America Online Inc. said yesterday that it has filed five lawsuits - including one against a Linthicum man and his company - alleging that businesses and individuals have illegally barraged customers with junk e-mail, known in the industry as spam.
The Dulles, Va.-based Internet company alleges that the defendants have sent about a billion spam e-mail messages that include pornography, offers to mortgage or refinance homes, and offers to buy steroids, college degrees or software. It also alleges that the defendants sent the e-mail illegally, for instance, by dodging spam filters or falsifying e-mail addresses.
"In the case of these guys, we already told them that they are not authorized to send mail on our network, and they continue to do it," said Randall Boe, general counsel for America Online.
The lawsuits were filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia in Alexandria because the company's e-mail network is based in Virginia.
The five complaints against 12 defendants are the latest in several rounds of complaints AOL has filed against spammers since 1998. Boe said the company has sued more than 100 spammers and never lost a case. The company has barred people from sending unsolicited e-mail and collecting tens of millions of dollars, Boe said.
In the lawsuits, AOL asked for at least $10 million in damages and court orders for the defendants to stop sending spam.
Three of the lawsuits were filed against "John Does." Boe said that AOL expects to identify them soon.
George Moore of Maryland Internet Marketing Inc. of Linthicum was named as a defendant.
"Our complaint against him and his company is that he has run a program where he and affiliates of his are sending millions of pieces of e-mail promoting things like anti-virus software, mortgage leads," Boe said. "That's generated a couple of hundred thousand complaints from AOL members. We've asked him to stop, and he didn't." Moore could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Another defendant is Michael Levesque and his firm, Byte Night LLC, a Seattle company. AOL's lawyers believe Levesque is affiliated with Moore.
Levesque's attorney, Derek Newman of the Seattle law firm Newman and Newman LLP, said that Byte Night is a holding company for some of Levesque's investments and his client did not send out spam.
"The claims against him are without merit, and we'll contact AOL and hopefully they'll dismiss," Newman said, "and if they don't dismiss it, we'll defend it."
Boe said that America Online chose the defendants based on information from its members. When AOL customers hit a "report spam" button their screen, the piece of junk e-mail is sent to an America Online database that is used for investigations. AOL said the defendants' spam prompted more than 8 million complaints from its members.
"We erect filters that are designed to block junk e-mail, so what [spammers] do is either hack their way in to using other servers so the mail appears to be coming from a place that's completely unrelated to their business, or they will falsify parts of the e-mail," Boe said.