In a First, Major Spammer Arrested

The so-called "Buffalo Spammer" was arrested this week in New York following a year of investigative work by EarthLink's antifraud department and law enforcement. Like many spammers, the Buffalo Spammer sent millions of unsolicited emails, or spam, to unsuspecting users, offering them a variety of bogus deals, including cars, free money, 716 area codes, and the like. But it wasn't the email offers that got the Buffalo Spammer in trouble--New York has yet to criminalize spam, as some other states have done. Instead, New York prosecutors say that the 36-year-old man used false identities from stolen credit cards to illegally set up EarthLink email accounts, so he's been charged with forgery and identity theft.

The Buffalo Spammer was one of the most daring spammers yet. A fascinating full-page report in "The Wall Street Journal" (WSJ) last week described the year-long battle against the spammer and how he repeatedly showed up on the EarthLink network with new accounts and new ploys. EarthLink's investigators shut down the spammer again and again, only to see new accounts appear and spam begin to flow again. The email messages the man sent were untraceable, but investigators traced telephone numbers used in follow-up email messages to find his Buffalo, New York, address. EarthLink says the Buffalo Spammer sent more than 825 million spam email messages and used 343 stolen identities during his spree, and he taunted investigators on the phone, saying that he would never be caught.

If spam is such a huge and growing problem, why are spammers so infrequently prosecuted? Stephen Kline, a New York assistant attorney general, told attendees at an antispam conference recently that there's little financial incentive to do so. "It's very tough to justify spending so much time and money on cases where we aren't getting any penalties or any money back to consumers," he said. The Buffalo Spammer, however, had violated various state laws and, as it turns out, was a second-time offender, thanks to a 1996 bank fraud conviction. That means the Buffalo Spammer could face 7 years in jail.

WSJ subscribers can read more about this fascinating story in last week's article, which was written before the arrest but details EarthLink's work investigating this criminal.

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