- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 10, 2004

Microsoft Corp. has filed suit against nearly 200 people accused of sending millions of fraudulent, unwanted e-mail messages, including one Florida man considered to be among the worst “spammers” in the world.

The Redmond, Wash., company, in an effort to slow the a barrage of junk e-mail directed at its customers, filed four lawsuits on Wednesday and four others on June 2, each naming at least 20 defendants whose identities are not known.

“These are high-volume spammers that are responsible for sending hundreds of millions of spam messages,” said Tim Cranton, a senior lawyer at Microsoft.

The company also named Florida resident John Hites, who as recently as November was listed as one of the world’s top 10 spammers by Spamhaus, a nonprofit antispam group in Britain.

Microsoft said Mr. Hites is connected to HB Systems and Ads Inc., two foreign companies thought to have operations in the United States. Pin Point Media, a company based in either Coral Springs, Fla., or Weston, Fla., also was named. Mr. Hites and representatives from the three companies could not be reached for comment.

Microsoft said it hopes to identify unknown defendants through the discovery process. It is seeking injunctions against the defendants and could collect as much as $1 million in civil fines from each one.

Microsoft is suing under the federal Can-Spam Act, which went into effect on Jan. 1, as well as the Washington Commercial Electronic Mail Act and the Washington Consumer Protection Act. In the suits, Microsoft accuses the defendants of using false or misleading subject lines on their e-mail messages and using illegal computer tricks to remain anonymous.

The company, which processes e-mail for more than 170 million active accounts on its MSN Internet and Hotmail e-mail services, has filed 51 suits against spammers in the United States. Four of those resulted in settlements, two resulted in the bankruptcy of the defendants, and five others resulted in judgments for Microsoft.

“We’re raising the stakes, we’re making it more expensive for spammers,” Mr. Cranton said. “A lot of the established spammers are realizing that it’s much harder to operate.”

But so far, lawsuits against spammers have not led to a decline in the amount of spam sent to e-mail inboxes. Spam makes up between 64 percent and 78 percent of all e-mail worldwide, according to companies that filter billions of messages each month.

Spam volume has gone up by more than 30 percent in the past year, and as much as 10 percent since the Can-Spam Act went into effect.

Spammers are not only ramping up the amount of spam they send, but appear to have no intention of crafting their messages to comply with the law. Two separate reports from antispam companies this week revealed that less than 10 percent of spam complies with the law.

“So far, these suits haven’t had any effect, but I wouldn’t cast it off as window dressing either,” said Frank Gorman, counsel at the Bryan Cave law firm and former legal counsel for the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “It’s not going to make an impact by itself, but you have to approach it from every angle.”

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