Mr. Spam Man

Microsoft wants to shut him down. New York's attorney general wants to see him in court. But Scott Richter keeps thinking big.

Over the next few months, Synergy6 and its partners bombarded the Internet with hundreds of millions of e-mails. The registration rates were not as high as everyone involved had hoped -- at one point, they were running at 20,000 a month, while Synergy6 president Justin Champion had his sights set on 20,000 a day -- but they improved dramatically as the campaign heated up. Synergy6 documents indicate that OptInRealBig was paid in excess of $700,000 for its part in the promotions. But the barrage also ran afoul of Microsoft and Attorney General Spitzer; Richter's program for a "correct and prosperous future" had developed some major bugs.

Exhibits attached to Spitzer's lawsuit include more than a hundred pages of e-mails between Richter and various Synergy6 employees, providing an unusual glimpse into the inner workings of an e-mail mega-blitz. Amid the snarling over commissions, technical glitches, "shitty data" and not enough "freshies" (fresh lists of addresses), a tone of exhilaration and conquest prevailed.

"Dude, our system rocks now," Richter wrote Champion early in the campaign. "You have to see the size of the mail we can deliver now...some huge things about to happen."

Scott Richter
John Johnston
Scott Richter
Talking trash: Microsoft attorney Brad Smith (left) 
watches as New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer 
vows to delete Scott Richter's profits.
Stephen Chernin/Getty Images
Talking trash: Microsoft attorney Brad Smith (left) watches as New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer vows to delete Scott Richter's profits.

"Let's blow this up," Champion urged. To his own CEO, he fired off a memo urging him to contact Richter about how to "syndicate" their business: "He knows exactly how we could instantly mint cash by building e-mail processes for Scott and all of his mailers. He sends 200 mill per day."

Champion demanded more volume. As Richter delivered, his commission was raised. But when the free offers Synergy6 sent them bombed, such as an offer for a free screen saver, Snotty Richter made no attempt to mask his disappointment. In an e-mail headed "new screen conversion sucks ass," he moaned: "No getting opens no clicks and conversions not like was, no one wants same old shit and everyone has mailed screen savers forever. I'm loosing [sic] my ass on this crap."

Synergy6 had other concerns about the mailings. Early on, the company's chief operating officer, Robert Aitken, notified Richter that he'd been getting "scathing complaints from consumers that they are receiving our offers with their own e-mail addresses in the Œfrom' line. Most have threatened to contact the FTC, BBB, etc."

Richter denied that the cited e-mails had come from Synergy6's offers. But Aitken insisted that "the complaints are killing us" and asked Richter to use a "legit from line."

"We won't mail any more to be safe," Richter replied. A few minutes later, he wrote: "We send out 10 million plus e-mails a day, and you on average send me two complaints or less in a day. Today three complaints. I think one complaint per 3 million is real good...If you're having issues with your ISP, maybe something else is the reason."

But Spitzer's lawsuit claims that there were ample reasons for consumer complaints. Microsoft had set up spam traps on its Hotmail service, e-mail accounts created for the sole purpose of collecting bulk mailings. How these accounts "opted in" for Synergy6's offers isn't clear, but in a one-month period, the traps snagged 8,779 messages from the campaign. Most of the messages contained false sender identities -- claiming, in many cases, that the sender was the recipient's user name or a major online company such as AOL, Yahoo or Hotmail.

The captured e-mails also contained false headers, the code that documents the message's transmission path and server of origin. To make the messages even more untraceable, every one had also been routed through unsecured servers around the world. In all, the spammers had used 514 servers in 35 countries on six continents, including servers at a hospital in South Korea, the Ministry of Finance in Kuwait and ISPs in Slovenia and South Africa.

Richter says that all of the fraudulent e-mails at issue in the lawsuit were sent out by Delta Seven and that he was unaware of the company's alleged tactics. He received only a handful of complaints, he says, and he passed those on to Delta Seven.

"If there was a problem, it was up to Synergy6 to shut the guy off," he says. "Instead, after I say it's simple, we'll stop mailing, they send an e-mail saying they need to pay Richter more money to keep him happy."

Synergy6 executives have denied any culpability as well, insisting that they were "unaware that OptInRealBig had even engaged Delta Seven" to promote the offers and that the company requires its affiliates to sign contracts that prohibit illegal conduct.

As for Delta Seven, one of its principals has since filed for bankruptcy and moved on to other ventures. When interviewed by an investigator for Spitzer's office, the other chief partner in the company denied that he'd received any complaints from Richter about illegal activities. "If anything," Denny Cole said, "the complaints from Scott Richter were that not enough money was being generated."

The finger-pointing among the defendants has been a source of amusement among anti-spammers, who've been posting online excerpts from Spitzer's complaint and the companies' responses. ("Why Scott Richter is doomed," reads the header of one such discussion.) Richter, though, insists he will be vindicated.

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