The Real Price of Spam

It hurts to write this. Seriously. My arms, gut, hands, and head -- all of them -- are pounding as I patter away at the keyboard. That's because I'm about to defend -- gulp -- a spammer. Ugh. I feel dirty just saying that.

How did it come to this, you ask? How did I find myself actually needing to defend one of the slimeballs probably responsible for filling my inbox with some 300,000 useless messages a year? I'll tell you how: Because the guy I'm going to tell you about isn't Bernie Ebbers. But you'd think he was. Follow along, please.

Last week, 30-year-old Jeremy Jaynes was sentenced to nine years in prison for bombarding us Web users with millions of unwanted e-mail. That's right, folks: nine years. Maybe that's because Jaynes was doing pretty well. A report from the Associated Press says he grossed up to $750,000 a month pushing digital come-ons, including pornography and fake products such as the "FedEx refund processor." Authorities also think Jaynes was responsible for sending upwards of 10 million spam messages a day. (It should be noted, however, that the prosecution produced only 53,000 messages.)

The problem isn't really with the crime, though I find it odd that Jaynes was found guilty not of spamming so much as hiding his identity in sending the ads. I mean, isn't pushing fake products fraud? Seems so to me but, then again, I'm not an attorney. Foolish colleague Rich Smith is, however. When I asked him what he thought of all this, his response mirrored mine. In a word: outrage.

Let's face it: Jaynes played the starring role in a show trial designed to demonstrate to the public that the government is doing something about spam. Yeah, OK, I get the point. And I do want my tax dollars spent well. But again, I have to ask: Do nine years in the slammer really fit this crime? And if it does, then what of dear old Bernie? He gets sentenced June 13 for an $11 billion fraud that bilked millions of investors. I have a feeling he won't be asked to serve nine years, let alone nine months, especially after he was able to merely walk away and hail a cab following his conviction. If that happens we'll all be forced to conclude what many have suspected all along: Corporate fraud doesn't matter. Or, at least, not as much as spam does.

For related Foolishness:

  • Foolish colleague Seth Jayson rejoiced at Jaynes' conviction in November. Can you blame him? I can't.
  • Ironically, we just don't care about spam anymore.
  • Learn about spam's ugly cousin, spim.

Fool contributor Tim Beyers really does get more than 300,000 digital come-ons annually. He may be getting off cheap. Tim didn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this story at the time of publication. You can find out what's in his portfolio by checking Tim's Fool profile, which is here. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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