Known as the Spam King or the Godfather of Spam, 64-year-old Alan Ralsky of West Bloomfield, Michigan is now serving a 51 month jail term for wire fraud, money laundering and violations of 2003’s CAN-SPAM Act. Ralsky’s international operation saw inboxes being flooded with unsolicited emails and computers hijacked and used as botnets to send out spam without the knowledge of their owners.

Other members of the ‘pump and dump’ gang, including Ralksy’s son-in-law Scott Bradley, were also jailed for terms ranging from 32 to 51 months. Each spammer was fined hundreds of thousands of dollars and face years of supervision after they are released. Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer said after sentencing, “People who use fraudulent e-mails to drive up stock prices and reap illicit profits will be prosecuted, and they will face significant prison time.”

Ralsky et al are not the first to be convicted for sending spam emails, that dubious honor was claimed by brother and sister act Jeremy Jaynes and Jessica DeGroot in 2005 who were sentenced to nine years in prison and a fine of $7,500 respectively. The conviction was however overturned in 2008 after lawyers successfully argued First Amendment violation.

Where it all began


The Monty Python sketch

Just in case you’re wondering why unwanted email, instant message, mobile messaging and social networking junk is called SPAM, the source of inspiration is thought to come from a 1970 comedy sketch from Monty Python’s Flying Circus set in a café. Every item on the menu contains spam (canned luncheon meat) and the mere mention of the word is followed by a chorus from Viking customers.

The first ever spam email is believed to be an advert for a new computer and was sent in 1978 to a large audience on ARPANET, limited only by the maximum number of addresses accepted by the mail program. Some recipients forwarded the message to others and an annoyance was born. But the term spam was not widely used to describe unwanted messages until much later, Brad Templeton has undertaken a lot of research into mass-mailed junk if you want to take a look.

The Proud King of SPAM


The Godfather of SPAM

It is not entirely clear exactly when in the 1990s Ralsky started his mass emailing operation, which he claims was sending out a billion per day at its height. In 2002 he made the unusual move of agreeing to a media profile in the Detroit Free Press, eagerly showing reporters around his house that spam built. Angered by his proud boasts that he had used income generated from his huge operation to buy his house and fill it with spamming servers, anti-junkmail campaigners got hold of his address and registered it to receive numerous marketing offers to give him a bitter taste of his own medicine.

Undeterred by what he ironically called harassment, Ralsky continued his assault on the world’s inboxes, moving some of his interests abroad. He soon caught the watchful eye of the authorities, including the FBI, empowered by the enactment of the CAN-SPAM Act. After almost two years gathering evidence, the FBI raided Ralsky’s home and the homes of his partners in September 2005. Ralsky and ten others were indicted in January 2008 and in June 2009 he pleaded guilty, also agreeing to assist in the prosecution of other spammers.

In spite of all the successes in the fight against spam, the blight remains. So long as there are those who are ignorant or stupid or careless enough to fall for the empty promises offered in the get-rich-quick schemes often contained in such junk mail, there’ll be money to be made by those who send it.

What methods do you employ to cut down on spam? Do you get more spam today than you did two years ago?

Note: Don’t forget that thanks to the CAN-SPAM Act, most solicitations you receive in email have an Unsubsribe link at the bottom. Don’t forget to use this…it works!