First Jailed Spammer Gets 9 Years

Thirty-year-old Jeremy Jaynes, a US citizen settled in North Carolina, has been sentenced to nine years in prison for sending junk e-mails with fraudulent and untraceable routing information. His 28-year-old sister, Jessica DeGroot, has also been ordered to pay a fine of $7,500 for buying domain names to use for spamming, although a third defendant, Richard Rutkowski, was acquitted of similar charges. Formal sentencing has been set for February next year.

Prosecutors said Jaynes and DeGroot took advantage of the Internet and America Online (AOL) members to sell bogus products and services, such as a ‘FedEx refund processor,’ which they claimed would allow people to earn $75 an hour working from home. According to evidence, Jaynes received 10,000 credit card orders, each for $39.95, for the ‘processor’ during one month alone. They were convicted under a Virginia state law that limits the number of e-mails mass marketers can send, and like the federal CAN-SPAM Act, forbids them from using fake e-mail addresses. Each was found guilty on three felony charges.

David Oblon, Jaynes’s attorney, was shocked at the severity of the sentence. ‘Nine years is absolutely outrageous when you look at what we do to people convicted of crimes like robbery and rape,’ he said. It’s been suggested that this ‘excessive punishment’ was because it was the first time the law had been prosecuted. However, during the trial, Jaynes was said to have accumulated a fortune of some $24 million by selling via spam.

The ‘harsh’ sentence shows the US is serious about spam, a nuisance to millions of users worldwide. But it’s also a major problem for large and small businesses because the thousands of unwanted e-mails can create havoc on company e-mail servers. Some surveys have even suggested that spam represents as much as three quarters of all e-mail traffic, despite laws in several countries seeking to curb unsolicited e-mails. Spam is believed to cost billions of dollars to businesses in software aimed at blocking the messages.