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May 25, 2004

Aunty Spam Exclusive: Interview with a Spammer - Aunty Gets Down and Dirty with Spam King Scott Richter

Posted 2 weeks, 3 days ago on May 25, 2004
This is the first in a series of dialogues wiith self-proclaimed Spam King and Daily Show veteran, Scott Richter. Aunty has agreed to provide this venue to allow Mr. Richter to take and respond to questions from Aunty's readers. If you have questions or comments for Mr. Richter, please leave them as a comment to this article, and Mr. Richter will respond to them. Kissy, kissy - Aunty

Update: Scott Richter has responded to many questions and comments which Aunty's readers have posted for him. See the comments section at the end of this interview.

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Aunty:   I'm sure it will come as no surprise when Aunty tells you that you aren't the most beloved email sender in the world, and are often called the "King of Spam", a name you've even joked about yourself.  Is your reputation as a "spammer" deserved?

Richter: I was looking to be part of royalty but did not expect to be the King of Spam. On the other hand we are a marketing company so we have to make do with what comes our way and run with it.

Aunty:  Ok, but are you really a spammer?  Do you deserve to be called the King of Spammers, one of the top spammers?  Is it a case of if you are going to do something, you might as well do it right?

Richter: No, based on CAN-SPAM in the U.S. I am not a spammer. The Spam King name is just a name given by the media. I soon will be the Anti-Spam King.

Many people have nick names, some relate to them more then others.

Aunty:   Recently you've said that you want to go straight, and to change your wicked spamming ways.  But you've also bragged about how much money you make from spam, so why should Aunty believe you?  Why should anyone believe you?

Richter: Actually I have not bragged, this is something reporters usually write about and misquote. I actually do not do what I do for the need of money. I just enjoy working and employing employees and building a business. I am like most people, and really enjoy a challenge. What many may find interesting is that I wanted to hang it up or move on many times, but the pressure from the anti-spammers is actually what keeps me motivated and in the game. It's like chess, no one wants to lose.

Aunty:  So, again, why should anyone believe you that you want to go straight and send only wanted, opted-in to email?   Tell us something which will convince us that you really want to go straight.

Richter: Actions speak louder then words. Any ISP who has worked with us and allowed us the chance to meet their guidelines can, I think, honestly say we have done a good job doing it.

Aunty:  Aunty has heard from more than a few sources that they have received spam from you as recently as this week.   Are you still sending spam?   And if so, why?

Richter: This is an interesting question. I think if the definition of "spam" is based on CAN SPAM, we are not sending spam. If "spam" is based on a third-party's statements based in another country outside the U.S. then some may call it spam.

Another issue people to not understand is that we host a large amount of clients on our network and most anti-spam fighters do not take the time to read past the IP space, and just find it easier to blame me for it.

However, by not complaining about an abuser on our network, because they either think its me or for whatever reason, we then do not have the chance to know and deal with it, which then actually can cause a large abuse issue to take place if we are not told about it.

Aunty:  So all of the email you send now complies with CAN-SPAM?

Richter: All of the email that we personally send has always complied with CAN SPAM to the best of my knowledge.

Aunty:  If you could sit down at a table with the heads of the top six ISPs in the United States, what would you want to say to them?

Richter: I would ask them to give me the opportunity that two of the six ISPs have given us to show that we can follow anyone's rules and work with them. All I ask is to be treated equally.

Aunty:  Are you saying that if an ISP lays down the rules for you, you will abide by them and that the only email you will send to that ISP is email which meets their criteria?

Richter: Correct. Different ISPs have different requirements on many things, all the way down to bounce handling. We have no issue meeting or exceeding any ISP's requirements of us.

Aunty:  Same question, but for the top six spam filters in the United States.

Richter: Probably thank a few of them for building Optinrealbig.com LLC to what it is today. If not for the Spamhaus yellow pages most would have never found us. You really cannot put a value on the advertising it does for us. It's sad but true in a way that Spamhaus works against itself as it advertises what ISPs to use, and who the top senders they list are, so most advertisers use it when deciding who they want to work with.

I would also ask that any filtering company judge us like they judge any other ISP. We face many of the same issues with hosted clients, and harassing us, our upstreams or people we work with is wrong. Besides, when was the last time the harassment really worked and put anyone out of business for good?

On the other hand if they were more civil and open minded instead of a few which are one-track minded, they probably could have made a difference on the net a long time ago and email wouldn't be where it is today.

Aunty:  You say that you would like to be judged like any other ISP, but you're not just an ISP.  You are also, by your own admission, a "high volume email deployer".   What would you say to the ISPs and spam filters which are blocking specifically the email which you, not your customers, send, or which you send for your customers?

Richter: That is their choice, all we can do is ask them to unblock us, and meet whatever they require of us to stay unblocked or whitelisted.

Aunty:  What do you think of anti-spammers?

Richter: I think some are super great people who truly want to make a difference and understand that no matter what you think of someone, if you give them a chance and work with them you can change them. Then others I think are so one-track minded that it's a shame they give the good ones such a bad image - all they do is complain and post to many newsgroups with no hope of ever making a difference. It's sad to put in so much time to something that you really don't effect. If they want the attention they should work with email houses to make a difference, and suggest ideas that are open-minded and which over time can work. Not "you're blocked until you die", that just wont solve anyone's issues.

Aunty:  Like what kind of ideas?  If you were going to consult to email houses and tell them what they need to do to clean up their act and get their mail delivered, what would you tell them to do?

Richter: I would tell them to work one on one with what ever ISPs are blocking them and to follow what ever requirements they have.

Aunty:  Who do you think is the biggest problem spammer out there today?

Richter: Hard to say, but from email I get it's who ever is joe jobbing us.

[Ed. note: A "joe job", in anti-spam parlance, is the act of sending spam and forging the "From:" information to make it appear that the spam is coming from someone else.]

Richter: I have taken a lot of blame for huge joe jobs against us. The good part is there are a few respected anti-spam fighters who have pointed this out to the others who were blaming me for it, and we are working to find out who is behind it and to seek legal action against them.

Aunty:  There's a kind of poetic irony to the King of Spam suing another spammer for sending spam which makes it look like the King of Spammers is spamming, isn't there?

Richter: No, I see it as one legit high volume sender going after one illegal unlegit email sender for damaging his reputation.

As to name names, its tough, I really do not know the workings of the really bad ones. I am under the impression that most of them are in Russia, from reading what people write about them.

Aunty:  Well, let me give you a name.  Ronnie Scelson told the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee this week that he was trying to abide by CAN-SPAM, but that if ISPs like AOL and Hotmail didn't stop blocking his email, he was going to resort to using deceptive tactics again.  What do you think about that?

Richter: I think that is wrong and very bad. I am not him, so that is his business, not mine.

Aunty:  If you could advise the United States government as to the best thing they could do to stop that pesky spam problem, what would your advice be?

Richter: I think they have begun it, I think CAN SPAM is a start. I think that over time they will change it more, but at least they laid the ground work to start. Also with the FBI now investigating, and the FTC, I'm sure that a few more crackdowns like what took place a few weeks back will send a message to anyone U.S.-based, doing anything that is not compliant, to quit real fast.

Aunty:  Do you really think so?  You said earlier that it is like a chess game, others have compared it to a cat and mouse game.  Why do you think that if there are legal crackdowns, spammers will stop spamming rather than just finding a new move?

Richter: Just a lucky guess. My instinct tells me that most illegal spammers cannot be really making that much money, and that the cat and mouse game will end sooner or later for them.

As I have said and will always say, the big issue is this is a global issue, and while we may solve the problem here in the U.S., we need to solve it somehow globally.

Aunty:  Is there any question which you think Aunty should have asked you?  If so, what is it, and what is your answer?

Richter: So many, but I'd rather let the readers write in to ask what they feel is most important to them.

Aunty:  Is there anything else you would like to say to Aunty's readers, or the world at large?

Richter: The most important is that no matter what, people on either side of the issue should realize that at the end of the day we are all human, and that treating anyone like a human will get them a lot further then they may imagine.

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To send questions or comments to Mr. Richter, please leave them as a comment to this article, and Mr. Richter will respond to them.

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