MySpace wins £115m payout from 'Spam King' duo who bombarded members with millions of junk emails

Last updated at 13:35 14 May 2008

'Spamford' Wallace and partner bombarded MySpace members with 730,000 messages

Social network website MySpace has won a £115 million payout over junk emails sent to its members in what is believed to be the largest anti-spam award ever.

Notorious "Spam King" Sanford Wallace and his partner Walter Rines sent more than 730,000 messages, many made to look like they were from members' friends, MySpace said.

Under U.S. anti-spam laws, each violation entitles MySpace to $100 (£50) in damages – or three times that figure when carried out "willfully and knowingly".

A federal judge in Los Angeles ruled against the pair after they failed to show up at a court hearing, handing them a bill of $230 million in damages.

Wallace was dubbed "Spam King" and "Spamford" as head of Cyber Promotions, which sent as many as 30 million junk e-mails a day in the 1990s.

He left the company following lawsuits from leading internet service providers such as AOL, only to re-emerge in a "spyware" case that led to a $4 million (£2 million) U.S. federal judgment against him in 2006.

According to the networking site's chief security officer Hemanshu Nigam, Rines and Wallace created their own MySpace accounts or took over existing ones by stealing passwords by "phishing" – using hoax emails and websites to fool members into giving up confidential details.

He said the pair then emailed other MySpace members inviting them to look at a video or another website – some of it pornographic.

"When you got there, they were making money trying to sell you something or making money based on hits, or trying to sell ringtones," Mr Nigam said.

MySpace said the spam deluged its bandwidth and also cost money to deliver – as well as prompting complaints from hundreds of users.

Wallace was last listed as living in Las Vegas and Rines in Stratham, New Hampshire.

John Levine of campaign group Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial Email said he would be surprised if MySpace ever collected the damages.

"The giant judgments are all defaults, which means they don't necessarily even know how to find the spammer," Levine said.

But MySpace hopes the judgment will make its mark regardless.

"Anybody who's been thinking about engaging in spam are going to say, 'Wow, I better not go there,"' Mr Nigam said. "Spammers don't want to be prosecuted."

U.S. district judge Audrey B. Collins awarded $157.4 million jointly against Rines and Wallace and an additional $63.4 million against Rines under anti-spam laws.

He also awarded $1.5 million more against the pair under California's anti-phishing law and $4.7 million costs.

MySpace said it was entitled to another $3 million from Rines and Wallace under a different section of the anti-spam law.

The judge also issued injunctions barring similar activities in the future.

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