EarthLink, the third-largest Internet service provider, accuses the Alabama individuals of using stolen credit cards, identity theft, and banking fraud to fund Internet accounts and send out more than 250 million pieces of junk E-mail.
They went undetected for about six months by creating an elaborate chain of bogus names, false addresses and nonexistent companies, according to the lawsuit.
"This is a very tech-savvy spam ring, which has made this a particularly challenging investigation," said Karen Cashion, lead attorney for EarthLink's lawsuit.
The ring used several tricks to cover its tracks, including leasing several telephone lines in Birmingham to connect to EarthLink automatically, even if the company kicked the bogus users off, Cashion said.
According to the lawsuit, the defendants also sent junk E-mail to some of their own accounts to monitor EarthLink's efforts to block unwanted messages.
EarthLink, which said it suffered roughly $5 million in damages from the Alabama ring alone, has yet to identify individuals--the Alabama defendants are listed as John Does 1-25. By suing, EarthLink has the power to subpoena other companies for additional information that could help in its investigation.
The lawsuit also accuses an additional 25 John Does in Vancouver, British Columbia, for a scheme known as "phishing," in which spammers pose as Internet service providers like America Online, to collect personal and financial information from unsuspecting subscribers.
Another 50 defendants in the case remain unidentified.
EarthLink has been successful in suing other spammers. In May, the company collected $16.4 million from a spammer in Buffalo, N.Y., and last year the company was awarded $25 million in damages from against a Tennessee junk E-mailer.