Internet

Juno finds infamous spammer

After four months of hunting, the free mail service serves a highly sought junk emailer with a lawsuit.

It took four months and some dogged detective work, but free email and online service Juno said it has finally tracked down one of the most notorious spammers on the Net.

Last May, Juno filed in federal court what these days has become a fairly standard lawsuit, claiming that several spammers forged its name in unsolicited commercial email. The suit alleged the spammers harmed Juno's reputation and infringed on its trademark. The suit seeks $1 million for damages and an injunction to force the spammers to stop.

Though Juno already has settled with some of the spammers named in the suit, the company was having trouble locating one target of their efforts: Ronald Alvin, "the elusive chief of alleged porn marketer TCPS Incorporated," according to Juno.

Juno said Alvin's company has sent out millions of unsolicited bulk email messages that advertise, among other things, sexually explicit videotapes.

In fact, TCPS sent out so many pieces of spam that Juno wasn't the only one trying to find Alvin, according to Juno attorneys.

Others who have filed actions against him and were trying to locate him include America Online and Microsoft's Hotmail, said Juno attorney Richard Buchband. New York State attorney general Dennis Vacco also would like to talk with him.

There are plenty of spammers out there, but Alvin became a top priority for Juno, which wants to send a message. Although companies have made a practice of suing spammers--and they generally are winning--this case took on a special significance for Juno.

"I don't know that he's the largest or the worst spammer on the Internet," Buchband said. But "apparently he has sent out millions of messages since starting in 1998. A large percentage were offering pornography. I think he has irritated and become a nuisance to millions of legitimate email users and as a result, to the service providers. We've gotten many complaints about him."

Buchband added that he felt email providers should be responsible for cracking down on spammers.

While Congress and state legislators mull over laws that would ban unsolicited bulk email in one form or another, Net companies continue to use both technology and the courts to pursue spammers.

Protecting networks from spam--or in this case, the appearance of spam generated by their customers--has become a high priority for companies wanting to safeguard their reputations and protect their servers. Most people who get spam do not understand that the return address in the header of the message rarely correlates with the true origin of the spam.

"We believe it's important for people in our position--for Internet service providers--to do what they can to help make the Internet save and enjoyable for our customers," Buchband said. "This is somebody who has forged our email address into millions of messages and it damages our reputation in the community and the public at large.

"People believe we condone this activity," he added. "We want him to stop. We want to send a signal to him and other spammers that at least this company will take tough steps to make life unpalatable for business people like himself."

Juno does not intend to let up, especially after taking four months to find Alvin, said John Lovi, an attorney with McDermott, Will, & Emery, who Juno hired to help find Alvin.

Juno tracked him down by cross-referencing thousands of pieces of email to find the common elements. Then, thanks to some old-fashioned detective work, they found him at a home in Brooklyn, where Lovi's firm served him with the lawsuit August 25.

But now that he's been found and served, Lovi said Alvin can expect a few changes in his life.

"We got him and we're going to shake all the pennies loose," Lovi said. "He's pissed off so many ISPs...I don't think this guy's going to have anything left when the industry gets done with him."