Spammers must die… And it’s possible their enterprises will. With your help.

Hi. My name is Dave Rhodes.
Sorry, that’s not funny. Remember the good old days, when the closest thing we got to spam was the occasional Dave Rhodes chain letter? (I found a joke about him that I found amusing.)

But something great happened today. Besides finding that joke, I mean. I came up with a foolproof way to make buckets and buckets of money through UNSOCLICITED COMMERCIAL E-MAIL. Now, remember, UCE isn’t spam. Spam’s bad.

Here’s how it works. You don’t have to buy anything from me. I’m not going to sell you a CD-ROM full of three-year-old e-mail addresses harvested by some scriptkiddie’s code. You don’t need it. Making money from UCE doesn’t even require you to send out a single piece of e-mail! Not a one!

Believe it or not, your customers will come to you! About the only thing you have to do to build up your list of victims, I mean clients, is to get an e-mail address, then sit back and wait!

Best of all, this method is safe and completely legal! It hasn’t been approved by the Postmaster General. It does, however, have the blessings of the Federal Trade Commission and the legislatures of 17 U.S. states! (Dave Rhodes ain’t got nothin’ on me!)

Did you know that 17 states have laws regarding unsolicited commercial e-mail? Yes, those 17 states have very strict regulations and requirements. Certain types of spam are illegal in those states. So why don’t spam laws work? Because nobody uses them! And in the end, the loser is you!

You see, when a spammer violates those regulations, you can sue them! One attorney in Washington state sues spammers in small claims court and so far has collected more than $13,000! One Missouri resident, bombarded by unsolicited e-mail from a free webhosting service after he cancelled his account with them, sued in small claims court and received $2,525! That’s $500 per unsolicited message that didn’t meet with Missouri law, plus the spammer even had to pay his court costs of $25!

Just think… That unsolicited e-mail that annoys you could be worth thousands! But in order to cash in, you have to be, you know, in the know (wink wink), if you know what I mean. What’s that information worth to you? A hundred bucks? Two-fifty?

Who cares! Go to www.suespammers.org and check to see what your state’s laws on spam are. It’s free. You don’t even have to tell ’em I sent you. It won’t do any good to tell ’em I sent you anyway, because they don’t know me from Adam.


Man. I ought to be in infomercials. I sure know how to use italics and exclamation points. Though most of these creeps think quotation marks are for emphasis. That’s one of my biggest pet peeves.

Someone else e-mailed me at work and sent me a link to a link to a link that led me to this Brian Livingston column, which eventually led me to www.suespammers.org, where I learned that 17 states have anti-spam laws on the books. I looked into the laws, which are printed on the site. Surprisingly, Missouri is one of the more enlightened states. If a spammer sends e-mail to Missouri and fails to include an opt-out e-mail address or 800 number, you can sue the spammer for 500 smackers.

Most spammers include an opt-out Web page. That complies with the spirit of Missouri law, but not the letter of it. Maybe someone pointed out to lawmakers that it’s harder to implement an e-mail opt-out than a Web page opt-out. Who knows. The law is a stroke of genius, whether by design or accident. I don’t know if that’ll hold up in court, because that really is a technicality. But a lot of spam doesn’t provide any opt-out at all, which means they have no defense whatsoever.

This got me thinking. I get tons of spam. I might have $3,000 worth of spam in my inbox just from this week. I probably ought to check. I could make a decent living suing spammers until the laws change.

And this got me thinking some more. Who cares if 55 people buy stuff when they send out 100,000 messages? Fancy this possibility: What if every time a spammer sent out 100,000 messages, 55 of the recipients sued? The number of sales is irrelevant when you’re faced with that many lawsuits. And let’s face it. Most spammers are idiots trying to get rich quick working out of a spare bedroom. They don’t have a lot of resources. I know the type of individual who tries this crap because I’m related to one. (Fortunately for the world, there’s probably not enough left in his head for him to be able to operate a computer these days. But I’m pretty sure if he had my phone number he’d be calling me, asking me to hook him up. Don’t worry. If he ever gets my phone number, I’m changing it the next day.) This type of person is not well-equipped to handle a few dozen separate lawsuits, especially a few dozen lawsuits outside his home state. And he’s dead meat if multiple suits in different states happen to end up landing on the same court date, since generally if you’re not present you lose by default.

It makes no sense to fight a Missouri lawsuit. Unless you live in the same county as the plaintiff, you’ll probably spend more than $500 to defend yourself, and judges aren’t very sympathetic to the plight of a spammer because so many of them are con artists anyway. It’s much cheaper to just settle. The nature of the spammer is to just ignore it, which of course becomes even more costly. Getting on the wrong side of a judge is a lot more dangerous than getting on the wrong side of an ISP.

So, here’s what you and I need to start doing to really make a difference. Spam filters mostly work, yes, but why should we bother with that when we can sue the lowlives out of business and pick up a little extra cash? And no, my libertarian tendencies are against a federal anti-spam law, because it’s much harder to comply with 17 states’ varying laws than it is with one Federal law, which would probably be watered down anyway. And if more of the remaining 33 put laws on the books, it’ll be even tougher to comply. That would be a very good thing. Wouldn’t it be absolutely fantabulous if some state required a toll-free opt-out number? That would significantly raise the cost of doing business…

The Missouri law is good in that someone can make a lot of money by suing people who don’t comply, but the people who do comply can simply disregard the opt-out stuff. I’ve seen spammers use 800 opt-out numbers. I’ve even called. It’s funny how they never pick up the phone. Missouri laws will drive the less-crafty spammers out of business if enough people use them, but it’s the Washington laws that’ll really hurt. They’re stricter still. In Washington, the state holds the opt-out list, and if you spam an account on that opt-out list, you’re lawsuit bait. Period. And apparently, a printout of the e-mail is sufficient evidence. Sounds like some influential guy in Washington really doesn’t like spam.

The difficult part is tracking down the spammer so you can sue them. There’s a nice primer on decoding mail headers here and some more information here.

I know. It’s my journalistic responsibility to go nail one of these creeps and step you through the process. (And get 500 bucks to boot.) Maybe this weekend I’ll start walking down that road. Tracking down a physical address from a mail header so I can slap a guy with a lawsuit in St. Louis County ought to be interesting. But we journalists have ways of tracking down people who don’t want to be tracked down.

And then there’s this. Go here to read about a guy who set up a Paypal account, sent threatening notes to 15 spammers, and netted 300 bucks in 10 minutes. And his page makes it sound like you can go to a state with tougher spam laws and sue them there if you wish. Strange. You can sue somewhere other than in your hometown? Looks like I need the services of an attorney.

There’s a certain poetic justice to the idea that you can make more money off a spammer’s mass e-mailing than the spammer makes, isn’t there? I think we can fight and win this war.

7 thoughts on “Spammers must die… And it’s possible their enterprises will. With your help.

  • July 12, 2001 at 1:57 am
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    Dave,

    I like your "Get rich quick!" scheme. Go get ’em!

    I thought I should fill you in on some interesting facts. I got 3 private e-mail addresses that I use and my wife’s got two. We almost never receive spam. I think that you got a real heavy problem with this in the U.S. but Europe doesn’t seem to be affected in the same way. I never get spam at work either. Talking to friends and colleagues and they tell me the same thing.

    Are spammers so intelligent and kind that they filter out all addresses that don’t end in .com etc?

    /Dave T.

  • July 12, 2001 at 9:35 am
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    More likely spammers are too dumb to realize there’s such thing as an e-mail address that ends in something other than .com, .net, or .edu. Come to think of it, for the past three years, I’ve worked for .orgs, and I’ve never had much trouble with spam there either. And one of those .org addresses was all over the ‘net.

    Or the spammers may be just smart enough to realize it’s hard to sell goods internationally and not usually worth the trouble.

    And for the benefit of non-U.S. readers, the Dave Rhodes chain letter, which I first heard of in the mid-1980s, gave you a list of five snail mail addresses. You were to send a $1 bill to each address, then take off the top address, bump everyone up one notch, then put your address at the bottom and send out more copies of the letter. Later the letter was adapted for use on BBSs and online services. Supposedly the letter originated in the late 1960s. Needless to say, it was highly illegal, highly annoying, and you were more likely to get a visit from the local authorities by sending it out than you were to get your 5 bucks back.

  • July 12, 2001 at 9:39 am
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    *sigh* Why can’t Texas be a bit more enlightened? Let us know more about suing from another state if you figure anything out! ๐Ÿ™‚

    In TN, where I used to live, it’s a $10 deal. ๐Ÿ™ I will tell my friends back there about it, though.

  • July 12, 2001 at 2:57 pm
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    High Dave, I’ve got some swamp land you might be able to help me sell…

  • June 4, 2003 at 9:49 pm
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    Jerk :-p

  • June 4, 2003 at 9:50 pm
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    Jerk!!!!

  • June 5, 2003 at 2:06 pm
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    Um… what? Who is the jerk? Is Dave the jerk?

    Let’s see… Spammers literally *steal* bandwidth from ISPs. They then proceed to dump kilobytes (sometimes megabytes) of unwanted garbage in a user’s maildir. If the user pays per the minute / hour / kilobyte / whatever then the spammer is costing the user money.

    Spam problems make up a large part of ISP fees. Spam makes bandwidth cost more. Spam costs me money, so I’m going to sue the crap out of spammers to get that money back.

    So to me, the spammers are the biggest jerks of all and should be treated as criminals – common thieves. Hey, Dave – What is the minimum sentence for a federal theft charge > $5,000? Isn’t it something like five years? Yeah… that’s the way to go. Jail the theiving jerks.

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