From a nondescript house in a neighboring state, Jeremy Jaynes and
his sister raked in more than $24million with fake Internet offers
of penny-stock tickers, non-existent FedEx refunds, cheap drugs and
They did it by flooding millions of gullible Internet users with junk
e-mails known as spam. Indeed, Jaynes was ranked among the top 10
spammers in the world.
But last week Jaynes' schemes fell victim to what government officials
and anti-spam groups hope will become an increasingly effective weapon
against Internet fraud: hefty doses of jail time.
Using a new state anti-spam law considered the toughest in the United
States, a Virginia jury convicted North Carolina residents Jaynes, 30,
and Jessica DeGroot of sending untraceable junk e-mails to millions of
customers of America Online, which is based in northern Virginia.
It was the first conviction under the law, the first in the nation to
make it a felony to send large numbers of fraudulent, unsolicited
In a state that is home to some of the nation's largest Internet
service providers, the jury's decision was a milestone in another way:
It made it likely that Jaynes will serve substantial prison time. The
trial judge will not impose sentence until February, but the jury
recommended 9 years.
DeGroot, 28, who was found to have played only a supporting
role, was fined $7,500. A third defendant was acquitted. Jaynes'
lawyer is contesting the prosecutions.
Although building legal cases against spammers and bringing them to
court can be difficult given the global nature of the Internet, state
officials and anti-spam advocates hope this case and others in the
works will reverberate beyond the mid-Atlantic region -- much the way
high-profile legal action put a crimp in the downloading of pirated
music from the Internet.
"These convictions and the prison sentence for kingpin spammer Jaynes
send a resounding message from Virginia to spammers around the world,"
said Richard Campbell, deputy attorney general for the
commonwealth. "If you defraud individuals and encumber ISPs with
illegal spam, there are consequences."
Combating spam has confounded government and private-sector officials
for years. Despite hundreds of lawsuits and many federal and state
laws, the e-mails now account for 70 percent of all e-mail traffic,
according to some anti-spam organizations; others claim 85 percent is
a more realistic amount of the traffic.
It's a lucrative business for spammers. Jaynes forged Internet
addresses and used confidential e-mail directories stolen from AOL and
other Internet providers to peddle his usually phony products. In one
month alone he received 10,000 credit card orders for $39.95 each,
according to the prosecution.
Anti-spam organizations and law-enforcement officials see prosecution
as a key element in the fight, along with more consumer education.
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