AOL Engineer Charged with Selling Screen Names to Spammer

Jason Smathers, an America Online (AOL) engineer, has been arrested and charged with stealing tens of millions of AOL screen names (email addresses) and selling them to several people, some of whom are said to have used the data to send unsolicated email (spam) to AOL customers.

According to the federal complaint, filed in the Southern District of New York, Sean Dunaway of Las Vegas, Nevada, allegedly received some of the stolen screen names from Smathers and has also been charged in the case. The complaint states that Dunaway used the email addresses to advertise his gambling business, from which he is said to have boasted earning $10,000 to $20,000 per day.

A US Secret Service Special Agent involved in the investigation said that another person involved in the scheme became a source of information in exchange for legal leniency. The investigator's unnamed source said that Smathers stole approximately 92 million AOL screen names and sold them all to Dunaway. The source, who is also a spammer, was apparently involved in purchasing AOL screen names from Dunaway after Dunaway had purchased them from Smathers.

Based on information gathered from Smathers' laptop computer as well as CD-ROMs used to transfer the stolen screen names and AOL's internal logs, the investigator said attempts to query AOL databases to gather screen name information started in April  2003, and the first successful query occured in May 2003. The investigator also said that evidence of communications between Smathers and Dunaway was also found on Smather's laptop, in which the two discussed using the screen names for spam operations.

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