International spammer fined $100,000 in New Zealand

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A member of the Herbal King international spam ring was ordered by New Zealand authorities to pay a $57,000 fine for his role in the operation.

Lance Atkinson, 26, of Pelican Waters in Queensland, pleaded guilty Friday in New Zealand. Along with another defendant, Jody Smith of Texas, Atkinson faces additional charges in the United States brought in October by the U.S. District Court in Illinois, at the urging of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

Two other defendants face charges in New Zealand for their roles in the spam ring -- Lance Atkinson's brother, Shane, and Ronald Smits. Both are contesting the claim and have entered statements of defense, according to a statement from the New Zealand Department of Internet Affairs.

“The FTC and New Zealand have worked together on this,” Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at Sophos, told on Monday. “We have got a true crime without borders here, and it [does] make things more complicated for the police. So being able to share resources is tremendously useful.”

Atkinson and other spammers were in the business of marketing Herbal King, Elite Herbal and Herbal Express brand pharmaceuticals and earned a percentage of the proceeds from the company that sells those goods. The spam ring marketed fake or unsafe weight-loss drugs and male enhancement products, the FTC said in a statement.

The spammers were masterminding the operation from New Zealand and used compromised computers around the world to send spam to users in New Zealand, the United States and around the world. New Zealand authorities charged the Atkinson brothers and Smits with the spam that was sent to New Zealand users -- more than two million unsolicited email messages -- between Sept. 5 and Dec. 31, 2007.

“The criminals behind spam think they can get away with it, but internationally, authorities are getting much better at this in cracking down and handing down some serious sentences,” Cluley said.

Hon. Justice French of the High Court in Christchurch said Atkinson was given some discount in his penalty for his cooperation with authorities.

“It will be interesting to see what kind of penalties he will face in the U.S. -- if they will be harder,” Cluley said.

Steve Wernikoff, staff attorney with the FTC in Chicago discussed the case during a SC World Congress panel, outlining how botnet affiliates work. Wernikoff said the botnet-driven spammer network that Atkinson led generated $7.5 million in less than nine months.

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