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Spammers hit with $19m in fines

A group of spammers who were accused of sending billions of spam emails advertising pharmaceutical products and male enhancement products have been hit with $19m worth of fines.

Lance Thomas Atkinson, a New Zealander who currently resides in Australia, has been fined more than $15.5m for his part in the spam network, which operated under the affiliate umbrella Affking, an operation that was believed to be responsible for as much as one third of the world’s spam. An accomplice of Atkinson, Jody Smith who is based in the US and runs three affiliated companies, is liable for $3.77m.

Operating under names such as Target Pharmacy, Canadian Healthcare and Inet Ventures Pty Ltd of Australia, the businesses claimed that the sales of the drugs were legal and protected by SSL encryption. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) disputes those claims.

The FTC closed down the network in October 2008 and although he initially tried to distance himself from the network, in December that year Atkinson agreed to pay fines totalling $63,400 after admitting his role in the spam operation. The relatively paltry fine was issued because of what was described in the Sydney Morning Herald as “his co-operation and candour with authorities at an early stage”.

The increased fines levied by the FTC will appease anti-spam campaigners, it remains uncertain as to whether the fines will be paid. FTC lawyers have claimed that even after they obtained a judgement against Atkinson in 2005, he continued to recruit spammers for his enterprise.

His accomplice Smith pled guilty in August to conspiracy to traffic counterfeit goods and faces a maximum of five years in prison. Sentencing is scheduled for later this month in US District Court in Missouri.

The issuing of these fines comes less than a week after the US Food and Drug Administration claimed to have successfully taken action against 136 websites that it believed to be illegally selling drugs and medicines to American consumers.

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