If you have to find something good to say about spammers, it's that they are resilient. Despite legislation, legal efforts, and an ongoing battle by ISPs, they somehow still manage to operate, and to get their volumes of unsolicited bulk email into internet users' inboxes.
But recent events may have shown that spammers can't go on endlessly. This is a very good sign for all of us who would like our inboxes a little less crowded with junk. On March 29, Microsoft made good on its vow to drive the world's most famous spammer, Scott Richter, into bankruptcy. And, on April 8, spammer Jeremy Jaynes got an unsolicited message of his own when a judge handed down a nine-year sentence following his November conviction for bombarding AOL users with illegal email.
Richter, who claimed his company, OptInRealBig.com, operated legally, and made $15 million a year sending 15 million emails a day, is now enmeshed in a costly legal battle with Microsoft that has forced him to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
In December 2003, with the aid of famed New York attorney general, Elliot Spitzer, Microsoft sued Richter's company for nearly $40 million, claiming it illegally spammed computer users as part of a spam ring sending more than 1 billion emails a week. But Richter refused to give in.
"They asked if we wanted to settle with them, and we told them where they could go stick it," Richter replied to Spitzer in a Denver Post article.
By all indications, Spitzer and Microsoft appear not to have taken Richter's prosaic suggestion in the quite direction he was envisioning.
"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.
OptInRealBig.com's bankruptcy filing did not contain the usual company financial details and other information that typically accompanies Chapter 11 petitions. The U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Denver gave the company until April 11 to complete its filing.
While Richter struggles to continue operating his company, fellow spammer, Jeremy Jaynes says he has gotten out of the business altogether.
On April 8, Jaynes, who at one time sent more than 10 million emails a day, and grossed $750,000 a month, was the first person to be convicted and sentenced under U.S. felony spam laws. A judge sentenced Jaynes to nine years in prison following his conviction in November for violating Virginia's anti-spam law by using false internet addresses and aliases to send bulk emails through an AOL server in Loudoun County, Virginia, where AOL is based.
Citing "substantial legal issues" regarding the new CAN-SPAM law, and saying he was not a flight risk, the judge allowed Jaynes to remain free on $1 million bond while he awaits appeal.
Regardless of how he came to his decision, Jaynes appears to be out of the spam business. With mounting pressures of his own, can Richter be far behind?