Overstock.com Retrenches on Claim of Stolen Email Addresses

Overstock.com Retrenches on Claim of Stolen Email Addresses

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Overstock.com has retrenched on its claim that 3 million customer e-mail addresses had been stolen, and now puts the number in the dozens.

A company spokesman stood by the lawsuit filed Friday against an employee and her husband and said Monday that the large number of addresses mentioned in the suit was an attempt to leave the door open should an investigation reveal more damage was done than the company now believes.

The Salt Lake City-based company sells other companies' excess inventories at discounted prices over the Internet.

Rachelle and Jeffrey Knight were named in the 3rd District Court suit. It alleged they had "unlawfully (collected) more than 3 million customer e-mail addresses" from the company's customer lists and sold them to companies that send unsolicited advertising e-mails.

Public relations director Scott Blevins now says there probably were only "a few dozen" addresses involved, but it is possible more were taken.

The Knights and their attorney, Lauren Scholnick, say the accusations came "out of the blue" and may amount to nothing more than a public relations stunt on the company's part.

"This case has absolutely no basis," Scholnick said.

Rachelle Knight, 31, who was a programmer of four years at Overstock.com, said she was caught off guard when she was fired Friday and told of the allegations.

"Over and over I said, 'We did not do this,' " she said. "It was a terrible experience to be pulled in ... and told we were accused of these unethical things."

She said she never even worked from her home computer.

"We make it a point to leave work at work," Jeffrey Knight, 33, said. "We were just blown away by the whole idea of it."

But when Rachelle Knight went home Friday after being fired, she was met by a constable, two company lawyers and a company representative. The constables confiscated the Knights' personal computer.

Jeffrey Knight worked in merchandising for the company from January 2001 until he was let go in a general layoff in April 2003.

Scholnick said the lawsuit smells of a publicity stunt, that "this might be a complete scapegoating of these two people" to create the appearance the company is actively fighting to protect customer privacy.

"We are taking aggressive and proactive action," Blevins said. "But it isn't for the sake of (public relations). It is for the sake of protecting our customers and the company."

The suit claimed that two employees discovered that the Knights had accessed the company's computer network via remote access. In recent weeks, Overstock.com has received "a significantly increased" number of patron complaints about junk e-mail, the suit said.

Many of the patrons had set up separate e-mail accounts exclusively for Overstock.com use, pointing to the company's customer information bank as the source of their leak to advertisers, the suit said.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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