Verizon Suit Targets Wireless Spam

Verizon Wireless this week filed suit against 51 individuals it says exploited its wireless network to send millions of unsolicited text messages. It’s among the first U.S. lawsuits addressing wireless spam.

In a U.S. District Court filing in New Jersey, the largest U.S. cell phone carrier accused Jacob Brown and 50 unidentified “John Does” of violating a number of state and federal statutes, including the 2003 CAN-SPAM Act and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.

Verizon accused the defendants of transmitting approximately 4.5 million unsolicited electronic text messages, one million of which were actually delivered to subscribers’ handsets. The remainder, the company said, were filtered.

Brown and the John Does also stand accused of falsifying data contained in the messages. Verizon’s complaint says many of the unsolicited messages appear to come from non-existent email accounts at Yahoo, MSN, AOL and Hotmail.

The spam in question sought to market a variety of products and services, including financial services, software sales, pharmaceuticals and dietary supplements. They advertise a roster of sites that includes mysizer.net, spyonyourfriends.net, pleaseher.net and whoopitup.net.

Verizon said the adult-oriented wireless spam is all the more insidious because a large portion of the messages were sent to people under 18.

“Many of the users of Verizon handsets are minors, making Defendants’ transmission of indecent commercial messages particularly harmful,” the filing said.

The messages were sent in unpredictable bursts, beginning around early March and continuing to this day. On one day in late May, for example, spammers sent nearly 800,000 SMSs.

Verizon said it has committed significant resources to detecting and fighting the messages, as well as to supporting recipients. Specific costs include developing and buying spam-blocking software, tasking staff with pursuing spammers, and crediting the accounts of “harassed” recipients who have been charged for unsolicited messages. Total expenses are in excess of $150,000, Verizon said.

Jacob Brown is a resident of Pawtucket, Rhode Island. PC-radio.com reports that Brown is an employee of a Pawtucket outfit called The Phoenix Company, which has been accused of spamming in the past. The Phoenix Company executives are the target of another lawsuit filed in March by America Online. ClickZ was unable to contact Brown by press time.

Verizon’s attorneys suggested in their filing that the defendants may be working in collusion, particularly since many of the disseminated messages use the same methods and language.

Because each message received has an associated cost to the end user, wireless spam is considered potentially more harmful than email. Perhaps recognizing this, Verizon’s suit comes very quickly after the first appearance of wireless spam in the U.S. The speed of the cellular carrier’s response suggests it is very sensitive to the impact of such messages on subscriber loyalty.

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