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Last Updated: Thursday, 13 October 2005, 07:44 GMT 08:44 UK
Spammer's net name scam revealed
Screen grab of Spamhaus website
Spamhaus lists Mr Francis-Macrae as one of UK's worst spammers
An internet spammer is in court following scams which allegedly netted him 1.5m over a number of years.

Peter Francis-Macrae is currently on trial for alleged death threats, made as police and trading standards moved in on his fraudulent net operation.

The court was told how he ran a bogus registration service for net addresses.

Pretending to be a legitimate agent who could act on behalf of businesses wanting to register a domain name proved a lucrative scam, jurors heard.

But as the net closed on his bogus businesses, he allegedly began threatening police and trading standards staff and it was this that finally landed him in court.

Designer clothes

The scam allegedly run by Mr Francis-Macrae began with him sending unsolicited spam to thousands of people, offering to register them for the soon-to-be released domain name .eu.

Jurors at Peterborough Crown Court heard how he had enjoyed a lifestyle of designer clothes and helicopter lessons as the scam netted him a fortnightly income of around 200,000.

One customer paid 5,780 to register a list of addresses.

Prosecution lawyer Rupert Mayo told how the defendant's website claimed the business was located in a state-of-the-art data centre in Canary Wharf. It was actually being run from a terraced house in Cambridgeshire, he said.

The second scam saw the defendant posting letters to people with domain names due for expiry, offering to renew it for a fee.

It is believed he got the information from a database published by Nominet, the company which runs the .uk registry.

The firm won an injunction in November 2003 to prevent Mr Francis-Macrae from using its whois database.

Fertile ground

The case puts the world of web addresses under the spotlight at a time when several new domain names are coming online.

The domain name industry is a dynamic one with anyone requiring a net presence having to both register and renew their web address regularly.

It is no surprise then that scammers are finding it a lucrative area for fraud, said Jonathan Robinson, business development director of NetNames, a company which legitimately registers domain names.

The new suffix .eu has been in the pipeline for the last five years and it is partly its slowness to come to market that helped created a window of opportunity for Mr Francis-Macrae, thinks Mr Robinson.

"It has taken such a long time to get off the ground that it hasn't done itself any favours. It is fertile ground for this sort of thing," he said.

The .eu domain name, due to be officially registered later this year, is likely to appeal to businesses which want a pan-European presence as well as being taken up both small traders and large corporations which already have a web presence, in a process known as defensive registration.

Spamhaus, a firm that identifies the source of junk e-mails, includes Mr Francis-Macrae on its list of professional spammers.

While Mr Robinson has sympathy for those who might have been duped by such scams, a little bit of thought could prevent them being victims in future.

"Consumers and organisations should only engage with professional, reputable and accredited domain name registrars and not instinctively place their trust in anyone just because they have a website," he said.

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