Mark Hostetler, Austrian spammer

(This is a blog post about an Austrian spammer. The reason I did not put anything more offensive in this post’s title, is because there is another Mark Hostetler, a Florida-based Wildlife Ecology professor. He’s probably a nice guy. I’m talking about a scumbag who lives in Vienna)

Belgian spammers?

I was just looking at today’s catch by my Akismet comment spam filter. BTW: the existence of spam filters like Akismet and Spam Karma is the only reason blogs can still be interactive. I already have more than 2600 detected spam comments since I migrated to WordPress: that’s 2600 in 3 months or 30 a day on average. Since it’s an accelerating thing, I guess I must be at 100 spams per day now.
I noticed a lot of .be domain names, which seemed kind of new to me:
Akismet: spam detector for WordPress
Are there really Belgian spammers, with Belgian addresses that you actually could go to and throw bricks through the window? Not really. The first traces went to Poland:
Pikod Darek - Poznan - PolandPikod Darek - Poznan - Poland
A Mr Pikod Darek from Poznan (Poland) has registered a load of .be domains on Dec 7th, 2005 through EuroDNS. The DNS registration was last updated on May 29th, 2006, probably because they were ready to start spamming then. All these .be sites are hosted at theplanet.com with 70.87.15.* IP addresses. I doubt Pikod hired multiple dedicated servers himself, he probably just bought a minimal shared hosting from a reseller. Why minimal? Because the only thing the .be domain does is forward you to an URL like http://www.find.fm/?aid=4077. Who is behind this ‘search engine you trust’? Enter Hostetler!

Austrian spam mob

find.fm: spam-promoted search engine
Find.fm looks like an old style web directory: you can search for products you want to buy. The results are presented in a Google-like formatting, and all links go through a domain peakc.com. The latter is owned by a Stefan Meyer from Salzburg, Austria, and the first, as you might suspect, by Mark Hostetler, Rudigergasse 4, 1050 Vienna, Austria. Stefan Meyer is a too common name in Gemran to find anything specific about the guy, but Mark was easier to track down. Rojisan outs him as the owner of Cashwebsearch.com / Peakclick.com. So we can easily suppose that he is in fact also the one behind peakc.com . He even has a Peakclick GmbH company that boasts: “We have the highest bids in the Pay-Per-Click industry; we aggregate bids from twelve paid search partners to provide you with the highest revenue potential possible.” They’ve been doing that since October 2005. One of the affiliates claims that according to the console interface some webmasters earn up to $2000 per day with (of course, that is something you *would* tell them). Peakclick also got mentioned in the recent Guardian’s quest for a spammer and in a Spamhuntress post.

Mark can answer all other questions via phone:+43-1-198.465.48.84 or ICQ: 241091072. Although, his social skills apparently leave something to be desired:

I have approached Mr Hostetler via e-mail and he has denied instigating the spamming of our guestbook, despite all links leading to his www.find.fm site. He additionally told me that, as he is in Austria, there is nothing I can do about it anyway. He has also denied knowledge of the .pl domain names. While he has quite rightly pointed out that none of the spam actually says www.find.fm, each of the links posted over the past two months have taken the browser to that site. Throughout our correspondance today, I have found his tone to be unhelpful, scathing and dismissive, hence I do not believe that he will cease this activity. During this time, after I had requested that Witchgrove not receive such spam, appealed to his better nature and explained that I was taking legal advice, another entry appeared in the guestbook.
from witchgrove.org guestbook administrator

Any lawyers out there that have some feedback on his “as he is in Austria, there is nothing I can do about it” ? Is Austria the new Russia?

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20 Responses to Mark Hostetler, Austrian spammer

  1. As a promotion, all DNS Belgium registrars gave away 5 free .be domainnames per person fomr December 2005 until February 2006.
    So that’s probably the reason why he uses Belgian domainnames.

  2. hostetler sounds very strange to my austrian ears, so i looked: not one person named that way to be found in the austrian telephone book (www.herold.at).

    also no company containing the word “peaclick” exists in austria (check the austrian company register at http://www.compnet.at/contact/).

    the number +43-1-198.465.48.84 cannot exist. (0)1 is the prefix of vienna, so the number would be 1984654884. however in austria only emergency numbers start with 1. the last 7 digits 4654884 do look like a valid viennese number. i tried to call it as well – “number doesn’t exist”.

    the address, rüdigergasse 4 at 1050 vienna exists, however it’s a house with multiple apartments. letters can only arrive in the format 4/X, where X is the apartment number.

    so i guess you haven’t yet traced down the real spammer.

    if you need a lawyer familiar with “web2.0 issues” i recommend http://kadlicz.twoday.net/.

  3. Actually, there is a ‘Peakclick’ on compnet.at (thanks for that link!)
    Peakclick e-commerce trade GmbH
    And the exact address is “Rüdigergasse 4/37″, with a box number, as you said.

    Thanks for the tip!

  4. i mistyped the name then. i just sent you the complete registry listing of peakclick via email.

  5. I’m naturally very interested in this quest. I’ve just found you from where people have clicked links back to Witchgrove and saw myself quoted.

    Go for it! I’m going to bookmark you and see where it all leads. We still get spammed regularly, but we have Lazarus software for our guestbook now, which means that we can moderate the entries, hence the public no longer see the spam, only the long-suffering moderators.

    Thank you for what you’re doing here to help us and others just like us.

  6. The Markus Hostetler might be a fake name or a strawman.
    The owners of “PeakClick GmbH” seem to be Polish:
    Drewniak Wojciech and Olczykowski Marcin, both from Bielsko-Biala (PL)

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  9. Terrific research. I’ll bookmark this site to stay updated.

  10. How can making comments be illegal? Sure, it may ANNOY you, but breaking the law is entirely different.

    That being said, good work on at least annoying them back.

  11. Mark I recieved more than 20.000 spam comments in 3 months (my site is up since October 2005). It is getting tiresome to manually control all comments (more than 2000 already) although Spam Karma 2 is doing a very good job to keep most spam out.

    Still I´am getting sick of the spammers and also be interested to know if we could sue them. I´am not recieving *.be spam but many *.pl comments. Blacklisted all those domains but they seem to be producing hundreds of domains every week.

    If you find something out let me know, I´ll be glad to provide my spam karma log and server logfiles if needed.

  12. One of the pluses of WordPress software is that it has a setting for comments that you can select that automatically dumps any comment which contains a URL, whether it’s a trackback or a direct comment, into moderation. It does mean you still get stuck seeing the spam, but all of it is in a moderation cue, which is quick and easy to glance at, and you can select “all” and delete “all” in a matter of seconds.

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  14. Good luck with the hunt! I am using Spam Karma 2 and it’s doing quite nicely, but blog spam is still out of control. I am actually considering turning off comments on one of my blogs, but that would really upset some of the regulars.

  15. @ Hans Leyten: I was working as Internet Marketing Manager for Hostbasket during the free .be-campaign, and just wanted to correct:

    SOME official registrars (the ones who agreed with the terms and signed contracts with DNS) gave away AS MUCH free domain names AS THEY WANTED (not necessarily 5). The period for the campaign was 1 November 2005 until 31 January 2006.

    All registrars had to agree not to allow cybersquatting and reporting to DNS if they noticed something fishy. I’m assuming EuroDNS didn’t, although DNS did react thoroughly if a registrars reported dubious attempts by freeing up the domain names right away.

  16. The Austrian law covering the aspects of spam (mainly e-mail spam, though) is available in full text from ris1.bka.gv.at.
    This is a national implementation of current EU regulations. Maximum penalty is 37.000 EUR, so you will doubtlessly find a lawyer acting in your case.

    HTH,

    Robert

  17. Answer from Peter Vergote, Legal & Admin Manager, DNS.BE:(my translation)
    The person that placed the comment (i.e. Robin Wauters’ comment) refers to our policy concerning “warehousing” schemes during out Nov-Jan promotion campaign.
    “Warehousing” is mass registering of domainnames with as sole purpose blocking and reselling them for a hefty margin afterwards.

    A large number of registered domains have indeed been cancelled afterwards for that “warehousing” reason. This has however nothing to do with “spamming”.

    DNS BE cannot cancel a domain name on the basis of a complaint that the owner would be guilty of spamming. If such an accusation were to have been confirmed by a court or police authority, then we can act against the owner on that basis.

    De persoon die de comment plaatste verwijst naar ons optreden tegen “warehousing” praktijken die werden vastgesteld naar aanleiding van onze promotiecampagne gedurende de maanden november tot en met januari. Met warehousing bedoelen we het massaal registreren van domeinnamen met als enige bedoeling deze te bezetten en mogelijks met woekerwinsten door te verkopen aan geïnteresseerden.

    Naar aanleiding van “warehousing”-praktijken hebben we inderdaad een groot aantal domeinnamen die tijdens de promotiecampagne geregistreerd werden opnieuw laten annuleren. Deze actie had echter niets te maken met spamming.

    DNS BE kan niet zomaar een domeinnaam annuleren op basis van een klacht dat de domeinnaamhouder zich schuldig zou maken aan “spamming”. Indien dergelijke aantijging effectief werd bevonden door de bevoegde rechtbank of politiedienst dan kunnen we op basis daarvan actie ondernemen tegen de houder van de domeinnaam.

  18. When we were getting this problem, we simply got in touch with Peakclick, and complained. They took him off within hours. Companies like that hate to have bad Google juju.

    If you hit a spammer’s affiliate payment company, that hurts the spammer more than dealing with a few emails.

    So you need to figure out the guy’s affiliate ID with Peakclick and any other affiliates he’s with – typically he’ll have a different one in the US for the guestbooks he spams there.
    Good luck.

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  20. The Markus Hostetler might be a fake name or a strawman.
    The owners of “PeakClick GmbH” seem to be Polish:
    Drewniak Wojciech and Olczykowski Marcin, both from Bielsko-Biala (PL)

    This is true!