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[mob] Time travel spammer IDed

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: [IP] Time Travel Spammer IDed
Date: Tue, 02 Sep 2003 17:05:43 -0400
From: Dave Farber <[email protected]>
Reply-To: [email protected]
To: [email protected]


This summer, Dave Hill got a refreshing break from the run-of-the-mill spam
that routinely invades his e-mail inbox. Instead of hawking mortgages,
penis-enlargement pills or weight-loss products, a message arrived that
seemed straight out of a science-fiction novel.

The anonymous e-mail offered $5,000 to any vendor capable of promptly
delivering a collection of far-fetched gadgets for conducting time travel.
Among the mysterious devices sought by the message's author were an "Acme
5X24 series time transducing capacitor with built-in temporal displacement"
and an "AMD Dimensional Warp Generator module containing the GRC79
induction motor."

A trail of Internet clues has fingered Robert "Robby" Todino as the source
of the time-travel messages. In a telephone interview last week, the
22-year-old Woburn, Massachusetts, resident admitted that he has sent
nearly 100 million of the bizarre messages since November 2001.

"It almost feels worthless now because the people who are monitoring my
every move always seem to win. But it's the only form of communication I
have right now," Todino said.

His father, Robert Todino Sr., worries that malicious users have preyed on
Robby's "psychological problems" and bilked him out of money.

"What bothers me is that some people are trying to sell him equipment and
take advantage of him," said Todino Sr. "He's invested a lot of money into
it and has been hurt by it."

But Robby insists that he is "perfectly mentally stable," and that the
time-travel technology he seeks is out there somewhere.

"A lot of people will say the stuff I talk about is crazy and out of this
world. But I know for a fact that it is true and does exist. Untrained
minds may disagree with me, but they don't have access to the sources that
I do," he said.

Be that as it may, Todino's recent spam not only appears to violate the
laws of science, but some may also flout a 2001 legal action against him by
the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

In August 2001, the state's attorney general
<http://www.ago.state.ma.us/txt/rtmarket.htm>ordered Robby Todino's
Marketing, to stop sending fraudulent e-mail advertisements for "free
government grants" and "detective software."

Under an "assurance of discontinuance" deal -- the first antispam action
ever taken by Massachusetts regulators -- Todino agreed to pay a $5,000
fine and halt "misleading and deceptive" spamming practices.

Shortly thereafter, Todino's first wave of time-travel spam hit the
Internet. In November 2001, using the AOL screen name [email protected], he
sent thousands of anonymous
<http://www.adultvideoondemand.com/adultvideoondemand.html>e-mails with the
subject line, "Time Travelers PLEASE HELP."

The messages appealed to anyone who was a "time traveler or alien disguised
as human" and stated that the sender's life had been "severely tampered
with" and he needed "temporal reversion" to correct it.

In December 2001, a three-page, single-spaced
<http://www.geocities.com/dictatoroftheuniverse/story.html>message signed
by someone named "Robby" began appearing in many Internet users' inboxes.
The e-mail described how the author had been drugged and poisoned as a
child by a woman his father had dated. He said he needed a "time traveler"
to help him "take back what was stolen from me in the first place. MY LIFE."

Over the years, many netizens have posed as time-travel vendors in online
<http://www.smooshspace.com/weblog/archive/000284.html>conversations with
the spam's sender, who has referred to himself by aliases including Bob
White and Tim Jones.

Some Internet users have speculated on discussion lists that the sender is
a sci-fi author in search of material. Others have suggested the
time-travel messages are just a cunning way for spammers to harvest working
e-mail addresses.

The more common assumption is that the unidentified author of the e-mails
is just out for fun. To play along, a few pranksters have created fake eBay
in response to the bizarre messages.

Officials with the Massachusetts Attorney General's office said they have
been monitoring Todino's online activities to ensure compliance with the
2001 agreement. However, they could not comment on the information they
have gleaned.

Todino acknowledged that, soon after being busted by authorities in
Massachusetts, he resumed sending commercial spam messages in the fall of
2001 under the company name PK Marketing.

PK Marketing's spamming reached a peak late last spring, when Todino
broadcast millions of
advertising "free cash grants" at its site grantgiveawayprogram.com.

Despite a stated desire to conceal his identity "to avoid the
anti-spammers," Todino has done puzzlingly little to separate PK Marketing
from the time-travel spam.

For example, the company's federalfundingprogram.com site was listed as a
contact address for more information in the July
seeking a dimensional warp generator.

A subsequent e-mail message broadcast across the Internet instructed
recipients to "teleport" the DWG to a set of geographic coordinates in
Woburn at 3 p.m. on July 28. The message apparently prompted several people
to convene near the drop-off spot, but no paranormal phenomena were

Todino believes that if it hadn't been for an intervention by "the
conspiracy," he might finally have laid his hands on a time-travel machine.

"There are forces that are constantly monitoring, and anyone who tries to
send something to those coordinates will get it blocked," he said. "But
certain intergalactic couriers have the means to deliver the stuff to me.
And I'm sure if I pursued it I could get something out of that."

End of story

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