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Tuesday, 2 April, 2002, 23:42 GMT 00:42 UK
US seeks to stem 'tidal wave' of spam
email spam
Spamming does not recognise international borders
The US authorities have trumpeted a string of successes in combating unsolicited e-mails, known as "spam", but warned that the battle had only just begun.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has released preliminary results from its "Netforce" joint venture with eight state law enforcers in the US and four in Canada, which aims to tighten previously lax enforcement of anti-spam regulations.

The agencies have brought 63 law enforcement actions against web-based scams - ranging from auction fraud to bogus cancer cure sites - and have sent more than 500 letters warning people that spam is illegal.

The FTC argued, however, that the onus was on other consumer protection agencies to ensure that the anti-spam message got through, and that the rise of the internet created a fresh impetus for law enforcement agencies to pool their efforts.

"Illegal internet schemes and deceptive spam don't stop at state lines or international borders," said J Howard Beales, director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection.

Scamming and spamming

In its latest report, the FTC pointed out four particularly egregious cases of mass spamming, including a fraudulent online music shop and a firm selling bogus cancer remedies.

The four schemes were hit by legal action from Netforce, in contrast to hundreds of other cases, where warning letters only were sent out.

In February, the FTC filed six civil suits against participants in a spamming campaign to lure investors into a classic pyramid investment scheme.

The e-mail messages promised recipients that if they invested $500, they would realise a payoff of $46,000 within three months.

Legal loopholes

Combating such schemes is relatively straightforward, since they had violated other aspects of commercial law regarding financial services or trading standards.

But in the absence of clear guidelines on what constitutes spam, and given the difficulty of pinning down perpetrators, the FTC has so far found fighting spam more generally an uphill battle.

The agency said it had collected some 10 million examples of unwanted spam since 1998.

Achieving a higher number of prosecutions will not be possible, however, without a change in the law.

Last year, federal lawmakers introduced five measures designed to stem the flood of spam, but faced resistance from lobbyists who argued that regulating e-mail promotions would constitute a unfair restriction on trade.

At a state level, there has been more progress: so far, some 20 US states have introduced anti-spam rules

See also:

14 Feb 02 | Business
Cutting spam out of your mobile diet
12 Dec 01 | Business
EU laws target junk mail spam
24 Jul 01 | Business
Cadbury targets mobile marketing
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