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Microsoft files 15 spam lawsuits

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Microsoft Corp. said Tuesday that it was stepping up legal efforts to combat unsolicited e-mail, announcing 15 lawsuits against spammers in the United States and the United Kingdom. The lawsuits claims that the defendants have sent more than 2 billion spam messages to MSN and Hotmail customers.

“THESE LAWSUITS FOLLOW an investigation that traversed 34 borders,” said Brad Smith, Microsoft’s general counsel. “This is a global problem that requires a global solution.”

(Microsoft is a partner in MSNBC)

Twelve of the cases were filed in King County Superior Court alleging violation of Washington State’s anti-spam law, and most of the defendants are U.S. firms. Another case was filed in California, and two more were filed in U.K. courts.

Most of the spam involved deception of consumers, Smith said.

In one case, the spam told recipients they had a virus, and urged them to download a fix. Another spam promised a credit card refund, but it was really just a lure to join a multi-level marketing scheme.

The two U.K. cases involve attacks on Microsoft servers in an attempt to stockpile valid e-mail addresses, the company said. In one case, a defendant is accused of sending a high-volume of e-mail messages at Microsoft’s computers to test 3 million computer-generated e-mail addresses in an attempt confirm their validity.

Washington State Attorney General Christine Gregoire said that 2.7 trillion spam messages are now sent each year — or 2,200 e-mails for each wired consumers.

“It has become obvious our delete key will not solve this problem,” Gregoire said. “We need to make life tough on spammers. They need to know they may have to defend themselves in court.”

The lawsuits come on the heels of a major court victory for Atlanta-based ISP Earthlink, which was awarded a $16 million judgment on May 7 by a U.S. District Court against spammer Howard Carmack. Weeks earlier, America Online, Microsoft, and Yahoo said they would share information to help stop spammers. Also in April, America Online filed its own set of lawsuits against 12 companies and individuals it accuses of spamming.

In its lawsuits, Microsoft is seeking both injunctive relief, which would suspend the spammers’ activity, and monetary damages, but it wouldn’t specify the amount.

Such lawsuits are an important part of the effort to beat back spammers, Gregoire said.

“At the end of the day, this is about economics,” she said. “It’s about ... making it more costly to spam consumers.”