SEATTLE — Microsoft Corp. has won a $7 million settlement from a man once billed as one of the world’s most prolific spammers.
The software maker heralded the deal as a coup in the ongoing fight against unsolicited commercial e-mails, known as spam. Microsoft said the money from Scott Richter and his company, OptInRealBig.com, will be used to boost efforts to combat spam and other computer misuse. (MSNBC is a Microsoft-NBC joint venture.)
“People engage in spam to make money,” Brad Smith, Microsoft’s chief counsel, told The Associated Press on Tuesday. “We have now proven that we can take one of the most profitable spammers in the world and separate him from his money. And I think that sends a powerful message to other people who might be tempted to engage in illegal spam.”
The deal is the second stemming from joint lawsuits Microsoft and New York state Attorney General Eliot Spitzer filed in December 2003 after Microsoft set “spam traps” that netted some 8,000 messages containing 40,000 fraudulent statements. The lawsuits sought as much as $20 million in fines against members of a sprawling spam ring.
In the settlement announced Tuesday, Richter and his company agreed to comply with federal and state laws, including CAN-SPAM, the federal Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act. He pledged not to send spam to anyone who has not confirmed a willingness to receive it.
He also agreed to let authorities monitor the business for three years to make sure it does not send any illegal spam.
Attorneys for Richter and OptInRealBig.com, an Internet marketing company based in Westminster, Colo., did not immediately return calls for comment.
In a statement released by Microsoft, Richter said he has changed the way he does business.
“In response to Microsoft’s and the New York attorney general’s lawsuits, we made significant changes to OptInRealBig.com’s e-mailing practices and have paid a heavy price. I am committed to sending e-mail only to those who have requested it and to complying fully with all federal and state anti-spam laws.”
Richter was once ranked as the world’s third-most prolific spammer. Microsoft said his business sent an estimated 38 million spam messages a year.
Richter and OptInRealBig.com denied allegations they sent misleading e-mails using forged sender names, false subject lines, fake server names and Internet domain names and addresses registered using pseudonyms and aliases.
However, in a separate settlement announced last month, Richter and OptInRealBig.com agreed to pay New York State $50,000 in penalties and investigative costs and to use proper identifying information when registering Internet domain names.
Last month, Richter was removed from the Register of Known Spam Operators maintained by the Spamhaus Project, an anti-spam and consumer advocacy group. Since then, Smith said Spamhaus has reported “a massive drop in spam levels.”
Stephen Kline, Spitzer’s assistant attorney general who handled the case, hailed the settlements as “a step in the right direction.” “Will there be others who step in and take some of the business he was doing? Sure,” Kline said. “But no one is stepping in that had quite the volume he did.”
Tuesday’s settlement is conditional on the dismissal of bankruptcy petitions Richter and OptInRealBig.com have pending in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Denver.
Microsoft has filed more than 135 anti-spam lawsuits worldwide in recent years, about 100 of them in the United States. All told, the company said it has won $838 million in judgments against spammers.
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