A 46-year-old man has been charged with stealing the membership database held at the American College of Physicians (ACP) in Philadelphia.
William Bailey Jr. of North Carolina, faces a maximum sentence of 55 years in jail and $2.75 million in fines if found guilty of accessing the database and downloading contact details of 80,000 members.
Bailey runs a website called dr-411[dot]com, which sells professional organization member databases, including addresses and email addresses for doctors, dentists, lawyers and estate agents. Bailey's website, currently not active, contained adverts for email databases, one of which read, "Physician Email Database - 20,350 emails for $399."
It is alleged that Bailey ignored message on the ACP's website warning users not to duplicate information from the site.
United States Attorney Pat Meehan said that the ACP called the FBI immediately and cooperated during the investigation.
"As the indictment alleges, the defendant was not an ACP member, knew he couldn't gain access to the database and download the information that he wanted, so he ignored the stop signs and the law," said Meehan.
One researcher said spammers depend on such contact lists.
"Criminal spammers are supported by the unethical email list providers who have sprung up like mushrooms around them. Spammers need long lists of qualified email addresses to send their unwanted marketing messages to, and so are always on the lookout for unscrupulous agencies who may assist them," said Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant for Sophos. "Those people who are prepared to work with spammers carry the stench of spam around with them, and if found guilty should be punished appropriately. The public demands firm action from the authorities to investigate cases like this."