It's a pain for many computer users — those unsolicited e-mails for everything from mortgages to impotency cures.
A new law was supposed to cut back on the so-called "spam," but a recent study shows consumers aren't really seeing all that much difference.
Charles Stiles a "spam fighter" for America Online, said that Internet providers continue to work on ways to catch those who break the anti-spam laws. He said, in one case, they confiscated an expensive car — a 2002 Porsche Boxster, worth $47,000 — from a "spammer" and plan to give it away to an AOL user.
"Our members are the one who are hurt by the ton of the spammers as well as AOL," said AOL attorney Randall Boe. "So giving back the car that we seized from the spammer struck us as some kind of rough justice, a way to take from the spammers and give to our members."
It was part of a round of five federal lawsuits against individuals and companies accused of sending a combined one billion junk messages to AOL members.
Boe said the online service goes after "kingpins."
"We try to identify people who are prolific, who use outlawed tactics and who send a lot of spam," Boe said. "This particular individual ... had made more than $1 million sending spam.
"By the time we got through with him, he paid his lawyers, paid the IRS, and we took our cash and car. He has nothing left."
Stiles said there are things people can do themselves to keep their in-boxes clean. He suggests using the mail controls that Internet providers offer, not buying any products from a spammer, and reporting spam immediately.
He also said parents need to monitor their children's Internet use.
Meanwhile, a 37-year-old Buffalo man was convicted by a New York state court jury of illegally sending more than 825 million junk e-mail messages and using stolen identities to thwart attempts to stop him.
After a four-day trial, a jury found Howard H. Carmack guilty on Wednesday of 14 counts, including forgery, identity theft, falsifying business records and criminal possession of a forgery device.
Wayne C. Felle, Carmack's attorney, said the conviction will be appealed.
Prosecutors from the state attorney general's office said Carmack's conviction sends a message to illegal spammers. Investigators had been trying to nab Carmack for more than a year before his arrest last May.
He was the first person charged under New York's identity theft statute, enacted in October 2002.
Carmack faces a mandatory prison term of two to seven years. He is scheduled to be sentenced May 27.
Carmack was convicted of defrauding Internet service provider EarthLink and eight men from New York State, Ohio and Washington, D.C., by either fraudulently obtaining EarthLink accounts in their names or using their corporate e-mail addresses to sell products.
EarthLink obtained a $16.4 million civil judgment against Carmack last May in Atlanta.
The conviction "puts spammers on notice that in addition to being held liable for millions of dollars in civil damages, they can also be sent to prison for their intrusive and illegal e-mails," said Karen Cashion, EarthLink's assistant general counsel.