The saying “Don’t mess with Texas” took on new meaning this week as the Lone Star State’s attorney general sued a college student and his alleged accomplice, accusing them of being among the world’s most prolific senders of unsolicited e-mail.
The lawsuit is an application of the federal Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing (CAN-SPAM) Act. It represents the first suit against accused spammers in Texas.
University of Texas student Ryan Samuel Pitylak and Mark Stephen Trotter of California were accused of violating the law by sending thousands of unsolicited, mislabeled, illegal e-mails. Ranked by spam researcher SpamHaus.org as the fourth largest illegal spam outfit in the world, the two men — who are accused of using company names PayPerAction and Leadplex for their spamming — face CAN-SPAM and state penalties of more than US$2 million each, according to Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott.
Lone Star Spam
“Unwanted, unsolicited e-mail clogs computers of Texas consumers and Texas businesses, wasting precious time and money,” Abbott said in a statement. “Texans are fed up, and today’s action aims to give them relief by shutting down one of the world’s worst spam operations.”
Texas officials said that during a six-month period last year, investigators received nearly 25,000 illegal e-mails from Pitylak and Trotter with trap e-mail accounts. The Texas Attorney General’s office said the pair had operated under more than 250 assumed names to mislead the recipients of their spam, which reportedly consisted of mortgage refinancing and other offers.
Officials also reported that the two sold information from spam respondents as leads to other companies for as much as $28 each.
An “involved citizen” used his spam filtering and firewalling expertise to help gather evidence on the alleged super spammers, state officials said.
Texans are not the only ones taking up legal arms against spammers, who are estimated to account for nearly half of all e-mail on the Internet.
Microsoft late last year sued a series of accused pornographic spammers under the CAN-SPAM law. Earlier last year, Microsoft was joined by AOL, Earthlink and Yahoo in bringing lawsuits against several other alleged spammers under the law.
Industry analyst Joyce Graf told TechNewsWorld that while it is good to see aggressive enforcement of CAN-SPAM, it is hard to have an effect on many of the top spammers, who are making millions of dollars.
“It’s kind of hard to tell [how effective law enforcement is] because they’re making so much money,” Graf said. “Even with [laws] in place, there’s an awful lot of mortgage offers and drug offers and more and more raunchy sex offers.”
Still, Graf said that the laws were necessary. “CAN-SPAM, certainly, is not the only tool we need, but certainly it is an essential tool,” she added. “You have to have a law in the books so you can draw a line in the sand.”
Jonathan Spira, chief analyst at Basex — a research and consulting firm that blames spam for more than $20 billion in losses worldwide each year — said CAN-SPAM’s provisions against sexual material and falsified addresses and subject lines do assist in netting the spammers.
“It makes it easy to catch the stupid spammers who obviously lack a certain amount of sophistication in their art,” Spira told TechNewsWorld. He speculated that Pitylak, as a University of Texas student, might have had access to sufficient bandwidth for spamming through the school.
Spira added that the biggest reason for spam is that some Internet users respond to it. “[The Texas lawsuit] doesn’t mean that when they’re gone, [or that] others won’t take their place,” he said. “The only thing that stops [spam] is if people stop responding to it.”