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 Wednesday, October 15, 2008
Feds hamstring world's largest spam gang

US regulators have struck a body blow at two men accused of masterminding the world's largest spam enterprise by obtaining a court order that shuts down some half-dozen companies they operated and freezing assets earned in the operation.

Lance Atkinson, a New Zealand citizen living in Australia, and Jody Smith, a businessman from McKinney, Texas, stand accused of overseeing an operation that raked in millions of dollars sending billions of spam messages. According to a complaint filed by the Federal Trade Commission, the men recruited spammers from around the world to send unsolicited junk mail related to male-enhancement pills, prescription drugs, and other items.

Spam opponents cheered the FTC's action.

"They are probably the most prolific spammers at the moment," Richard Cox, CIO of Spamhaus.org said of Atkinson and Smith. "This is probably the first time that an action by law enforcement will affect the level of spam in people's inboxes."

Attempts to contact Atkinson and Smith for comment were not successful.

Using an affiliate program called "Affking," they were at one point believed to be responsible for one-third of the world's spam, according to the FTC. The men took great pains to distance themselves from the operation, creating a handful of shell companies located throughout the world to launder the large sums of money they brought in and to purchase domain names and credit card services.

According to the FTC's complaint, Atkinson has been involved in the spam trade for years and is the sole director and shareholder of Inet Ventures Pty Ltd of Australia. Even after the FTC obtained a $2.2m judgment against Atkinson in 2005, he continued to recruit spammers to promote his various websites, FTC attorneys said in court documents.

To bolster their claim, the attorneys included a December 2007 conversation between Atkinson and his brother Shane Atkinson shortly after he was contacted by the BBC and asked about Gencash, a spam operation allegedly maintained by the brothers.

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