The suits name three companies, including OptInRealBig, which is run by Scott Richter, who Mr. Spitzer said was the third-largest source of spam in the world, sending more than 250 million messages a day. Mr. Richter has been an outspoken defender of his marketing practices. He said in an interview on Wednesday that the accusations were baseless.
Mr. Spitzer said he would seek $20 million in damages from Mr. Richter and the other defendants.
“We will drive them into bankruptcy,” Mr. Spitzer said in a news conference today in New York. “Therefore others will not come into the marketplace because they will see there is no viable business model here.”
The lawsuits, the most prominent in a recent flurry of legal efforts to attack spammers, are expected to shed light on the complex web of relationships and technologies behind such e-mail. They also represent an attempt to hold responsible not just those accused of sending e-mail fraudulently, but also those who benefit financially.
On Tuesday, President Bush signed a law that makes it a crime to send deceptive commercial e-mail. But even in advance of that law, which goes into effect on Jan. 1, state and federal authorities have started to move more aggressively against some of the most prominent bulk e-mailers and companies advertised by spam.
Last week, Virginia indicted two North Carolina men whose e-mail marketing to members of America Online generated 100,000 complaints in a single month. A week earlier, federal agents arrested Vineet K. Chhabra, operator of one of the largest Internet pharmacies selling diet drugs and Viagra, largely through spam.
“These investigations are very difficult, meticulous work,” said Lisa Hicks-Thomas, the director of Virginia’s computer crime unit. “You have to trace Internet service providers and bank records.”
Many of the big Internet service providers have filed lawsuits against spammers, and they, too, have been using the power of subpoena to gather evidence and identify the most abusive practitioners. Not long ago, America Online sent investigators to an office suite in Florida suspected of being the source of millions of e-mail messages that claimed to offer mortgages at low interest rates. They found an empty office filled with computers that AOL eventually learned were controlled by two Americans living in Thailand, who ran the spam operation by remote control.