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Amazon, Microsoft team for spam suits

The two are also targeting alleged phishers, which they accuse of sending e-mail that purported to come from Amazon.com.

IT industry leaders Amazon.com and Microsoft said Tuesday that they have joined forces to file several lawsuits targeting individuals accused of carrying out Internet crimes such as spamming, phishing and e-mail address spoofing.

The two companies, which are virtually neighbors with their respective Seattle-area headquarters, announced that, specifically, they are pursuing people who have barraged consumers both with spam and with phishing scams generated from spoofed e-mail addresses bearing Amazon's domain name.

The companies said they hope to eliminate the scams, which have become a nuisance to both of their customer bases, by asserting their combined and sizable influence, while working together to test technological barriers that they believe may prevent future criminal activity.

In one of several suits filed Monday, the companies brought charges against an operation known as Gold Disk Canada, which is accused of sending millions of spam e-mails, including messages designed to appear as if they came from the domains of Amazon and Hotmail.com, Microsoft's free e-mail service.

In the suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Seattle, the companies maintain that the Kitchener, Ontario-based operation, purportedly run by defendant Barry Head and his two sons, Eric and Matthew, misused Microsoft's Hotmail services and forged Amazon's domain name.

Gold Disk Canada could not immediately be reached for comment. Kitchener directory information does not contain a listing for Gold Disk Canada or the individuals named in the suit.

In addition to the joint suit with Microsoft, Amazon said it has filed three other legal claims in King County Superior Court in Seattle against unnamed defendants allegedly involved in phishing schemes designed to defraud its customers.

Similarly, Microsoft has filed suits against several unidentified defendants, against whom Amazon filed spam-related claims in August 2003.

In one suit, the software giant targeted an alleged Chicago-based spammer it has pursued in the past, Leonid Radvinsky, and his businesses, Activsoft and Cybertania. The lawsuit alleges that Radvinsky sent millions of deceptive e-mail messages to Hotmail customers, including messages that were falsely labeled as coming from Amazon.

Radvinsky could not immediately be reached for comment. Chicago directory information does not contain a listing for Leonid Radvinsky, Activsoft or Cybertania.

Seattle officials praised the two tech giants' joint efforts.

"The best way to stop spammers and phishers is to hit them hard in the pocketbook," Washington Attorney General Christine Gregoire said in a statement. Microsoft and Amazon "pose a powerful legal threat and will send a strong message that there will be a high cost to pay for those who flood our mailboxes with irritating, offensive and fraudulent junk mail."

The practice of sending e-mail messages from falsified e-mail addresses is best known as spoofing, but a new twist on the scam, meant to steal consumers' personal information, has won the moniker "phishing."

Other well-known Web properties, such as online auctioneer eBay, and Fortune 500 companies such as Citibank, have fallen prey to large-scale phishing schemes. With this type of scam, criminals typically send elaborately designed messages, which often include images and content stolen from companies' actual Web sites, in hopes of tricking consumers into replying with their personal information, such as account passwords and credit card numbers.

David Zapolsky, vice president and associate general counsel for Amazon, added that the company filed 11 spam-related lawsuits last year, at least four of which were settled to the company's satisfaction. Several of the companies involved in the other cases defaulted, but Zapolsky said the e-tailer would continue to pursue the accused spammer involved. He said some of the information garnered from those cases led to the identification and eventual pursuit of Gold Disk Canada.

"We will continue to attack these individuals in court, through legislation, and in partnership with other leading technology companies," Zapolsky said. "We work hard to earn the trust of our customers and will not tolerate these efforts to take advantage of unsuspecting consumers."