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AOL files federal lawsuits to put an end to spam

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NEW YORK — America Online has filed five federal lawsuits targeting spammers it accuses of sending some 1 billion junk e-mail messages promoting mortgages, steroids and pornography to its subscribers.

The case resulted from about 8 million individual spam complaints from subscribers, most of whom used a "Report Spam" feature AOL introduced last fall, the company said last week.

The lawsuits, filed in the U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va., are the first anti-spam cases AOL launched since May 2001. They seek damages of more than $10 million plus an end to the messages.

Most of the defendants are "John Doe," meaning AOL could not determine their identities. However, filing the lawsuits gives AOL additional authority to subpoena service providers and others to try to track down the spammers.

Individuals named in the lawsuits were Michael Levesque of Issaquah, Wash., and George A. Moore Jr. of Linthicum, Md. Their numbers were unlisted, and registration records for their domain names had false phone numbers.

Meanwhile, AOL has begun targeting spammers who use residential broadband services such as Comcast and Road Runner, which is also owned by AOL parent AOL Time Warner Inc.

AOL spokesman Nicholas Graham said the company worked with the broadband service providers to identify the ranges of Internet addresses that appear to generate the most spam.

Legitimate messages from subscribers who use alternate mail servers — for example, if they have their own domain name — may be blocked in the process. Graham said such users would receive a notice about the block and could try to get their service provider to exempt them.

The blocks, he said, do not affect subscribers who use the primary mail server that comes with the service, which is usually the case.

"After we implemented those blocks, spam coming from Comcast and Road Runner dropped by approximately 90 percent each," Graham said.