- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Tolerating millions of e-mail advertisements for everything from diet pills to mortgage loans and pornography will finally pay off for one lucky computer user.

America Online said yesterday it will give away a 2002 Porsche Boxster convertible bought by a spammer who got rich sending millions of unwanted e-mail to AOL addresses over a nine-month period. The Sterling-based Internet provider seized the $47,000 sports car after the out-of-court settlement of a federal lawsuit filed last April.

“This is what spammers drive when they do what they want to do,” said AOL Chief Executive Officer Jon Miller at a ceremony to show off the car at AOL’s headquarters.

AOL members will have the chance to win the car by filling out an entry form on AOL’s Web site. The car has 18,000 miles on it and features a 3.2 liter, 250 horsepower engine with a grey exterior and tan leather interior. It accelerates from zero to 60 miles per hour in 6 seconds, or about the same amount of time it took its former owner to harass millions of AOL subscribers.

The company declined to reveal the spammer’s identity, except to say that he was a young man and had made more than $1 million by spamming. The full details of the settlement, which included cash payments to AOL, are sealed.

Both Virginia’s antispam statute, which took effect last July, and the new federal Can-Spam Act allows the government to seize assets after a criminal prosecution.

Mr. Miller acknowledged that giving away the Porsche will be a symbolic move, but said AOL will continue to seize the property of spammers they settle with or defeat in court, to deter their activities.

AOL and several other major Internet providers earlier this month filed lawsuits against hundreds of people they said barraged members with millions of unwanted e-mail messages. AOL was also instrumental in bringing criminal spam charges against two North Carolina men in December.

In most cases, AOL has used the proceeds from settlements and the seizure of assets to pay its lawyers and expand its spam-fighting team. AOL contends that enforcement actions combined with upgrades in spam filtering have helped reduce the junk e-mail on its network.

The company said spam complaints from its members declined 50 percent last month. And the total volume of e-mail sent to AOL members dropped 25 percent — an indication, AOL said, that some spammers have given up.

“Things are happening… this is not a futile endeavor,” Mr. Miller said.

While most spammers operate on thin margins and make sales off less than 1 percent of the e-mail they send, many have earned a comfortable living. The North Carolina men indicted for spamming in December resided in large houses in the suburbs of Raleigh and were said to earn more than $1 million per year.

The sweepstakes began yesterday morning and will run until April 8. Only AOL members older than 18 may enter. The winner will be announced the week of April 19.

By yesterday afternoon, more than 360,000 AOL members had entered the sweepstakes, making it one of the most popular in the company’s history.

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