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FTC set to target e-mail scammers

February 4, 2002 

Deceptive junk e-mail is the latest target for federal regulators seeking to purge the Internet of fraud.

The Federal Trade Commission will announce in the next couple of weeks its first effort to prosecute con artists who specifically use e-mail spam to dupe consumers, said Howard Beales, the agency's director of consumer protection.

"It's clear that there's enough fraudulent and deceptive spam out there that if we got rid of it, a lot of people would be happier," Beales said last week, "but I don't think we'll be in any danger of running out of potential cases."

Many scams sent by e-mail often involve business opportunities that promise huge earnings but provide few details and often turn out to be illegal pyramid schemes. Internet chain letters and promotions selling lists of millions of e-mail addresses also are common.

Beales said people who get spam they don't like should forward it to the FTC, which gets 10,000 such e-mails daily.

Other spam scams involve work-at-home programs such as envelope stuffing and craft assembly; bogus weight-loss products that promise to melt away fat cells; and cable descrambler kits that would be illegal if they worked--and they often don't.

Nineteen states have passed spam-specific laws that prohibit false messages or headers and require labels in subject lines or the option of declining a marketer's future mailings.

Beales said the FTC would pursue those who trap consumers by using their requests to unsubscribe from an e-mail list to sell their addresses to other spammers.

The agency long has worked to combat Web sites making dubious offers, but this is the first time the FTC has gone after fraud in e-mail alone, he said.

By David Ho, Associated Press. Copyright © 2002, Chicago Tribune

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