Sanford Wallace, infamously known as the “spam king,” was sentenced to 30 months in prison and a $310.628 fine. The man sent millions of unsolicited messages to Facebook users, even though a court order prohibited him the access to the most used social media in the world regardless the method. It is the first conviction of a cyber-criminal for spamming since 2008 when Edna Fiedler pleaded guilty to the same charge. This kind of attacks might be seen as just an annoyance, but they damage the internet service at a world scale.

This is not the first time Wallace has problems with law enforcement. Back in 1998, he and his company, Cyber Promotions, were the target of a lawsuit for spamming emails and faxes with an advertisement. The company used things like return addresses, relaying and multi-homing to avoid antispam measures. On October 8, 2004, He was sued by the Federal Trade Commission for infecting thousands of computer with spyware and then offering a solution with his company SmartBOT.

Sanford Wallace in 1997, at his height as the world’s self-proclaimed ‘spam king.’ Image courtesy of AP – file/NBC

The same organization sued him again for the same motives and this time, Wallace and his associates had to pay a little more than $5 million in fines. Myspace also sued the man for phishing and spamming in their servers which ultimately ended in court order keeping him from access the site. Lastly, in 2009, Facebook also sued for spamming him and again, a court order said he could not create, have or maintain an account nor he could access the social media by any means.

But this time is different. Last Monday, the “spam king” confessed that he had ignored the ordered issued by the U.S. District Court Judge Jeremy Fogel, and he accessed his Facebook account during a commercial flight from Las Vegas to New York. Consequently, the U.S. District Judge, Edward J. Davila, sentenced Sanford Wallace to 30 months behind bars for sending unsolicited messages through Facebook and ignoring a court order. The Honorable added a five-year period of supervised release. The man is also known as “spamford” is going to being serving his sentence on September 7 this year, aged 47.

Spamming is a dangerous practice in many levels

Sanford created a fake account to test his spam messages. Most of these messages had a link that took the user to another web page increasing its transit, and Wallace got paid for this. He also used the same method to take legitimate users to a page where they were asked to give their login information.

A lot of people fell for this trap, and he hijacked their accounts and used them to continue spamming. In total, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) estimates that he spammed over 27 million messages via Facebook. That kind of volume can hinder internet provider’s capacity which ultimately affects the quality of their service.

Spamming not only creates a problem for public and private internet companies. Creating ways for advertisement to reach people can be valuable for a lot of businesses, and they are willing to pay a lot of money for databases such as e-mail lists, Facebook accounts, and phone numbers.

This has created a problem since there are people with access to this kind of information, and some of them have been convicted for selling it to spammers. For instance, Jason Smathers who used to work for America Online was sentenced for illegally selling over 93 million AOL-subscriber e-mail addresses.

The messages this kind of people spam are usually advertisement to create transit and get paid, but in a lot of cases, the messages contain malware who disrupts the functionality of the receiver. There is a kind of program that accesses people’s computers and kidnaps it, these programs are usually called Cryptolockers.

They get into people’s computers and then block the access to it. To get rid of it without losing all the data, the user has to transfer money to an account, and the person behind the malware sends the access code. Moreover, there have been cases where unscrupulous individuals send unsolicited messages containing pornography, violence or any other kind of unpleasant content.

When people listens to the term “cyber-criminal” they usually think of a tech-savvy hacker that gets into the Pentagon’s net and unveils official secrets, but people like Sanford Wallace cause real damage measure in millions of dollars without taking into account another kind of problem they might cause for individuals. That same perception usually diminishes their punishments, for example, Wallace has been fined with millions of dollars and he has managed to avoid it by declaring himself in bankruptcy. However, on the internet, it is very common to find pictures of spammers and their lavish life-styles.

According to officials, the “spam king” could have been sentenced to 16 years behind bars for multiple counts of fraud, intentional damage to protected computers and several violations of the laws regarding internet behavior in addition to disobeying a court order and spamming Facebook.

Source: Department of Justice