Microsoft and New York State attorney general Eliot Spitzer unleased a set of lawsuits aimed at bankrupting a spammer he described as the world's third most prolific sender of unsolicited commercial e-mail.
Using evidence gathered in co-operation with Microsoft through the company's Hotmail e-mail service, Spitzer is filing suit in New York's Supreme Court against OptInRealBig.com president Scott Richter and several other companies that allegedly send as many as 250 million e-mail messages a day.
During the investigation conducted in May and June, Microsoft intercepted more than 8,700 messages sent to dummy Hotmail accounts it had set up as "spam traps".
Those messages contained more than 40,000 fraudulent statements such as faked sender identifications and transmission paths and deceptive subject lines. Spitzer said the state will seek penalties of $500 per fraudulent act, a fine that could total $20m.
Microsoft will file its own lawsuit in Washington, seeking a judgment of $18.8m against the same defendants, Microsoft general counsel Brad Smith said.
Spitzer estimated that Richter's company brought in several million dollars a month from its e-mail marketing activities.
Also named in the suit are New York City-based marketer Synergy 6 and its president, Justin Champion; Delta Seven Communications and its operators, Paul Boes and Denny Cole.
Spitzer said his office's litigation will not be affected by the Can-Spam Act, which takes effect from 1 January. The act bars deceptive e-mail practices such as those alleged, but it also sets liability caps lower than the penalties sought by Spitzer.
Microsoft filed a spate of US and UK civil suits in June against a number of organisations. The company will continue working on antispam cases with state attorneys general, including those in New York and Washington, along with the US Federal Trade Commission.
Stacy Cowley writes for IDG News Service