29 March 2005

Death of a Spammer

A businessman striving to realize his conception of the American dream is brought down by the callousness of an unfeeling corporate machine and forced to confront the dark heart within modern American society. Or not. It's not Death of a Salesman and this is no Willy Loman. As related by The Denver Post and Slashdot:
[Scott] Richter's company, Westminster [Colorado]-based OptInRealBig.com, has filed for bankruptcy protection in Denver. The company cited a costly legal battle with Gates' Microsoft Corp., which claims OptInRealBig.com illegally spams computer users.

"It's the legal fees that are battering the company," said OptInRealBig.com lawyer Steven Richter, father of Scott Richter. He said the company faces lawsuits from Microsoft and other parties in Colorado, California and Utah. "OptIn is profitable but for these lawsuits."

. . . .

Microsoft officials called the filing a victory. "Microsoft and the state of New York said we would drive him into bankruptcy, and together we have," said Aaron Kornblum, Microsoft's Internet safety enforcement attorney. "The kind of spam Mr. Richter was sending was not only annoying, it was illegal, and the law sets out penalties for this kind of illegal activity."

. . . .

Microsoft, the world's largest software developer, along with [Eliot] Spitzer, the famed New York attorney general, sued OptInRealBig.com and Scott Richter in December 2003, seeking nearly $40 million.

. . . .

[Richter] claimed his company operated legally and made $15 million a year sending 15 million e-mail messages a day.

Scott Richter did settle with Spitzer's office for $50,000 in July. "At the end of the day, we're still in business," he said then. "They said they were going to bankrupt us."

He wasn't available for comment Monday.

Microsoft's case against OptInRealBig.com now moves from Washington to the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Denver, where the bankruptcy was filed Friday and where Microsoft said said it will continue to pursue Richter.

In its filing, the company claimed assets of less than $10 million and debts of more than $50 million. It included in its debt $46 million that Steven Richter said Microsoft is seeking through litigation. Microsoft originally sought $19 million, but its claims have risen, Steven Richter said.

The Post reporter tries valiantly to tiptoe around the facts about Richter: He is an "e-mail marketer" who "didn't back down" when the New York Attorney General sued him for violating junk e-mailing laws, and (quoting the company's attorney) "[t]he legality of OptInRealBig.com's e-mail messages hasn't yet been determined". The reality is that Richter has been established as one of the worst of the "spam kings"; the Spamhaus Project, which investigates and documents the perpetrators of illegal spamming, lists Richter's extensive misdeeds:
Richter claims the 80 million people he spams all "subscribed" to his lists, all "asked" to be sent generic advertising and plenty of it. Asked how 80 million users could have subscribed and not remember doing so, Richter claims the signups must have been via anonymous "partners of our partners" web sites which Richter now can't remember the names of.

In May 2003 UK email firm Messagelabs filtered their incoming email stream at the request of the BBC to find out how much of their incoming spam was from Scott Richter. Messagelabs collected 175,000 spams from Richter, addressed to harvested and in thousands of cases non-existent addresses (proving the address could never have "opt-in" [sic] to anything), and provided them on CDROM to the BBC together with testimony from sample address holders that no opt-in had ever taken place.

. . . .

Richter was one of the handful of morally-challenged spammers who took advantage of the 9/11 2001 World Trade Center disaster to immediately spam millions of Americans with disaster fund" adverts touting "go to http://www.saverealbig.com to start the relief! Buy American flags from Saverealbig to show your support".

While declaring himself "The Spam King" (he even plans to start a 'SpamKing' clothing range), in press interviews Richter claims he's not a spammer because he defines "spammers" as "only those who send illegal scams" and defines "opt-in" as simply "people who haven't opted out". Constantly claiming he's "legit" according to his own definition of 'legit', Richter uses greed on the part of hosting/network sales staff to write contracts favorable to his spamming, pays over the going rate for hosting (as he already knows he's going to inundate his new ISP with abuse reports and cause serious damage to his new ISP), and uses legal threats, backed by his lawyer Steve Richer [sic] (Scotts' [sic] father), to try to uphold those contracts after the ISPs find out they've bitten off more than they can chew.

Last July, Richter settled with the New York Attorney General; in the consent order, Richter neither admitted nor denied the allegation against him, specifically that his company "sent millions of emails" which:
* Used fake names in the emails' "From:" lines, often the recipient's own name – making it appear as if the recipient had sent the email himself;
* Used the names of other, well-known companies in the emails' "From:" lines;
* Used forged email addresses in the emails' "From:" lines in an attempt to hide the true source of the emails;
* Used forged email addresses that led some to believe that their email accounts had been hijacked by spammers;
* Used deceptive subject lines that falsely indicated that the emails were part of an ongoing conversation;
* Used deceptive subject lines that falsely indicated that the email was about or from a different, well-known companies; and
* Were routed through more than 500 compromised computers worldwide in order to hide the true source of the email. These computers belonged to a diverse group ranging from IntelliSpace, Inc., an Internet service provider in New York City to Singer Computer, in Russia, Seoul Municipal Hospital in Korea, and even the Kuwaiti Ministry of Finance.

Microsoft, owner of the HotMail service which has been particularly targeted by Richter, has confirmed that it will continue to pursue Richter in the Bankruptcy courts. Keep up the good fight, Bill.

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