EarthLink files suit against spammers

The ISP is hunting down the identities of the "Alabama Spammers," a group it alleges used its access service to send massive amounts of junk e-mail.

EarthLink on Wednesday filed a lawsuit against the "Alabama Spammers," an unidentified group it alleges used its access service to send massive amounts of junk e-mail.

The Atlanta-based Internet service provider is seeking an injunction and damages against defendants who "engaged in a massive scheme of theft, spamming and spoofing," with the use of stolen credit cards and unauthorized use of Net access accounts, according to the complaint. It was filed in the Northern District of Georgia, Atlanta Division.

The company said the name Alabama Spammers refers to the group's frequent use of phone lines in Birmingham to illegally connect to EarthLink POP (Post Office Protocol) accounts in that area. EarthLink said as many as 100 individuals could be involved in the spamming ring in Alabama and British Columbia, and they've sent as many as 250 million e-mail messages on its network.

The company plans to continue investigating the identity of the spammers, but so far the clues only "suggest that this is a very sophisticated ring of spammers," EarthLink spokeswoman Carla Shaw said. The suit gives the company the ability to issue subpoenas to domain name registrars, mailbox companies and other third parties to help finger the culprits.

The company is seeking damages of no less than $15 million--three times that of its own loss--and punitive damages, according to the complaint.

The suit is EarthLink's latest attempt to alleviate spam and is one of about 80 pending actions against junk e-mailers. One of the most oppressive aspects of connecting to the Net is spam, which wreaks havoc on computer users and on Internet companies. As a result, all of the major Net companies are stepping up litigation against rogue marketers., for example, filed lawsuits Monday against 11 e-mail marketers that allegedly used its name falsely in e-mail headers, a practice called spoofing.

Some lawsuits are paying off. In May, EarthLink won $16.4 million in a federal court judgment and an injunction against e-mail marketer the "Buffalo Spammer," also dubbed by the company. The Buffalo, N.Y., resident was charged with identity theft and forgery in sending more than 825 million e-mail messages through EarthLink. The judgment ranked among the three largest spamming wins by EarthLink to date.

Aside from litigation, EarthLink is collaborating with other major Internet companies, such as Microsoft, America Online and Yahoo, to find a technology solution for spam--an initiative announced in April. The companies are meeting this week at Microsoft's headquarters to talk to technology businesses in the industry, including e-mail filtering partner Brightmail and the ePrivacy Group, according to those attending. They have yet to announce any progress on the project.

EarthLink's John Doe suit claims that the Alabama Spammers used stolen or bogus credit card information to buy hundreds of dial-up Internet accounts and then used those memberships to send unwanted e-mail to consumers. In addition, the group allegedly took advantage of automated dialing and logon devices to attempt to make thousands of connections to EarthLink accounts per hour to send e-mail without a trace, among other charges.

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