A New York man was arrested and charged with sending out unsolicited instant messages last week, marking the first known case of criminal action being taken against someone accused of sending "spim," or instant messaging spam.

Anthony Greco of Cheektowaga, New York, was arrested at Los Angeles International Airport on February 16, after the 18-year-old allegedly sent over 1.5m instant messages advertising mortgage refinancing services and adult pornography to users of MySpace.com's IM service, according to a statement released by US Attorney Debra W. Yang.

The news comes on the heels of a new survey, from the Pew Internet & American Life Project, which reports that approximately 17m adults have received spim.

The authorities allege that, starting in October 2004, Greco fraudulently created thousands of accounts at MySpace, an online community in which members can write web logs, share pictures and send instant messages. Greco then allegedly sent spim messages from the accounts

The young man allegedly contacted MySpace.com and demanded that he be given exclusive rights to send commercial email to MySpace.com users. When MySpace.com did not respond, he threatened to share his technique for sending spim messages to MySpace.com users with the spamming community and "open a Pandora's box of spam" on MySpace's network.

The US Secret Service and Los Angeles Police Department's Electronic Crimes Task Force investigated the case.

Greco's case may be the first criminal case brought against a "spimmer", but it is not the first spim case to make it to the courts. In October, AOL filed a suit against 20 "John Does" in a case that alleged sending bulk IM solicitations over AOL's Instant Messenger network.
IM Is Widespread
Those spim cases are sure to be followed by more, if the results of a new survey by the Pew Internet & American Life Project are to be believed.

The Pew telephone survey of 2,200 US adults estimated that around 42 percent of the country's 134m online adults use IM. Thirty percent of them, or an estimated 17m adults, have received spim, according to a Pew statement.

It is too early to tell if spim will become as big a problem as its e-mail cousin, spam. However, IM is an important part of many internet users' lives, especially those under 30, and marketers will likely figure out a way to use it and get information and sales pitches to consumers, Rainie said.