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Nation’s Largest Internet Provider Files Five Federal Spamming Suits

By Jonathan Krim
THE WASHINGTON POST -- America Online, Inc., on Monday launched a coordinated legal assault on junk e-mail by filing five separate lawsuits against more than a dozen individuals and companies accused of being major purveyors of spam.

AOL, the nation’s largest Internet service provider with 27 million subscribers, said the targets of its suits were responsible for sending its members an estimated 1 billion pieces of spam that resulted in more than 8 million separate complaints. The spam ranges from pornographic images and body-enhancement offers to diet and financial schemes.

The multi-suit barrage reflects an intensified industry, legal and legislative effort to combat spam, which has grown so rapidly that it accounts for nearly 40 percent of all e-mail traffic and is estimated to cost U.S. businesses $8 billion to $10 billion a year.

“Clearly, our anti-spam message is made more audible when the volume is turned up,” said AOL spokesman Nicholas Graham. For the first time, Graham said, AOL is using member complaints about spammers as the basis for legal action.

“The defendants named in these lawsuits ... operate the command and control facilities in the ongoing fight to get spam into the inboxes of our members,” he said.

Most of the major Internet providers, including Earthlink Inc., Microsoft Corp. Yahoo Inc. and AOL, have sued or are suing spammers and their affiliates. But as individual and corporate computer users get increasingly irate at the rising tide of spam, many Internet providers say they are ramping up their legal efforts, even invoking federal anti-racketeering statutes.

The AOL suits, filed in federal court in Alexandria, Va., seek a total of $10 million in damages and a halt to the spammers’ e-mail activities under a number of state anti-spam and federal computer-fraud laws. The suits single out two spammers by name, including one Maryland-based seller of quick weight-loss products and antivirus computer software, and an alleged affiliated spammer in Washington state. Other defendants are as yet unidentified because AOL isn’t certain who they are; Spammers often disguise their ownership of computers that generate spam.