Man quits job, makes living suing e-mail spammers

Dec 27, 2010 By PAUL ELIAS , Associated Press
In this Dec. 22, 2010 photo, attorney Daniel Balsam, who hates spam so much that he launched a Website Danhatesspam.com, poses outside in San Francisco. From San Francisco Superior Court small claims court to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, San Francisco-based Balsam has been wielding a one-man crusade against e-mail marketers he alleges run afoul of federal and state anti-spamming laws with dozens of lawsuits filed even before he graduated law school in 2008. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

(AP) -- Daniel Balsam hates spam. Most everybody does, of course. But he has acted on his hate as few have, going far beyond simply hitting the delete button. He sues them.

Eight years ago, Balsam was working as a marketer when he received one too many pitches to enlarge his breasts.

Enraged, he launched a Web site called Danhatesspam.com, quit a career in marketing to go to law school and is making a decent living suing companies who flood his e-mail inboxes with offers of cheap drugs, free sex and unbelievable vacations.

"I feel like I'm doing a little bit of good cleaning up the Internet," Balsam said.

From San Francisco Superior Court small claims court to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Balsam, based in San Francisco, has filed many lawsuits, including dozens before he graduated law school in 2008, against e-mail marketers he says violate anti-spamming laws.

His many victories are mere rain drops in the ocean considering that Inc. estimates that there are 200 billion spam messages circulating a day, accounting for 90 percent of all e-mail.

Still, Balsam settles enough lawsuits and collects enough from judgments to make a living. He has racked up well in excess of $1 million in court judgments and lawsuit settlements with companies accused of sending illegal spam.

His courtroom foes contend that Balsam is one of many sole practitioners unfairly exploiting anti-spam sentiments and laws. They accuse him of filing lawsuits against out-of-state companies that would rather pay a small settlement than expend the resources to fight the legal claims.

"He really seems to be trying to twist things for a buck," said Bennet Kelley, a defense lawyer who has become Balsam's arch nemesis over the years in the rough-and-tumble litigation niche that has sprung up around spam.

Kelley created a website with a similar name, Danhatespam.com, that was critical of Balsam's tactics. Kelley let it expire.

"There is nothing wrong per se with being an anti-spam crusader," said Kelley, who has sued Balsam twice for allegedly violating confidentiality terms in settlement agreements. "But Dan abuses the processes by using small claims court.

"A lot of people will settle with him to avoid the hassle," Kelley said.

Balsam started small in 2002 in small claims court. By 2008, some of his cases were appearing before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal and he was graduating from the University of California Hastings College of the Law.

"What started just as kicks turned into a hobby, which turned into a career," Balsam said. "It's what triggered me to go to law school."

Balsam mostly sues companies he accuses of violating California's anti-spam law.

Among other restrictions, the law prohibits companies from sending spam with headers that misleads the recipient into believing the e-mail is noncommercial or comes with offers of "free" products that aren't true.

The law also requires a way for Internet consumers to "opt out" of receiving any more spam from a sender.

Balsam said he has more than 40 small claims victories and several more in higher courts, mostly alleging the receipt of misleading advertising.

In November, he won a $4,000 judgment against Various Inc., an "adult-oriented" social media company that controls AdultFriendFinder.com.

A judge sided with Balsam, who sued after he received four identical e-mails sent to four different accounts with the identical subject line "Hello my name is Rebecca, I love you." It's the fourth time he's beat Various in court.

The company is appealing the latest ruling and a hearing is scheduled for Jan. 5 in San Francisco Superior Court.

Balsam certainly isn't the average Internet consumer.

When San Mateo Superior Court Judge Marie Weiner in March ordered Trancos Inc. to pay Balsam $7,000 for sending that recipients couldn't stop, she noted that he has more than 100 e-mail addresses.

Balsam has filed lawsuits and got settlements and judgments from companies small and large.

He has sued the Stockton Asparagus Festival and embroiled himself in contentious litigation with Tagged.com, the country's third largest social networking site. Balsam noted in his lawsuit that Time magazine dubbed it "the world's most annoying Web site."

Tagged.com shot back with a lawsuit of its own, accusing Balsam of threatening to violate terms of an earlier settlement by telling the company he was planning to post terms of the agreement on his website.

Balsam is fighting the lawsuit and a lawyer for Tagged.com didn't return a phone call seeking comment.

Balsam has also been sued by Valueclick Inc. for allegedly breaching settlement agreements by exposing confidential terms, which he denies.

"Balsam, who in his anti-spam zeal frequently views matters in absolutes such that anyone who disagrees with him must be villainous," lawyers for Valueclick Inc. stated in a 2007 lawsuit accusing Balsam of disclosing terms of a settlement.

The lawsuit was later dismissed in San Francisco Superior Court and Balsam declined to discuss the case other than to say it was "resolved."

He said, generally speaking, those who sue him are "retaliating" for lawsuits he filed against them.

"I feel comfortable doing what I'm doing," Balsam said of the lawsuits against him. "And I'm not going away."

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User comments : 14

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Burnerjack
5 / 5 (8) Dec 27, 2010
Great idea. Now, if someone could sue the virus and malware writers! Now THAT would be the greatest day for the Web EVER!! Having to buy antispyware etc. reminds me of the old protection racket.
geokstr
1 / 5 (8) Dec 27, 2010
Reminds me of the story about the young man who moved back to his old home town to hang out his law shingle. He was the only lawyer in town, but for years he struggled. Then a second lawyer moved in, and now he has more business than he can handle, and is a millionaire.

The lawyers' playground and lottery is in full swing, and there are a lot of these bloodsuckers who file hundreds of frivolous lawsuits. Most large companies have set limits under which they will simply settle regardless of the merits of the case, because contesting even stupid and insane lawsuits costs them a lot more.

TechnoPagan
5 / 5 (7) Dec 27, 2010
This man is my hero!

He should write a how-to book.
Skeptic_Heretic
5 / 5 (9) Dec 27, 2010
The lawyers' playground and lottery is in full swing, and there are a lot of these bloodsuckers who file hundreds of frivolous lawsuits. Most large companies have set limits under which they will simply settle regardless of the merits of the case, because contesting even stupid and insane lawsuits costs them a lot more.
I can't believe you posted in defense of spam mail companies. That's like saying the commercials aren't loud enough on network television.
geokstr
1.1 / 5 (14) Dec 27, 2010
I can't believe you posted in defense of spam mail companies. That's like saying the commercials aren't loud enough on network television.

My comment was more in general about bloodsucking lawyers in general, you know, the kind who make tens of millions of dollars channeling dead babies and then run for president, and the ones who sniff garbage cans and taste-test used tampons in Wasilla. I know nuances like that are tough on the leftling mind.

I really could care less about "spammers'. My aol has a spam filter, and I can delete the junk that makes it through in a few seconds every day.

And I really can't believe you didn't tell me to commit a homosexual act, as you are wont to do.
Skeptic_Heretic
4.7 / 5 (13) Dec 27, 2010
My comment was more in general about bloodsucking lawyers in general, you know, the kind who make tens of millions of dollars channeling dead babies and then run for president
You mean baptists.
and the ones who sniff garbage cans and taste-test used tampons in Wasilla.
You mean tea partiers.
I know nuances like that are tough on the leftling mind.
Yeah, we have no idea why you guys do that stuff.
I really could care less about "spammers'. My aol has a spam filter, and I can delete the junk that makes it through in a few seconds every day.
SPAM filtering and network protection is one of the most expensive endeavors that any business IT staff engages in. It soaks up billions of dollars each year in the US. I put in a 500,000 spam solution that eliminated the budget for two jobs last year. We needed the solution more than we needed those engineers. I'm glad they were rehired this year. People like you are very misinformed indeed.
LariAnn
4.4 / 5 (13) Dec 27, 2010
Yep, if there were a "how-to" for regular non-lawyer folks to file small-claims lawsuits against spammers and we did it by the millions, millions of lawsuits, perhaps the *#%$@ spammers would quit their annoying efforts and find real constructive work with which to earn a well-deserved income.
plasticpower
4.3 / 5 (6) Dec 27, 2010
This man is like a superhero. I'd pay my taxes to employ more like him.
wileruilaer
3 / 5 (2) Dec 28, 2010
@LariAnn: Not that I don't sympathize, but wouldn't that effectively be like we were spamming the courts?
Nik_2213
3 / 5 (2) Dec 28, 2010
Go, Dan, Go !!

When my ISP began filtering spam, it cut my junk-mail by better than ~90%.

Even so, I still get regular appeals to help transfer billions of dubious dollars out of eg Nigeria...

D'uh, if even one such offer was genuine, I could pay NASA to land a football team on Mars...
Tesla444
3 / 5 (2) Dec 28, 2010
Great job Dan! Keep up the good work, I hope you make $millions from these Spammers. The book idea is a good one, adding a few hundred more suit filers may just have a major impact on the Spammers. Yes, it would be like 'spamming the courts', but it would be short lived and millions of people would be better off and more will be employed to deal with the suits and by companies that don't need to focus so much on stopping this scourge.........
Clearly, geokstr is being a JERK and deserves all the SPAM he gets -- I hope he gets targeted until the end of email. He obviously doesn't know the meaning of the word 'frivolous'. If these were 'frivolous' why does Dan win all the time?
Deft
3.7 / 5 (3) Dec 31, 2010
This article statement that they "found out that he had over 100 email accounts". Who cares? As long as he isn't using them for illegal or illicit purpose, who simply cares. Many people have many email accounts. It is a management strategy to organize their emails based upon the factions in their lives. Some people are multi-dimensional ---otheres, um..... are not! So, if it helps him keep track of what he is processing who simply cares. That is between him and his internet providers with the assumption that all communiques have no illegal and/or illicit purposes. So far, I love this guy!
panorama
3.7 / 5 (3) Dec 31, 2010
My question is...how do they know I'm small down there?!?!??!
GaryB
5 / 5 (1) Jan 01, 2011

...
I really could care less about "spammers'. My aol has a spam filter, and I can delete the junk that makes it through in a few seconds every day...


Oi vey, aol. You obviously don't do much on the net. I run sites with software information and am in a constant battle with spammers. I'd love him to sue for me, it takes up a lot of time to keep useful information up for people in the face of people trying to take a free ride on the attention my site gets and use the free attention to hawk junk or fraud.