A man described as one of the world's most prolific spam distributors was arrested yesterday in Raleigh, N.C., and charged with four felony counts under Virginia's new anti-spam law in a case that experts say reflects the nation's growing frustration with annoying junk e-mail.
Jeremy Jaynes, 29, who authorities say also goes by the names of Jeremy James and Gaven Stubberfield, is accused by Virginia prosecutors of flooding computer users with more than 100,000 unsolicited bulk e-mails over a monthlong period this summer and deceptively hiding his identity so that users could not trace his Internet address.
Jaynes could not be reached for comment on the charges.
Unsolicited spam has become an increasing threat to legitimate businesses trying to reach consumers and costing the country hundreds of millions of dollars in efforts to block unwanted e-mail, industry experts said. Congress recently passed anti-spam legislation that is awaiting President Bush's signature.
Calling Jaynes' case the nation's first felony indictment of a spammer, Virginia Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore warned yesterday that it will not be the last.
"This is a huge message to spammers that we have a serious law in Virginia and we will use that law to prosecute," said Kilgore, who made the announcement at America Online's headquarters in Dulles. "We hope that with prosecutions like this we will be able to reduce the amount of spam coming into homes in Virginia and around the United States. It may not make a dent immediately, but it will send a message to spammers everywhere."
Jaynes, who is listed on the Register of Known Spam Operations on the Spamhaus Project Web site, could face up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000. Virginia authorities said an alleged accomplice, Richard Rutokski, has also been charged, but has not yet surrendered.
Rotokski could not be located for comment.
Both men are expected to be extradited to Loudoun County in Virginia.
Market researcher Gartner Inc. estimates that spam will account for 60 percent of all e-mail traffic by the middle of next year. The market for anti-spam services is expected to climb above $1 billion by 2008 from a little over $120 million this year, and businesses and individuals should expect to be receiving 40 to 54 spam messages a day by that time, according to a study by Ferris Research Inc.
To combat that trend, states including California, Delaware and Ohio have passed strong anti-spam laws. Virginia, which passed its law in April, prohibits the sending of unsolicited bulk e-mails by fraudulent means, which would include falsifying Internet addresses or transmission information to hide the sender's identity.
In August, the Virginia Attorney General's Computer Crimes Unit launched its investigation of Jaynes with the help of AOL and other Internet Service Providers. AOL members provided thousands of complaints that were used by Virginia to indict Jaynes.
The indictment asserts that Jaynes sent spam between July 11 and Aug. 9 through servers located in Virginia. On three particular days - July 16, 19 and 26 - Jaynes sent more than 10,000 messages to users, it says. Between July 11 and Aug. 11, the indictment says, Jaynes sent in excess of 100,000 messages.
The spam advertised mortgage financing schemes and Internet history erasers commonly used to clean pornographic Web sites from computer files, federal officials said.
Kilgore said the spam numbers in the indictment do not represent all of the e-mails sent because the charge is based solely on complaints received by service providers.
It was the sheer volume of e-mails and the falsification of the sender's identity that made the crime a felony in Virginia, said Kilgore, who declined to reveal details of how authorities traced the spam to Jaynes.
Virginia's law allows law enforcement officials to seize any assets or proceeds obtained through an illegal spam operation.
"It's always good news when a spammer is held accountable for the damage they caused," said John Mozena, co-founder and vice president of the Internet-based Coalition for Unsolicited Commercial E-mail. "It's good to see anti-spam laws being enforced. ... Spammers have been able to break laws with impunity because the enforcement has not been there."
To date, legal threats haven't scared off spam distributors, who have become more inventive and aggressive in an attempt to bypass anti-spam laws. Experts say spam is showing up more and more in the form of pop-up advertisements, wireless phone messages and instant messenger text.
Experts also warn that the federal legislation passed by Congress this year probably won't help much. A major gripe about the new CAN-SPAM Act is that marketers will be free to send e-mails unless an individual chooses to "opt out" of a company's electronic advertising list.
The Jaynes case "is just one more skirmish in the battle between spammers and law enforcement," said David Sorkin, an associate professor at the John Marshall Law School in Chicago and founder of the SpamLaws.com Web site.
"We might see a few more felony cases like this, but other fraudulent spammers will pop up after them," Sorkin said.
"Fraudulent spammers aren't the only problem anymore. We need to go after legitimate spammers, as well, who send thousands of e-mails a day. We need to decide as a country what rules we are going to set on how legitimate marketers can send e-mails to stop our spam problem."