NEW YORK – Millions of AOL customers were hit with junk e-mail after an America Online (search) insider stole the Internet giant's subscriber list and sold it to spammers, prosecutors say.
The scheme resulted in AOL customers being sent unsolicited advertisements for herbal penile enhancement pills and Internet gambling come-ons, prosecutors said Wednesday.
Prosecutors said Jason Smathers, 24, stole 92 million AOL screen names while working at AOL offices in Dulles, Va., and sold the list to a Las Vegas man, Sean Dunaway. Dunaway used it to send gambling ads and then sold it to spammers, a criminal complaint said.
Smathers' list also included customer ZIP codes and credit card types, prosecutors said. AOL said it did not appear that Smathers had gained access to credit card numbers, which the company keeps in a separate facility.
Smathers and Dunaway, 21, were arrested and charged with conspiracy.
"We deeply regret what has taken place and are thoroughly reviewing and strengthening our internal procedures as a result of this investigation and arrest," AOL spokesman Nicholas Graham said.
AOL, owned by Time Warner Inc. (TWX), has about 32 million customers worldwide, Graham said. Many customers register several different screen names for family members or themselves.
David Kelley, the U.S. attorney for Manhattan, said the arrests were two of the first prosecutions under federal anti-spamming legislation that took effect early this year.
Dunaway declined to comment after he left a federal courthouse. Secret Service (search) agents confiscated his computer equipment when they arrested him Wednesday, said his lawyer, Kevin Kelly.
Smathers was to appear in court in Virginia. No lawyer for him could be located. Each man could face up to five years in prison and at least $250,000 in fines if convicted.
Smathers was not authorized to have access to the screen name list, which is kept in Dulles, but used another employee's access code last year to steal it, prosecutors said. AOL fired Smathers on Wednesday.
Prosecutors did not immediately say how much they allege Dunaway paid Smathers for the list, but they said Dunaway later paid him $100,000 for an updated version of it.
Dunaway then offered the list to spammers, charging them $2,000 for lists containing names beginning with a single letter of the alphabet or $52,000 for the entire list, the complaint said.
At least one spammer used the list to send advertising for herbal penile enhancement pills, prosecutors said.