SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – A hacker in Brooklyn sent millions of spam messages to members of the Tagged social network site, pitching pornography and bogus dating services, Tagged claims in court.
Tagged sued Rostislav “Ross” Goldenberg and 200 Doe alter egos or affiliates in Federal Court, accusing Goldenberg of fraud, computer fraud, unfair business practices and business law violations.
San Francisco-based Tagged claims its site was designed to prevent spam and fraud, through its terms of service and registration that uses either Facebook credentials or users’ names, gender, birth date, zip code and a valid authenticating email address. Despite this, Goldenberg has managed to send 4.5 million spam messages to Tagged users, the company says.
“Since approximately August 2012 defendants, led by Goldenberg, have engaged in an ongoing and continuous campaign of sending millions of deceptive instant messages to Tagged users,” the complaint states. “They used automated software to create more than 200,000 fake user accounts on Tagged’s social network. Using these fake accounts, defendants sent approximately 4.5 million spam messages to more than 1 million individual Tagged users. All of defendants’ spam messages falsely purport to be from legitimate Tagged users. The spam messages invite real Tagged users to follow hyperlinks that claim to lead to photographs or live or recorded video of other purported Tagged users.
“Tagged users who click on the hyperlinks in the spam messages are ultimately directed to various pornographic and/or adult dating websites … . These websites purport to allow users to access and view sexually graphic images of men and women, view pornographic videos and locate other people interested in sexual encounters. The operators of these fraudulently marketed websites do not disclose to potential users that the websites have either few or no actual users with whom to interact. Rather, the operators of these websites hide the truth by creating fictional user profiles and sending automated messages to potential users to deceive them into paying subscription fees to join the websites and/or to upgrade their free user accounts. Only after a person pays to join and/or upgrade his account does it become apparent that the person with whom he thought he was communicating does not actually exist.”
Tagged claims that when its users realize they’ve been duped and try to cancel their subscription to the porn sites, they can’t -because there are no cancellation options on the websites or because their requests are ignored.
Users must contest the charges with their credit card company, which takes months, while websites continue to process charges, according to the complaint.
Tagged claims that Goldenberg makes a commission from these websites through an affiliates program. The affiliates program provides spammers such as Goldenberg with computer software to generate the spam, and pay him a commission for each Tagged user that clicks on a link, registers an account or pays a subscription, the complaint states.
“Defendants’ spam operation is nothing more than a high-tech, high-volume lead generation business that deceives Tagged users into visiting websites that charge fraudulent subscription fees for services they will never receive,” Tagged says in its complaint.
“To wage a spam campaign, defendants register a domain such as “lustcitylife.com” with a domain registrar like Go Daddy. Once the domain is registered, Goldenberg and his affiliated spammers can create email addresses with the domains (e.g., firstname.lastname@example.org). Using software, defendants send emails to numerous individuals, and to cast a wider net they also create fake user profiles on social networking websites using these email addresses associated with their domains.
“Goldenberg and his affiliated spammers then send out spam messages. The spam messages [are] intended to lure the recipient to visit a website which was registered by an affiliate spammer. Often, the spam messages appear to be from real people but are in fact automated messages.
“When the recipient of the spam message clicks on the website registered by Goldenberg and his affiliate spammers, they are redirected without their knowledge through a series of interstitial domains, some of which are owned by the affiliate spammers, others of which are owned by the affiliate program, before the user ends up at the final website. As the traffic moves through the interstitial domains, information is encoded allowing the destination website to know which affiliate program directed the traffic to it. The encoded information also allows the affiliate program to know which affiliate spammer directed the traffic to the final website. On information and belief, once the destination site collects money from the user through the sale of a product or a subscription, a portion of the sale is paid to the affiliate program which in turn pays a commission to the affiliate spammer,” Tagged says in its complaint.
Go Daddy is not a party in the complaint.
Tagged claims that Goldenberg’s illegal acts have cost it at least $1 million, for equipment upgrades to stop the spam attacks, hiring employees to monitor the problem, slow servers and increased bandwidth charges.
Tagged says it has lost users and its reputation has suffered because of the spam.
Tagged seeks an injunction, disgorgement and treble damages.
It is represented by J. Noah Hagey, with Braunhagey & Borden.
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