Brian Livingston: Why not sue a spammer today?

Like uninvited faxes, unsolicited commercial e-mail should be against federal law because the recipients pay for spam through higher monthly fees at ISPs, and in many other ways.

Although Austria, Denmark, Finland, Italy, and Germany have legislatively canned spam, U.S. Congress hasn’t. That’s why I’m so pleased to see that ordinary people are beating spammers by using a potent tool – state laws.

This was brought home recently when I learned that my research director, Ben Livingston, had collected substantial fines from spammers and other human crud. (Despite the same last name, Ben and I are unrelated.)

Ben has so far received more than US$2,500 on behalf of a small ISP for which he works part time. He sues spammers, junk faxers, and illegal automated telemarketers in small claims court, which is easy to do without a lawyer. His efforts have also reaped US$5,600 still in the collection process.

One of his latest prizes is a settlement from Richard Scott of the Cyberdata group. According to Ben, this group sends out spam saying, “You can have a profit of over $2 million,” hyping a CD that supposedly has 200 million e-mail addresses.

Ben has proudly scanned the payment and posted it to his Web site at Work your way back from that address to Ben’s home page, where you’ll find several pages of inspiring victories. It also links to his zine that explains how you can become “a small claims warrior.”

Although spam isn’t yet a federal offence in the U.S., the laws of California and Washington state are particularly strong. You can research the Canadian laws, as well as those of countries around the world at As Ben’s zine says, “Some may fear legalese, but not the warrior.”

Washington law allows people to collect US$500 to US$1,000 for each received e-mail that uses a false address or a third party’s domain name (such as without authorization, as most spam does.

Many sites, such as, help you analyze the source of spam. But Ben simply sues the person at whatever address or phone is advertised in the message. (Or he feigns interest in the product until he receives an address or phone.)

Spammers may ignore small claims courts, so Ben hands his verdicts to collection agencies. They can insert “defaulted on court judgement” into a spammer’s permanent credit record. This makes loans hard to get, so many spammers offer a cash settlement even before a case goes to court.

I’m not a litigious person. But spam is quadrupling every year and will drown the Internet. So I’m looking for 1,000 Windows users to do what Ben’s doing. That should make spam unpalatable.

Do yourself and humanity a favour. Go get ’em.

Brian Livingston is the co-author of ten books in the Windows Secrets series. Visit his Web site at