A judge ruled in favor of Yahoo and awarded $610 million in damages in a lawsuit against spammers who promised victims lottery prizes in exchange for personal information. But Yahoo is unlikely to collect even a penny of the award.
A judge told the group of
spammers who tricked users into thinking they'd won a prize in a fake lottery
to pay Yahoo $610 million in damages for using the Web company's name in the
Yahoo filed a lawsuit in
2008 against a group of scammers accusing them of running a spam campaign in
which emails were "unlawfully sent to Internet users with the intent of
deceiving them into believing they had won a lottery prize offered by
More than 11.7 million hoax
lottery emails were sent between December 2006 and May 2009, and the groups'
goal was to trick recipients into providing their personal and financial data,
such as credit card information and Social Security numbers, Yahoo alleged in
the complaint. The information was used to commit fraud, such as stealing funds
from bank accounts and applying for loans and credit cards, or sold to other
criminals, according to the company.
Yahoo's allegations were
"uncontroverted," Judge Laura Taylor Swain of the United States
District Court for the Southern District of New York ruled on Dec. 5. The judge
found the "defaulting defendants jointly and severally liable as
participants in a conspiracy under New York common law," Yahoo said.
Yahoo was entitled to $27
million in statutory damages for trademark infringement and $583 million in
statutory damages for violation of the federal CAN-SPAM act, the judge ruled.
Yahoo is not the only
company to have sued spammers, but considering how hard it is to find the perpetrators,
it's unlikely that Yahoo will ever actually receive any of the money it has
been awarded. The defendants, individuals from Thailand and Nigeria and
corporations based in Taiwan and Nigeria, never responded to Yahoo's complaint.
"Defendants have never
responded in this action or appeared before the Court, much less cooperated
with the Court," the judge wrote in her decision.
Yahoo claimed it hadn't
pursued the lawsuit for the money, but to protect its name. "Yahoo takes
the protection of its users and its brand very seriously. Our ultimate goal is
to ensure that users continue to trust Yahoo as the leading U.S. email
provider," said Christian Dowell, the company's legal director of globe brand
While spam continues to be a
problem, Symantec's November Intelligence Report found that email spam volumes
worldwide have dropped and are close to a three-year low. Email spam accounted
for 70.5 percent of all messages sent in November, which is a dramatic drop
from 2009, when 90 percent of email sent that year was spam.
Other companies who've won
lawsuits against spammers have not received the damages due them. Social-networking
site MySpace filed several lawsuits against spammers and won, as did Facebook. Sanford Wallace, who formed Cyber Promotions in 1995 and was nicknamed
"Spamford," was sued by both MySpace and Facebook for spamming and
phishing users on the social-networking sites in 2008 and 2009.
Judgments from those cases
totaled nearly $950 million in damages, but Wallace filed for bankruptcy
shortly after the cases were decided. Wallace surrendered to the FBI Aug. 4
after a federal grand jury indicted him in July on various counts of electronic
mail fraud, intentional damage to a protected computer and criminal contempt. Wallace
could serve anywhere from 16 to 40 years in prison, and pay up to $2 million in
fines if convicted on all counts.