It was only last May when we heard that Robert Alan Soloway was finally arrested for a variety of fraud charges stemming from his rampant illegal spamming. Now comes news that another long-time spammer, Alan Ralsky, has been indicted on very similar charges, this time relating to your typical "pump and dump" stock scamming. He's not alone either: he's only one of ten (10) individuals facing US federal charges including conspiracy, wire fraud, mail fraud, money laundering and computer fraud.
There are distinct similarities between Soloway and Ralsky, not least of which is their continual boasting about how untouchable they were, how they'd never allow themselves to face charges relating to their spamming practices, and that they'd never serve a single day in jail. For Soloway: that last one is already out the window, as he's been in custody since May in a federal penitentiary, and will remain there until his trial begins sometime this year (no date has yet been confirmed.)
Another similarity: These two individuals have been responsible for an overwhelming amount of junk email since approximately 1995.
If you look at Ralsky's Wikipedia entry, you can see a familiar pattern of fraud perpetrated over a very long period of time which actually predates his attraction to the Internet as a method for perpetrating these crimes.
I'm not entirely sure why an FBI raid on Ralsky's property in September of 2005 failed to result in any charges against him. The most often-quoted statement Ralsky made about it at the time sums it up: "They didn't shut us down. They took all our equipment, which had the effect of shutting us down." That definitely impacted his ability to profit quickly, but why weren't there any charges laid then? Whatever it was that has taken from 2005 until early 2008 to culminate in this litany of serious charges must have some serious evidence to back it up, and some lengthy investigations by a large number of law enforcement departments. Obviously that takes time.
Unlike Soloway, Ralsky seems to have made his fraud career into a family affair, involving his son in law Scott K. Bradley. This is not the first time he's involved relatives either: Bradley's home was also raided in September 2005. In stark contrast, Soloway appears to have been a bit of a loner, and virtually barricaded himself inside his posh Seattle apartment to continue his scamming activity.
In both the Soloway and the Ralsky indictments, one thing is clear: anti-spam laws are definitely the weakest link in the entire chain in terms of bringing charges that will stick, and in particular the CAN-SPAM law has absolutely no teeth whatsoever for this purpose. In both cases, the focus is much more distinctly on the material crimes of fraud and money laundering, much less so on the rampant abuse of computer systems (renting / leasing and using botnets, probably using hijacked public servers, etc.) and mass emailing millions of recipients who never wanted any of their crap in the first place, using fake headers the whole way. These crimes unfortunately don't appear to be seen as the serious problems that they are based on previous attempts to charge criminals under CAN-SPAM. Spammers abuse systems around the world and know that the law will never make any charges stick regarding these abuses. It's frustrating to me and many others that this crime is still not taken seriously in the courts.
Having said that: removing such a large scale fraud operation, by whatevere means, is most definitely something to be happy about. I don't care how they chose to promote it: fraud is fraud. Ripping people off is a crime. Ripping people off repeatedly is a crime. Each of their counts carry massive fines (up to $250,000 for each count, and there are several counts each) and lengthy jail terms (up to 20 years in federal prison for each count of many of the charges.) Since Ralsky has been so boastful about how much he loves spamming people, I'm sure that he'll remain in custody for many months leading up to his trial, whenever that takes place.
And it's not even a full week into the New Year. :)
Happy New Year, everyone. Let's hope we see a lot more arrests like these in the coming months.
SiL / IKS / concerned citizen
P.S. All of the stories related to these charges only mention that "Chinese companies" were affected by his stock spamming. I'm going to predict right here that two of those companies were CYTV (China YouTV) and CWTD (China World Trade Corp.). All of us saw rampant spam runs for these two stocks for well over two full years. They both appeared to be totally fictitious "companies" which existed only on paper, and apparently solely for the purposes of stock market fraud and manipulation. (I wrote about CWTD previously.)
If I'm right, you owe me a beer. :)