Spam King Finally Pays Price

John Lister's picture

A man once dubbed the "Spam King" has been jailed for two and a half years. However, Sanford Wallace's sentence is for emails which were fraudulent rather than simply unwanted.

Wallace first came to infamy by sending unwanted faxes before it became illegal. In the late 1990s he became one of the first mass spammers and was sued by several Internet providers, including AOL. He was so open about sending spam, that at one point he even got the attention of lawyers at Hormel Foods (the company which makes Spam - a meat product), in which they claimed Wallace was breaching trademark rights because of web domains he owned that also had the name 'spam' in them. (Source:

Malware Scam Was a Step Up

After a brief spell out of the computer world, Wallace began distributing malware and then using pop-up messages to offer the victims the chance to buy what he called an antispyware program. That led to the FTC obtaining a $4 million default judgment against him when he failed to defend against claims of unlawful activity, though he never paid the money.

His next step was to hit MySpace with phishing emails, which tricked users into handing over their login details. Wallace then used the compromised accounts to send spam messages. In a particularly cheeky defense, he claimed this was not spam because users were inherently willing to receive messages from their friends' account (even though the friend no longer controlled it).

27 Million Bogus Messages

He repeated the same tactics with Facebook - reportedly hacking half a million accounts, and sending 27 million messages. That also led to further legal action and, between the MySpace and Facebook cases, he was ordered to pay $941 million in damages.

A court also ordered him to stop using Facebook, an order he ignored by continuing to pull the same scam. That led to a criminal conviction on two counts. One was contempt of court for ignoring the order.

The other was fraud in relation to email. The court concluded that he earned money in affiliate fees by using spam messages to send links to Facebook users. Although Wallace didn't directly make money from the people he was fooling, the court decided there was a close enough link between his misleading people and his profiting to constitute fraud. As well as the jail time, Wallace was also fined $310,000. (Source:

What's Your Opinion?

Is the sentence appropriate? Is it surprising it took more than 25 years for Wallace to end up behind bars? Should the law change to make it a criminal offense to send mass spam, even if there's no fraud involved?

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Dennis Faas's picture

Karma is a bitch! I've read the Ars Technica article published back in 2013, and this guy has spent years - literally - weaseling his way out of paying massive fines, only to continue on scamming people. But, at long last (20+ years later) - he's finally getting jail time. Surely the justice system needs adjusting, especially for those who blatantly and repeatedly break the rules just as Mr. Wallace did.

dan400man's picture

But seriously, with enough money to hire the best lawyers money can buy, it is not that surprising that it took 25+ years to put this scumbag in prison. It is a bit surprising that the unpaid judgements didn't get him there sooner.

Navy vet's picture

One down, a million more to go.

Some IT Guy's picture

@dan400man, you cannot be put in jail for not paying judgments and fines. These are civil penalties. Now, contempt of court, yes. Conspiracy, fraud, all day long.

The fraud charges should have been pressed 20 years ago, and maybe he would have learned not to be a fraud. But simply spamming with no ill will is NOT a crime. It IS annoying, but so are most forms of advertising. But without advertising, we wouldn't have half the choices we do as Americans now. There would not be 4,000+ television stations, or dozens of kinds of virtually everything. Advertising is a form of informing the public of choice.