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FBI Raid Closes Spam Operation

The FBI has at least temporarily put one of the world's largest spammers out of business, a possible victim of the almost two-year-old CAN-SPAM Act.

Following an FBI raid on his Detroit suburban home last month, Alan Ralsky, currently ranked by Spamhaus as the world's most prolific spammer, says he is unable to operate the lucrative business he calls commercial bulk e-mailing.

According to warrants unsealed last week, the raid resulted in federal agents seizing financial records, computers and disks. The FBI also raided the home of Ralsky's son-in-law, Scott Bradley.

"We're out of business at this point in time," Ralsky told the Detroit News Sunday. "They didn't shut us down. They took all our equipment, which had the effect of shutting us down."

The court documents also reveal the purpose of the raid was to seek evidence that Ralsky sent unsolicited commercial e-mail using at least 14 different domain names, which is a possible violation of the CAN-SPAM Act.

The landmark law, which has been widely ridiculed as ineffective, prohibits commercial e-mailers from using multiple domain names and other dodges to disguise their identities. If ultimately charged and convicted, Ralsky could face up to 20 years in prison.

Ralsky, who served three years' probation in the 1990s for falsifying bank records, has long been a target of anti-spam groups and law enforcement officials.

In 2002, Ralsky settled out of court with Verizon for allegedly flooding the inboxes of its subscribers with spam advertising diet pills, online gambling, credit repair tools, new car-buying services, computer programs and home-based business opportunities.

In April of last year, the Michigan U.S. Attorney's Office arrested and charged two Detroit-area men with criminal violations of CAN-SPAM, marking the first arrests under the law since President Bush signed the bill in December 2003.

According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the men were sending illegal spam to sell bogus diet patches. The e-mail did not include an opt-out provision and used innocent third parties in the "reply to" line, a spamming tactic known as spoofing. Both practices are violations of CAN-SPAM.

In a related case, the FTC filed charges against Global Web Productions, a spam enterprise also selling questionable diet patches, which operates out of Australia and New Zealand.

The FTC said Global Web sent approximately 400,000 spam messages between January and April.

Like Ralsky, the two Detroit-area men and Global Web Productions are identified by the anti-spam organization Spamhaus as being some of the largest spammers in the world.