America Online is taking advantage of a first-of-its-kind anti-"phishing" law in Virginia to sue three international groups that allegedly stole information from unsuspecting AOL users by sending e-mail that appeared to be legitimate messages from the company.
AOL's three lawsuits, filed Monday in federal court in Alexandria, Va., seek $18 million for the unit of Time Warner Inc.
The suits allege that the 30 phishers, who have not yet been identified by name, violated the 2005 Virginia anti-phishing act, which covers AOL because it is based in Dulles, Va. The suits also cite federal computer fraud law and the Lanham Act, which protects trademarks.
The phishers cited in the suits are accused of sending tens of thousands of e-mails and setting up Web sites that purportedly were from AOL customer service.
AOL spokesman Nicholas Graham said it was unclear how many members were ensnared, but he said the victims gave up screen names, passwords and financial information. The phishers are believed to be part of a multinational network spanning the United States, Germany and Romania.
These lawsuits follow similar efforts by AOL and other Internet service providers to go after e-mail spam artists and online scammers.
Last March, for example, Microsoft Corp. filed 117 federal lawsuits against alleged phishers. AOL has won at least 35 such cases for tens of millions of dollars, according to Graham.