Skip to comments.Spam rage drives some e-mailers to extremes (some?)
Posted on 02/13/2004 1:52:50 AM PST by Boot Hill
By Jon Swartz
SAN FRANCISCO -- Charles Booher was so mad, he did what others have longed to do: He told a spammer to stop -- or else.
But the Silicon Valley tech worker went too far, prosecutors say. Last year, he allegedly threatened to shoot and torture an employee of a Canadian company that spammed him, court documents say. He also threatened to send a package "of anthrax spores" to the company unless it removed him from an e-mail list, the documents say. The testicular cancer survivor was especially enraged at spam touting penis enlargement, he says.
Booher, 44, was arrested by federal agents in November and charged with eight violations of interstate communications. He acknowledges he "blew his cool" but says he wanted to be left alone. "You're at the mercy of someone controlling your machine", says Booher, who has pleaded not guilty.
His case is unusual, law enforcement officials say. Rarely do spammers report such activities because they don't want to invite the law to scrutinize their operations.
But spam rage, like road and air rage, has pushed others to extremes in their battle against unwarranted e-mail.
Some people spend hours tracking spammers and reporting them to authorities. Others engage in cyber warfare by shutting down spammers' web pages or putting spammers' addresses on web sites. Others sue. A few resort to threats.
"This is an invasion personal space, intrusion with a capital I", says Gilda Carle, a psychotherapist and anger-management expert.
There seems to be nowhere to hide from spammers. Though a federal anti-spam law took effect Jan. 1, about 60% of e-mail in January was spam, about the same amount as in December 2003, says Brightmail, a spam-filtering company. Only 3% of unsolicited commercial e-mail complies with the new federal law, says MS Logic, a maker of spam-filtering software.
Booher says anti-spam laws don't work. The 6-foot-1, 260 pound programmer, who once worked at Sun Microsystems, lives in a two-story tract home in a tree-lined suburb of Sunnyvale, Calif., with his elementary-school-teacher wife, two cats and two rabbits.
The soft-spoken Booher says he inadvertently downloaded a program from the internet that barraged his computer with spam and pop-up ads for about two months.
Booher says he politely pleaded with the company sending the ads, DM Contact Management, to stop. Cough Mackay, president of DM Contact, told Booher that the internet advertising company "did not send him any e-mail messages", court documents say.
Mackay told an FBI agent that Boocher made numerous threatening phone calls and e-mail messages between May and July 2003, court documents say.
In November, Booher was arrested at home by several FBI agents.
Now free on a $75,000 bond, he faces five years in jail and a $250,000 fine. His attorney expects reduced charges or an out-of-court resolution because Booher does not have a criminal record or own a gun. [!]
DM Contact Management and its law firm did not return e-mail messages and phone calls. Assistant U.S. Attorney Shashi Kewalramani, who is prosecuting in San Jose, Calif., hand no comment.
Attacks can be technical as well as emotional. Every day, Kenny Tipton, 37, and his wife, Sharon, 52, sit at their PCs in their three-bedroom apartment waiting to pull the plug on internet porn purveyors and spammers.
The couple own Keeping Internet Kids Safe, a non-profit organization in Orlando that works with law enforcement officials to educate and protect children online. It has shut down about 1,000 web pages of porn spammers the past two years.
Chat rooms of internet service providers -- companies like AOL that sell access to the internet over telephone lines -- have long been havens for pornographers to post links to their web sites.
The Tiptons go to popular chat rooms, looking for cyber come-ons. They trace links to the web site owners. Then, they file abuse reports with ISPs and companies that power objectionable sites with the aim of shutting down the porn sites.
"We decided to clean things up because major internet service providers aren't doing much" says Kenny, an airline pilot who has a young daughter.
Nigel Featherston is active, too. The retired Microsoft programmer put his money where his mouse was.
Last year he won a $250,000 lawsuit against two Ohio residents who broke a Washington law by deluging him with spam.
The Dayton, Ohio, residents, Charles Childs and Linda Lightfoot, targeted Featherston, he says, after he publicly reported them for spamming to the ISP and the Federal Trade Commission. They promptly put Featherston's e-mail address in the "from" and "reply to" fields of the messages they sent out.
Within a week, Featherston says, he got 58,000 e-mails, many from irate consumers who complained that he spammed them.
"I haven't collected a dime in damages, but stopping these people from spamming me was worth it", says Featherston, 57. He spent $10,000 on an attorney and private investigator. Featherston won a decision when neither of the alleged spammers showed up in court.
Then there is Jesse Riddle, a Utah civil lawyer, he says, he has filed nearly 1,000 lawsuits against spammers.
"I'm naive enough to think if someone forward and made spammers financially responsible for their actions, they'd stop", says Riddle, who has collected $80,000 through judgments and settlements.
Riddle estimates he stopped dozens of spammers. But it has come at a price for his law firm: An estimated $100,000 in court filing fees, 100 pieces of junk e-mail daily and constant lawsuit threats.
The new federal anti-spam law, which carries jail time and multimillion-dollar fines for spammers, isn't expected to help people like Featherston and Riddle. Though it is likely to deter legitimate marketers from dumping unsolicited junk e-mail on consumers, anti-spam experts say it will go largely ignored by the largest spammers, many of whom are outside the USA and use sophisticated software to cover their digital tracks.
Anti-spam activists have "outed" some of the biggest spammers by digging up personal information on them and posting it on web sites. SPAMHAUS PROJECT routinely runs photos -- sometimes lifted from police records -- of suspected spammers with their home addresses and phone numbers. Sometimes, spammers snitch on one another, says Spamhaus volunteer John Reid.
Spammers fight back
Other consumers battle with their wallets, "I refuse to buy from any company that sends me spam", says Mike Nash, 33, telecommunications program manager in Duluth, Ga.
"I cancelled AOL last year because of all the spam I was receiving", adds Lisa Carito, 42, of Cincinnati. She got about 25 to 30 junk e-mails messages a day. "I just couldn't take it anymore".
AOL spokesman Nicholas Graham says many subscribers are reporting less spam because of improved anti-spam filters made available last year.
Some of the largest spammers feign indifference to the virtual vigilantes.
"I let them vent and don't pay attention to what they say", says Alan Ralsky, 58. His Michigan-based operation pumps out 70 million e-mails a day. He receives death threats daily, he says. A favorite tactic of his tormentors is to send a photo of him in the mail with a target drawn on his head, he says.
"What they need to realize is they're not accomplishing anything with threats", adds Scott Richter, 32, president of OptinRealBig.com, whose e-mail marketing company sends mass mailings for Viagra, adult-related products and mortgages.
Other spammers, however, have launched cyber attacks against anti-spammers.
One victim was Ronald Guilmette, a software designer in Roseville, Calif. Until last summer, he ran a web site used by ISPs and businesses to weed out unwanted e-mail.
A deluge of data
In August, his web site was disabled by a cyber attack, in which spammers deluged his network with data. Later, a spammer unleashed about 1 million e-mails with Guilmette's e-mail address as the sender. Guilmette was flooded with irate calls. By September, he shut down his service. The attacks stopped.
"once the spammers targeted me, that was it", he says. "I underestimated them."
The Tiptons' home and cell phone numbers were included at the bottom of 10,000 spam messages that were not sent by them. In the next few days, they were inundated with calls. They temporarily un plugged their phone.
"It's par for the course", Kenny says. Last month, while one spammer called in the middle of the night, "threatening to kick my butt", another offered to donate $1,000 to the Tiptons' business so they wouldn't shut down the spammer's site, Kenny says. He declined.
Emboldened spammers haunt online bulletin boards, where they pose as anti-spam fighters.
A dumbstruck Roger Matus, CEO of anti-spam software firm Audiotrieve, couldn't believe the comments attributed to him Nov. 10 on Download.com's message board. Someone purporting to be Matus said he was a penis-enlargement spammer and had deceived consumers.
Although the message was spiked the next day, it took him a week to "clean up the mess", he says.
No end in foreseeable future
The escalating electronic warfare isn't likely to end soon. "This battle ultimately will turn into another high-tech video game", Booher says.
Sophisticated software tools make it difficult for victims on either side to find the perpetrator. And law enforcement officials concede they are nearly powerless.
"It's like trying to stop hit-and-run incidents without the highway patrol around", says Paul Bresson, a spokesman for the FBI's Cyber Division.
In addition to my regular email, I receive 50 spam email every day. I must carefully sort through this pile to separate the fraudulent unsolicited spam email from genuine email sent by my friends, relatives, businesses, clients, and business associates that have my permission to use my email address.
Everyone of us pays for this spam. My time is worth money and I'll bet yours is too. Every ISP must add additional servers, relays, etc. to handle this unnecessary high volume of fraudulent email traffic and they pass this cost on to me and you. So never let a spammer or their apologists try to tell you this is the same as receiving junk mail. You don't have to pay for junk mail.
Some final points to consider:
This is not a victimless crime. All spam is generated through and an ISP, but every ISP has rules that prohibit the sending of spam. Despite the federal legislation, spam has increased by over 50% in this last year alone.
USA Today reports: "But the Silicon Valley tech worker went too far, prosecutors say. Last year, he allegedly threatened to shoot and torture an employee of a Canadian company that spammed him..."
OK, I give up, how is this "going to far"? ;)
Consider the following questions when you post replies to this thread:
When you post, please respect Jim Robinson's rules regarding the posting of threats of a criminal nature and about posting personal information, even though it may be about spammers (I'm sure linking would be OK, though).
Ball's in your court, AM, what do you want to do? Obviously, this thread is the superior job of posting(!), but you do what you think best.
You can use a simple keyword-type or score-based filter (included with most email programs) to weed out the majority of spam. You can also write or buy programs that "learn" what to classify as spam; these types should work better.
Booher sounds like a real whiner.
Never threaten. If you're going to do something do it. If not shut up about it.
In terms of discouraging spammers, I'm kind of partial to the use of injections of Lion Fish toxin in the "lower extremities".
It works like this: If you could magically reach down and pluck out that 5%, in no time at all, another 5% from the remaining group would change roles and become the new a$$holes, because as unpleasant as they are, there appears to be a sociological need for that species in every society.
I'm so sick of anonymous dweebs calling other posters "Nazis" for merely doing what Jim has asked them to do while using his website - respect his bandwidth.
Searches don't work half the time or more on any of the sites I go to.
If those searches were done on a site that is not FreeRepublic, you should take that up with those sites and stop whining about it here. I have never had a problem using FreeRepublic's search engine for previous posts on a topic.
Either that, or if you do search, the search engine is so slow that you will be old, senile, and have forgotten your original topic before the search engine finishes.
You're apparently a little confused on the concept of "due diligence". Either do it here or don't post here.
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