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3rd Story

Spam King nabbed but inboxes still filling up

A Seattle serial spammer was taken to the slammer and faces a wide variety of charges. However, is your inbox any safer?

Robert Alan Soloway, 27, was arrested May 30 after being indicted by a grand jury. The Newport Internet Marketing Corporation (NIM) operator is the first spammer federal prosecutors have charged with aggravated identity theft under the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003.

"Spam is a scourge of the Internet, and Robert Soloway is one of its most prolific practitioners," said Jeffrey C. Sullivan, United States Attorney for the Western District of Washington in a prepared statement. "Our investigators dubbed him the 'Spam King' because he is responsible for millions of spam emails."

Soloway, who was once sued by Microsoft, was arraigned on 35 counts of mail and wire fraud, aggravated identity theft, money laundering and fraud in connection with electronic mail. He has pleaded not guilty to all of these charges, which "stem from his alleged theft of identities and business names for his widespread email broadcasts," the Seattle Times reported. According to infozine.com, the spammer could be sentenced up to 65 years in prison. Prosecutors are also asking for him to forfeit $772,998, which they say came from unlawful activities.

With Soloway being held in custody, some media outlets predicted a decrease in junk emails. "Arrest could bring big drop in spam" read a headline on the Seattle Times website May 31.

However, in the week following Soloway's arrest emails advertising penis enlargement and diplomas (two items the Seattle spammer's messages often featured) continued to flow into mailboxes. Perhaps users on Soloway's list have seen a drop in their junk emails, but there are certainly other prolific spammers out there. The arrest also will not likely have an impact on identity thieves who are based outside of the United States.

"It's not that different from the mafia," said Anne Mitchell of the Institute for Spam and Internet Public Policy, according to the EiTB website. "Many times the feds grab a high-ranking don but the mafia does not go away. Someone's going to step up and fill his void." It is unlikely spammers will take a long vacation if they can make a profit. As long as someone can be tempted by their "too good to be true" offers, they will still be in business.

This is not the first time Soloway has headed to court. In 2005, a pair of judgments went against him. Microsoft won a $7 million civil judgment while a small Oklahoma internet provider won a $10 million judgment, according to The Money Times, June 1. The Microsoft legal matter revolved around Soloway sending emails that appeared to be from MSN or Hotmail addresses, which Microsoft owns. The Oklahoma company alleged Soloway violated that state's anti-spam laws.

Regarding the new charges, according to the United States Attorney's Office, Western District of Washington, "Soloway spammed tens of millions of email messages to advertise the NIM websites from which he sold his product and services." These messages were sent using false headers from a network of proxy computers ("botnets") so that it was hard to track where they were coming from.

"Many of the false headers contained forged email addresses or domain names that belonged to other real people, businesses, or organizations, causing these innocent parties to mistakenly be blamed for spam transmitted by Soloway. ... Soloway and NIM have been the subject of hundreds of complaints to the Federal Trade Commission, Better Business Bureau and the Washington State Attorney General's Office," according to a U.S. Attorney's Office statement.

NIM's business offered "broadcast email" services and actually sold software so that companies could send out spam themselves. Reportedly for up to $495, NMI would send emails to 20 million addresses for 15 days or a list of 80,000 email addresses could be purchased. His website predicted a 400 per cent increase in their business in 90 days or he would give them their money back, according to the Seattle Times.

However, his "spam-ware" did not apparently work. When people complained, the money wasn't returned. Instead, they were threatened with additional charges or referral to a collection agency.

The Seattle Times stated Assistant U.S. Attorney Kathryn Warma said "Soloway lied to his customers and condemned his victims 'to a perpetual spam hell.'"

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