EarthLink Victorious In Spam Lawsuit

A federal judge awarded the Internet service provider EarthLink damages of $16.4 million Wednesday and a permanent injunction against a Buffalo, N.Y.-based sender of junk e-mail.

Howard Carmack, identified as the leader of a ring that used EarthLink services to send some 825 million pieces of unsolicited "spam" e-mail in the past year, is banned from sending spam and from helping others send it.

Neither Carmack nor an attorney representing him appeared at Wednesday's hearing before U.S. District Judge Thomas W. Thrash Jr.

Carmack did not respond to messages left on his cell phone and with his family.

EarthLink, the nation's third-largest Internet service provider, said Carmack and others kept the bulk e-mail flowing through Internet accounts opened with stolen identities and credit card numbers.

"The ruling gets these people off the Internet," said Pete Wellborn, EarthLink's lawyer. "Carmack is not going to be spamming anybody else."

Wednesday's award is not the largest that EarthLink has received against spammers, said Mary Youngblood, EarthLink's chief investigator. Last year the company was awarded $25 million in damages in a suit against another big junk e-mailer, Kahn C. Smith of Tennessee. Youngblood said the company hasn't collected that award.

But the monetary award, Wellborn said, is less of a victory than the injunction.

Among other Internet providers, America Online has also sued prolific spammers, winning a $6.9 million judgment in federal court in Virginia in December. In that case, AOL sued a now-defunct company based in Rockford, Ill., for sending pornographic spam.

AOL has won 25 spam-related lawsuits against more than 100 companies and individuals, spokesman Nicholas Graham said.

In October, Verizon Communications settled a spam lawsuit against Alan Ralsky and his Michigan-based company, Additional Benefits LLC, that prevented Ralsky from e-mailing Verizon Internet customers. The suit also required Ralsky to pay unspecified damages.

In the EarthLink case, Youngblood said Carmack used fake e-mail addresses, which he changed every couple days to keep investigators off his trail.

Carmack's spam included offers for herbal Viagra, weight-loss products and get-rich schemes, "one of which was 'hire me to spam for you,"' Youngblood said.

Junk e-mail is a rapidly growing problem. The anti-spam company Brightmail recorded 7 million instances of multiple junk messages being sent in April, a 61 percent increase from the same month a year ago.

A number of federal lawsuits similar to the one filed by EarthLink are pending.

Besides filing lawsuits, companies have developed mail filters to cut down on junk mail. But spammers have so far been able to find ways to get around those measures.

By Patricia M. Lahay