The tale of two busted spammers

If you're breaking the law, at least try to avoid spamming technology reporters who might want to ask you a question or two.

As the interview progressed, McCauley said he doesn't understand why people "think their e-mail address is the Holy Grail of contact information." He said he includes his phone number and address at the end of the e-mail and will unsubscribe people from his mailings.

In fact, someone else recently had the same idea I had. McCauley said he received a voice mail from a woman who wanted to be unsubscribed and was just as surprised as I was to actually be able to reach a live person. He also indicated he had received more aggressive complaints about his e-mails.

He justifies the practice because he gets some positive responses: "The people I have e-mailed are very happy to have received my messages. They far outweigh the ones that don't. I'm not selling Viagra. I'm not selling penis enlargement. I don't sell kiddie porn."

But why does he continue to do it?

"I don't think I'm breaking too many rules," McCauley said. "I'm never fearful of [repercussions from] anyone via e-mail. I don't think I'm much different than the television commercial or the ad that's in the newspaper.

"If it translates out to some minor law or some major law is broken, then fine. But I feel, in the grand scheme of things, I am doing a service to this city, this [customer] and myself," McCauley said.

The Florida real estate spam was a bit trickier to track down but had several interesting characteristics. With the subject line "2.5 acres -- Very Close In -- Hot Buy," it offered a tract of land in Naples, Florida, a well-known destination for retirees.

The e-mail had photos of some scrubby trees, and there was no house on the lot. It was advertised for US$130,000, offered by real-estate agent Michael A. Manuri, who gave his instant message handle.

The e-mail was odd, though: It came from a domain owned by Spam Arrest, a Seattle-based antispam company that offers an e-mail verification service. If you subscribe, Spam Arrest will send a verification notice to any new senders. When the sender has completed the verification -- a one-time, one-click process -- an e-mail from that address won't be blocked. It works since most spammers won't verify their e-mails.

I called Spam Arrest. Ironically, they confirmed, Manuri is a customer. Manuri also takes measures on his Web site to guard his e-mail address "to thwart the thousands of spam e-mails that I receive."

Spam Arrest said it offered free e-mail accounts between 2003 and 2004 but stopped after some accounts were used to spam. The company confirmed that Manuri sent around 1,000 messages such as the one I received.

"He's sent out very, very few e-mails in his time here at Spam Arrest, and the e-mail that he sent contains rather large images that don't lend well to mass mailing," said Michael Nguyen, who handles the technical group and customer service for Spam Arrest. "Regardless, we'll let him know that his mailings to you are unwanted."

So, why would a person who supposedly hates spam send spam?

Manuri finally sent me an e-mail after repeated phone calls and attempts to contact him by instant message. He found my e-mail address by using a software program that collects e-mail addresses from Web pages and said that mine was harvested after he used the keyword "Germany."

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