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Spam, Spam, Hummers(?) and Spam

It's been something of a gleeful week for anti-spam activists. On Tuesday, Microsoft Corp. announced it had won a $7 million settlement from Scott Richter, once known as the "Spam King" for the millions he made by sending junk e-mail.

The case against Richter and his company, OptInRealBig, was brought by Microsoft and New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer (D).  Richter was charged with "clearing millions of dollars in monthly profits from spam." According to the Wikipedia entry on Richter, he was so brazenly open about his spam operation that he tried to launch a "spam" clothing line until it was stalled by a trademark lawsuit by Hormel Foods, which owns the trademark to edible SPAM. (One of the many reasons I think spam is such a loathsome problem is that it conditions people to click on Web links in random e-mails, which dear Security Fix readers know is never a good idea from a security perspective.)

The actions by Microsoft and Spitzer should be praised, but I wonder whether they will serve as much of a deterrent to other spammers or would-be junk-mail artists. The money to be made through a properly run spam operation is staggering. In the process of reporting another story that hasn't yet been printed, I interviewed a guy named "Chris" from Australia who was pulling in between $500 to $5,000 each day managing a generic pharmacy spam business.

Chris's job wasn't to actually hit the "send" button on the spam messages; that task fell to a dozen or so of his mailers, who received 40 percent of the profits from any products ordered through the e-mails they sent (quick math test: Chris said that on average one to three percent of the millions of people his guys spammed each day responded, with the average order being $150). Chris merely took care of the Web sites that hosted the content that the spam e-mails linked to (mostly on Web hosting servers based in China), and made sure those sites stayed up -- even when under concerted attack by anti-spam vigilantes.

For the most part, Chris didn't quite know what to do with all of the money he made, and poured much of it into adding extras to a sports car that he had recently bought. When he told me this, it struck me that one could draw some interesting parallels between spammers (in this case, those who hawk prescription drugs online -- the most common type of spam out there) and drug dealers -- they both flout the law, feed dangerous chemical dependencies, and view their line of work as a fast lane to the bling-bling lifestyle of easy money and lots of expensive, new toys.

So it's nice to see spammers get their due every once in a while. Not to be outdone by the Microsoft announcement, America Online said yesterday it was giving away a Hummer H2, a hoard of cash and some gold bullion as part of its "Spammer's Gold Sweepstakes." AOL said it is giving away the loot seized from a young spammer in New Hampshire who was caught after AOL members reported receiving spam from networks he controlled. According to AOL, the kid was sending out millions of spam messages each day, touting everything from penis-enlargement pills to ephedra. Last year, AOL gave away a spammer's Porsche Boxter S.

By Brian Krebs  |  August 10, 2005; 11:44 AM ET
Categories:  From the Bunker  
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