.
The lawsuit alleges that the defendants used falsified names, false addresses, and nonexistent corporate entities to disguise the identities of the people involved. "These were some of the most technologically sophisticated defendants," says Karen Cashion, assistant general counsel for EarthLink.
The defendants also used spam e-mail messages to direct people to dynamically hosted Web sites that would disappear after advertising a product, EarthLink alleges. Products advertised by the Alabama Spammers included Viagra, herbal supplements, adult matchmaking services, and spam-for-hire services.
In its lawsuit, EarthLink accused the defendants of violating federal and state laws, including federal and state civil Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization (RICO) laws, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, and the Georgia Computer Systems Protection Act. The lawsuit also alleges that the defendants used stolen or falsified credit cards, identity theft, and banking fraud to purchase Internet accounts and send out spam.
EarthLink is asking the court to order the defendants to stop sending spam. The company is also seeking an unspecified amount of damages.
EarthLink has taken legal action against more than 100 spammers since 1997, Cashion says.