Florida Attorney General Charlie Crist has filed the state's first legal action under the state's nine-month-old Anti-Spam law, accusing two former Fort Lauderdale residents who now live in Tampa of running a bogus email and internet operation responsible for more than 65,000 illegal emails.
The illegal messages linked recipients to more than 75 different websites engaged in fraudulent or illegal business activities, including pharmaceutical and cigarette sales and the illegal downloading of copyrighted movies.
In announcing the lawsuit, Crist was joined by Nancy Anderson, Vice President and Deputy General Counsel for Microsoft Corporation, which played a key role in detecting the unlawful spam operation.
The complaint accuses Scott J. Filary, 25, and Donald E. Townsend, 34, of sending or assisting the sending of more than 65,000 deceptive emails, including 48,000 since the Florida Electronic Mail Communications Act took effect last July 1.
Filary and Townsend face penalties of up to $500 per email message under the state Anti-Spam law, for a total potential penalty of $24 million. The two face additional penalties under the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act for deceptive emails sent before the Anti-Spam law was passed at Crist's urging.
"Spam is a pervasive and growing threat to unsuspecting computer users everywhere," said Crist. "The Spam itself is illegal, but it is made even worse when it seeks to rip off Florida consumers. Florida's Anti-Spam law was adopted precisely to stop operations such as this one. We are also grateful for the valuable assistance of Microsoft in this case."
Microsoft captured more than 65,000 unlawful emails through its MSN Hotmail trap accounts and provided them to the Attorney General's Office for investigation and enforcement. The emails in turn link recipients to deceptive websites connected to Filary and Townsend.
Since May 2004, more then 350 domain names for internet websites were registered to a "J. Scott" through various assumed names at a Fort Lauderdale post office box registered to Filary. More than 85 new domain names have been registered this year, including 44 in one day alone. Filary and Townsend recently moved from Fort Lauderdale to Tampa.
The websites linked to the two men were promoted by illegal email campaigns, often lasting only days before a new campaign would begin with an identical website but a new website name.
In one instance, Spam messages directed recipients to online pharmacy websites that imposed substantial undisclosed "dispensing fees" adding more than 25 percent to the products' cost. More than 30 percent of the emails sent by Filary and Townsend contained blatantly false subject lines, while thousands of others contained misleading subject lines.
In addition, thousands of messages used false information to disguise the origin of the email, while many others wrongfully used invalid email addresses as the sender's address. Some of the messages attempted to recruit others to the scheme by offering commissions or services as an inducement for others to send emails on behalf of Filary and Townsend.
The Anti-Spam law, which was passed in the 2004 legislative session, prohibits unsolicited commercial email that contains false or deceptive information in the email subject line, contains a false or misleading email header identifying the origin or path of the email, or uses another person's internet domain name without permission.
It also prohibits an individual from sending information such as viruses designed to damage computer systems or from distributing software or any other system designed to falsify information in the email header, which would conceal the true origin of the email message. Violators face a penalty of up to $500 per email message.