Yahoo won a $610 million default judgment against Nigerian, Taiwanese, and Thai fraudsters in New York federal court on Monday. Yahoo went after spammers who used the Yahoo marks to flim-flam its e-mail account holders with emails that falsely informed the recipient that he or she had won a lottery but needed to pay a fee to claim his or her winnings (the so-called advance fee scam). The scammers would then use the emails to solicit personal information from the people that responded— names, addresses, phone numbers, bank account numbers — and then use the information to run a wide range of credit and identity cons, according to the opinion. The judge awarded statutory damages of $27 million under the U.S. Trademark Act and $583,039,500 under the Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act of 2003 (also known as CAN-SPAM). While this judgement will likely be impossible to collect, Yahoo viewed this as an opportunity to send a message to spammers and criminals that it would not allow its customers to be defrauded and taken advantage of using its marks, according to Yahoo attorney Robert Weisbein, of Foley & Lardner.
I have long been fascinated by the folks who fall for these scams, even Chelsea Clinton’s father-in-law, a former US congressman, supposedly got taken in by every Nigerian scam available and his involvement with them landed him a seven-year prison sentence for fraud. It is satisfying to see that these crooks are suffering some sort of consequences, hollow though they may turn out to be. You may still receive the occasional email from the exiled Nigerian prince that needs you to help him move $20 million or so out of the country, but Yahoo made it a little less likely that he will use their trademarks to do so.