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Microsoft Corp. and the New York attorney general went after a sprawling e-mail spam ring Thursday, saying they hoped to drive it into bankruptcy by exposing what they called its schemes of deception. The software giant and Attorney General Eliot Spitzer filed joint lawsuits in Manhattan against members of the ring, which they said has sent billions of unwanted and illegal e-mail messages. Beyond simply being annoying and jamming e-mail inboxes, Spitzer and Microsoft officials said the spammers have repeatedly broken the law by deceiving consumers. “Deceptive and illegal spam, like the kind we’re attacking today, is overwhelming legitimate e-mail and threatening the promise and potential of the Internet for all of us,” Microsoft lawyer Brad Smith said. The lawsuits aim to drive the e-mail campaigns out of business by persuading a judge to fine them $500 for each fraudulent statement they have made. In a one-month investigation, Microsoft set what it called “spam traps” and attracted 8,000 spam messages containing 40,000 fraudulent statements, Spitzer said. Investigators said they traced the spam network, one of the world’s largest, to a New York-based e-mail marketing company called Synergy6. Officials there did not immediately return a call for comment. The company contracted with Scott Richter, who has been identified by spam trackers as the third most prolific spammer in the world, to send billions of deceptive e-mails, according to authorities. Spitzer said Richter clears millions of dollars a month in profits. A message on the Web site of Richter’s company, OptInRealBig, said: “Optin and Scott Richter vigorously deny any violations of New York law and ask that their clients and friends make no decision regarding any liability on their part until they have the opportunity to respond to any allegations made against them.” The message said Richter had no further comment, and that his lawyer also would have no comment Thursday. The lawsuits say the e-mail campaign used common spam techniques such as forged sender names, false subject lines, fake server names, inaccurate and misrepresented sender addresses, or obscured transmission paths to prevent irritated consumers from tracing the messages. John Levine, a board member of the Coalition Against Unsoliciated Commercial E-mail, called Richter “one of the most infamous spammers around.” Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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