Will the real spam king please stand up?

Many vie for the title, but only one can be crowned the true Spam King, Bane of Internet Users.

Alan Ralsky

Aliases: Sam Smith, William Window, Victor Allan

Current Status: Under Indictment

Whoever says crime doesn't pay hasn't seen Alan Ralsky's house. Despite a felony conviction for bank fraud in 1995, the 63-year-old has never done time. Instead, he lives in a palatial estate in West Bloomfield, Michigan, thanks to millions he's made from pumping out more than 70 million commercial e-mail messages a day.

When photos and the address of Ralsky's 8000-square-foot home were posted online in 2002, ticked-off Netizens signed him up for hundreds of catalogs and mailers, flooding Ralsky's home with junk mail. When his phone number was posted--but with one digit incorrect--a neighbor was flooded with venom-filled calls. The neighbor called the 63-year-old spammer "one of the most hated people on the Internet."

After the FBI raided his home in 2005 and confiscated all of his equipment, Ralsky began employing botnets for spamming. In January 2008, Ralsky was indicted along with 10 others by a federal grand jury on 41 counts of spamming and stock fraud. According to the DOJ, the case is still in discovery mode. He may yet trade his big house for the Big House.

Spam Royalty Rank: Marquis of Michigan

Sanford Wallace

Alias: Spamford

Current Status: Las Vegas Disc Jockey

Back when many would-be spam kings were still stealing candy from their playmates, Sanford Wallace was doing his best to make anyone with an e-mail account regret it. By 1996--long before "spam" meant anything other than luncheon meat to the vast majority of Americans--Wallace had already been banned from AOL, CompuServe, and Concentric Networks for distributing reams of unsolicited ads. He pioneered the use of tactics like using bogus return addresses, anonymous relaying, and browser hijacking.

Though officially "retired" from the spam biz in 1998, Wallace continued to inflict pain upon Netizens. In 2004 the FTC fined him more than US$5 million for infecting computers with spyware, then selling users a US$30 program to remove it. Last May, the FTC fined Wallace and partner Walter Rines US$230 million for using phishing attacks to compromise MySpace accounts and distribute porn spam to users of all ages.

Brian McWilliams, author of the book Spam Kings (O'Reilly Media, 2004), says Wallace is the worst of a bad breed. "Many people who follow the spam scene thought Sanford had reformed," McWilliams notes in an e-mail. "But his recent phishing activities at MySpace and the spyware operation he had going just before that show that Sanford is the once and future spam king."

You get to be king by getting to the throne first and hanging on until somebody beheads you. That hasn't happened to Wallace--yet. According to press reports, the 40-year-old Wallace now works as a disc jockey in a club on the Las Vegas strip.

Spam Royalty Rank: Long Live the King

When not deleting spam, contributing editor Dan Tynan tends the Tynan on Tech blog.

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Dan Tynan

PC World
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