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Overzealous Internet Marketer Arrested For Stupid Spamming

June 1st, 2007

One of the world’s most notorious spammers was arrested this week and indicted on some 35 counts ranging from mail fraud to money laundering.

Reported to have sent spams numbering into the tens of millions, Robert Soloway operated a company called Newport Internet Marketing that sold bulk email advertising services to other companies and individuals who became unwitting pawns in his massive unsolicited advertising campaigns. Soloway has a long history of spamming activity, as these records at Spamhaus indicate. He was able to send large volumes of bulk email by taking over up to 2,000 “zombie” computers that were hijacked when users clicked on email links that were infected with embedded viruses.

Given the extensive scope and length of Soloway’s activities (his operations date back to 1997), I find it somewhat surprising that it has taken so long for authorities to catch up with him. Nevertheless, there are at least three important lessons that we can learn from this saga:

1. For the love of capitalism, USE OPT-IN EMAIL LISTS. This should be common knowledge by now, but judging by the volume of spam that I am receiving, it seems that there are still many Internet marketers out there who have not figured this out yet. While the idea of spamming can be tempting if you have access to lots of email addresses, it is still a very inefficient marketing tactic, and it also requires a fair amount of technical savvy to continually avoid detection. If Soloway had begun building his own opt-in list back in 1997 instead of setting up a spam operation, he probably could have made enough profits to be financially secure by now while also avoiding legal sanctions.

2. Don’t get too cocky. For someone who was using such obvious black hat tactics, Soloway appeared amazingly overconfident and self-righteous in his writings, as this post in response to Microsoft’s lawsuit clearly demonstrates. While it might feel good to make lots of money, bragging about it in forum posts and emails (which can easily be recorded by others and later used against you) while engaged in illegal activities is definitely not a good idea.

3. Be discreet. After more than eight years of chronic spamming and facing multi-million dollar judgments from lawsuits by Microsoft and an Oklahoma ISP (Internet Service Provider), one might surmise that Soloway would want to keep a pretty low profile, or possibly even relocate to another country and then set up a more honest business or simply live off his “winnings”. But in an act of amazing stupidity, he kept on spamming even after it was obvious to everyone that the authorities were on his trail. Consequently, it was just a matter of time before he got caught.

Fortunately, we can learn from this mistake and use more discretion in our marketing approach. Not only are spamming tactics becoming more risky because people are beginning to treat it as a serious offense, but quality is usually better than quantity anyway. By using opt-in forms on landing pages and confirmed opt-in procedures for new signups, we can make sure that visitors are actually interested in reading our emails. This allows us to build profitable email lists over time without having to resort to stupid spamming.

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