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Tuesday September 25, 12:00 am Eastern Time

Earthlink Suing Over Spam-Filled ISP Arteries

R. Robin McDonald (Fulton County Daily Report) --

Earthlink Inc. is suing two men it calls "Internet criminals." The Atlanta-based Internet service provider alleges the two have disrupted the company's networks by engaging in illegal e-mail campaigns with stolen credit cards and passwords.

In three suits filed in U.S. District Court, Northern District of Georgia, Earthlink is seeking more than $1 million in damages from Khan C. Smith of Johnson City, Tenn.; Alan R. Krantz of Livonia, Mich.; and at least 50 other as yet unidentified defendants. Earthlink v. John Doe, No. 1:01-cv-2097 (N.D. Ga. Aug. 7, 2001); Earthlink v. Krantz, No. 1:01-cv-2098 (N.D. Ga. Aug. 7, 2001); Earthlink v. Smith, No 1:01-cv-2099 (N.D. Ga. Aug. 7, 2001).

Earthlink's Atlanta attorney, sole practitioner Paul F. Wellborn III, also is seeking an injunction that would bar Smith, Krantz and their unidentified cohorts from using Earthlink systems to transmit unsolicited commercial e-mail, commonly known as "spam."

Wellborn referred all calls to Earthlink. A corporate spokesman referred inquiries to in-house counsel David Baker, who could not be reached for comment.

The cases were reassigned to U.S. District Judge Orinda D. Evans after U.S. District Judge G. Ernest Tidwell recused himself without comment Aug. 10. Acting as his own attorney, Smith on Sept. 7 filed a formal answer to the complaints, asserting his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent. Smith said he did so because Earthlink, or others, have complained to the FBI, which ostensibly now has him under investigation.

Krantz' attorney, Charles A. Haas of Redford, Mich., claims Krantz "is a very naive country bumpkin, as far as these types of things are concerned. He had no idea what he was getting into. He thought it was a very innocent venture."

Krantz, he says, is "self-employed with nominal knowledge of the Internet. His little knowledge, so to speak, got him in hot water." Haas says Krantz found the credit card numbers on a Web site. "He had no idea where these numbers are coming from, or that he had any access to anything illegal or even untoward, or that even smacks of illegality."

The suits claim that Smith, Krantz and others developed a bootleg Internet business of "spamming and spoofing for hire." Spoofing is a method of sending spam that falsely identifies individuals or companies as originating the junk e-mail transmission.

GATHERING PERSONAL INFORMATION

The suits also allege that the spammers fraudulently obtained credit card numbers and electronic passwords through e-mail, instant messaging and Web sites. The complaints allege the defendants did so by:

• Posing as Internet retail merchants from whom a victim believed he or she was buying goods or services, or applying for loan or credit;

• Stealing credit card numbers via a bogus "get a free credit report" Web site; or

• Masquerading as the ISP, claiming to have lost a victim's account information due to a computer malfunction, and threatening to terminate an account immediately unless the victim could verify the credit card number used to pay for the account.

With those illegally obtained credit card numbers, Earthlink alleges, the defendants opened accounts with various Internet service providers, which they either used themselves or sold to other spammers.

One suit claims that Smith also generated bogus credit card numbers "via an algorithm that mimicks the means used by credit card companies to produce actual credit card numbers." Once the defendants acquired their victims' passwords, they had access to e-mail accounts through which they allegedly would send spam. The spam often marketed highly questionable schemes that included illegal "Ponzi" or pyramid purchases and sales, according to the complaints.

Earthlink alleges that Smith also marketed a bulk e-mail software package that would allow spammers to send millions of e-mails per week. Finally, the complaints allege that the defendants lured victims into downloading "free" Internet services. Included in those Internet services were viruses, worms and other illegal programs that would "allow Smith remotely to obtain (i.e. steal) personal and private information from the innocent user's computer."

According to the Earthlink complaints, spamming costs the receiver, who must pay for the online time spent reading and deleting spammed messages for often fraudulent goods and services. In addition, spam jams the Internet, drastically reduces its efficiency and function, and costs junk e-mail recipients in time, money and computer storage.

"Spam is the equivalent of a COD package that the recipient is forced to accept, or a series of collect calls that the recipient has no way to decline and that tie up and adversely affect the performance of the recipient's phone system," the complaints state.

And spam also reflects badly on companies such as Earthlink, the complaints say. When other Internet service providers discovered that Earthlink computers were the source of spam, some cut off access to Earthlink e-mail. "Earthlink's phone lines, servers, and computers have been bombarded with a multitude of complaint calls and e-mails from Internet users and other Internet-related companies and ISPs around the world who ... thought that Earthlink had somehow participated in or condoned" the e-mail, the complaints allege.


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