Spammers Get Canned

Surprisingly, spammers getting jail time doesn’t get much press, but several major spammers have been put away this past year, and the latest one, a 27 year old Brooklynite, Adam Vitale, was sentenced to 30 months in prison yesterday. 24 to 30 months is the current limit of the Federal CAN SPAM Act of 2003. Yes, that’s the name, CAN SPAM. It stands for “Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing”.

What is the CAN SPAM Act of 2003?

According to the FTC, the CAN SPAM Act sets the following requirements for commercial (ie sales or promotional) email:

  1. It bans false or misleading header information. The email’s “From,” “To,” and routing information – including the originating domain name and email address – must be accurate and identify the person who initiated the email.
  2. It prohibits deceptive subject lines. The subject line cannot mislead the recipient about the contents or subject matter of the message.
  3. It requires that an email give recipients an opt-out method. The sender must provide a return email address or another Internet-based response mechanism, in the message, that allows a recipient to ask the sender not to send future email messages to that email address. (Recipients have 30 days to opt-out, and senders have 10 business days to comply). (Revision: A revision activated in July 2008 requires the sender complies within 3 business days.)
  4. It requires that commercial email be identified as an advertisement and include the sender’s valid physical postal address. Messages must contain clear and conspicuous notice that the message is an advertisement or solicitation and that the recipient can opt out of receiving more commercial email. It also must include a valid physical postal address.

Furthermore, the CAN SPAM Act allows:

  1. Each violation of the above is subject to fines of up to $11,000.
  2. Deceptive commercial email is subject to laws banning false or misleading advertising.
  3. Additional fines are provided for violators who:
    1. “harvest” email addresses from web sites or services that have published a notice prohibiting such activity
    2. generate random email addresses (a dictionary attack) with the intent of “stumbling” across a few genuine email addresses
    3. use software to register for multiple email accounts to send commercial email
    4. relay emails through a computer or network without permission
  4. The law allows the Dept. of Justice to seek criminal penalties, including imprisonment, for commercial emailers who do – or conspire to:
    1. Use another computer without authorization to send commercial email from or through it
    2. Use a computer to relay multiple commercial email messages to deceive or mislead recipients or an Internet service about the message’s origin
    3. Falsify header information (see no. 1 up top) in multiple email messages and initiate the transmission of such messages
    4. Register for multiple email accounts or domain names using information that falsifies the identity of the actual registrant
    5. Falsely represent themselves as owners of multiple Internet Protocol addresses that are used to send commercial email messages.

More about Yesterday’s Sentencing

Starting in 2005, the US Secret Service had a confidential informant communicate with Vitale and his partner, Todd Moeller, via instant messaging chats. One of the two young men had already been profiting from spamming stock market scams.

The informant hired the men to promote computer software through their spam activities. This resulted in around 250,000 email messages being sent to 1.2 million AOL subscribers. The emails contained falsified header information, and they were relayed through other computers and internet services without permission.

In June 2006, Vitale and Moeller pled guilty to charges of sending emails in a scheme to bypass spam filters. Moeller was sentenced in Dec. 2007, to 27 months in prison. Both also received 3 years of supervised release, and must each forfeit over $183,000 in illegal gains. Vitale was sentenced on July 15, 2008.

Other Recent Spammer Sentencings and Indictments

  • 3/18/2008: Daniel Mascia, 24, of West Haven, CT, pleaded guilty in Hartford to one count of conspiracy to commit fraud in connection with access devices and one count of fraud in connection with electronic mail. The charges relate to a “phishing” and “spamming” scheme that targeted AOL subscribers.
  • 3/14/2008: Robert Alan Soloway, 29, pleaded guilty in Seattle to Mail Fraud, Fraud in Connection with Electronic Mail, and Willful Failure to File a Tax Return. Soloway, indicted in May 2007, has been dubbed the “Spam King” by investigators. The most serious charge, mail fraud, is punishable by up to 25 years in prison.
  • 1/03/2008: Alan Ralsky, age 52, and ten others, indicted in international illegal spamming and stock fraud scheme.
  • 12/04/2007: Min Kim, 24, of Denver, CO was sentenced to 30 to 37 months, instead of 24 to 30, because he kept books tracking his $250,000 in profits. This is the first time that profits were a considerable factor in sentencing and it opens the way for longer sentences in the future.
  • 9/17/2007: Joshua Eveloff, 27, receives 6 months, 5 years supervised release, and $9,100 in penalties in San Diego for 3 months of spamming in 2004.

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