Herbal King spammer fined in New Zealand

A man from New Zealand, based in Queensland, Australia, has been ordered to pay a NZ $100,000 fine (US $57,000) and NZ $7,666 in costs after pleading guilty to his involvement in an international spam operation.

26-year-old Lance Atkinson admitted at the High Court in Christchurch to being part of a gang which sent two million unsolicited email messages to New Zealand computers between 5 September and 31 December 2007.

The messages promoted pharmaceutical brands commonly advertised via spam messages: Herbal King, Elite Herbal and Express Herbal.

Atkinson’s brother Shane, and Ronald Smits, both from Christchurch, New Zealand, have denied similar charges. According to the FTC, the gang were controlling a botnet of computers capable of sending 10 billion spam messages around the world every day.

Lance Atkinson’s fine was reduced because he assisted the authorities and pleaded guilty early, according to media reports.

This may, however, not be the end of the story for Atkinson, as he still faces charges in the United States brought by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) who have frozen his assets.

Interestingly, Lance Thomas Atkinson is not a name unknown to the spam-fighting community. In April 2004, the FTC filed charges against Atkinson after a spam campaign promoting diet patches and anti-ageing creams. As a result of these charges Atkinson was fined US $2.2 million, but never paid up.

Of course, although Lance Atkinson may have finally learnt his lesson and won’t be sending any more spam there may be plenty more people who can’t resist the temptation of making a quick buck through cybercrime. We need to see many more arrests and successful convictions during 2009 of people engaged in criminal activity on the internet.

You can learn more about the case in this statement issued by the New Zealand Department of Internet Affairs.