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Microsoft, New York launch spam lawsuits

The software giant and the state attorney general file suit against a New York-based spamming ring allegedly responsible for sending billions of illegal and deceptive e-mail messages.

Microsoft and New York's attorney general took aim at spam Thursday, with a series of lawsuits.

In conjunction with New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer's office, the software giant filed several lawsuits against a New York-based spamming ring allegedly responsible for sending billions of illegal and deceptive e-mail messages.

"We appreciate the attorney general's leadership on what is arguably the biggest technology menace consumers are facing," Brad Smith, Microsoft general counsel, said in a statement. "Together, we are stepping up efforts to help consumers take control of their in-boxes again."

Synergy6, an e-mail marketing company based in New York, and Scott Richter, president of OptInRealBig.com, are among the defendants named in the six suits. Richter has been named one of the world's largest spammers by ROKSO, the Register of Known Spam Operations, which is listed on Spamhaus, an antispam and consumer advocacy organization.

Authorities allege that Richter and accomplices in Washington, Texas and New York are responsible for seven illegal spam campaigns, each in violation of consumer protection statutes in New York and Washington.

They claim that these campaigns used common spam techniques such as forged sender names, false subject lines, fake server names, inaccurate and misrepresented sender addresses or obscured transmission paths.

Microsoft has filed an additional five lawsuits against other spammers who allegedly used the same transmission path in New York that originally led investigators to Richter and the spam network.

OptInRealBig issued a statement saying it hadn't been formally informed of the lawsuit and protesting the charges. "Optin and Scott Richter vigorously deny any violations of New York law and ask that their clients and friends make no decision regarding any liability on their part until they have the opportunity to respond to any allegations made against them," the statement said.

In an interview with CNET News.com, Richter denied that he had done anything illegal. He said his company never actually sent any of the e-mails the suit mentioned. He said Delta7 Communications, another defendant in the suit, sent the e-mails in question.

"All we did was introduce Synergy6 to Delta7 Communications," he said. "We have a big name, and we're the only group with any money. So Microsoft thought they could target us. It's nothing but extortion."

Richter said Microsoft approached him during the investigation and offered to settle the dispute for $100,000.

"We told them where they could go stick it," he said. "It's nothing but harassment. It's free publicity for them. They pay a few thousand bucks to file the lawsuits. They get a bunch of free press, and people sign up for their spam-fighting products."

Richter also said he is filing a lawsuit against Microsoft. But he would not discuss any specifics of that suit or when it would be filed.

Synergy6 could not immediately be reached for comment.

The announcement of the lawsuits comes a week after Virginia's attorney general issued the first felony indictment under that state's antispam law.

Microsoft's efforts to fight unwanted and unsolicited e-mail have intensified recently, as the company increases legal efforts and develops new tools that will more effectively block and filter e-mail.

In June, Microsoft filed 15 lawsuits in the United States and the United Kingdom against spammers, claiming that they were responsible for flooding its MSN Internet service with more than 2 billion unsolicited e-mail messages.

Bill Gates, Microsoft's chairman, has publicly stated that he plans to make the fight against spam one of the software maker's top priorities.

The federal government is also getting tough on spam. On Tuesday, President Bush signed the first national antispam bill into law, outlawing some forms of spam and setting jail time and multimillion-dollar fines for violators.