The primary targets of the suits, filed in both New York and Washington, are Synergy6 Inc., an online marketing company based in New York, and Scott Richter, president of OptinRealBig.com. Richter is ranked by watchdog organization Spamhaus as the third largest spammer in the world.
The suits claim Synergy6, Richter, and their affiliates used deceptive business practices in E-mail marketing campaigns. Among the alleged techniques they used were false or deceptive sender names, subject lines, server names, and sender addresses. The spammers obscured their transmission paths, according to Microsoft, by using the IP addresses of computers they hijacked over the Internet.
"We're going to force them to stop making fraudulent statements [or] shut down their systems," said New York attorney general Eliot Spitzer during a news conference in New York that also was attended by Microsoft general counsel and senior VP Brad Smith. Calls to Synergy6 were routed to an answering machine. A message on OptinRealBig.com's Web site said Scott Richter and the company "vigorously deny any violations of New York law."
Evidence was collected in "traps" set by Microsoft to attract junk E-mail for analysis. During a one-month period earlier this year, the trap received 8,000 E-mails, with an average of five fraudulent statements each, from Richter's company, according to Spitzer. The attorney general, whose office has also been busy tracking down inappropriate dealings among mutual-fund companies, is pressing for a $500 penalty for each fraudulent statement issued by a spammer.
"The penalty that will be imposed on [spammers] will make it financially unviable," Spitzer said. "We will drive them into bankruptcy."
Microsoft counsel Smith said "two levels of deception" were uncovered in the investigation: a technical level in which the IP addresses of compromised third-party computers were used to disguise the origins of the unsolicited mail, and an operational level in which the parties involved tried to avoid legal responsibility through subcontracting arrangements.
Microsoft also filed suits against five other spammers that it alleges used the same transmission paths as those used by Richter's company. Smith said the strategy used in identifying and charging the spammers would be a model for future legal action.