• Cross-Border Team Targets Spammers
  • January 13, 2006
  • Law Firm: Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP - Los Angeles Office
  • A multi-agency, cross-border law enforcement initiative has targeted spammers operating in the United States and Canada.

    The Federal Trade Commission, Department of Justice, FBI, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, Canadian consumer protection officials, and three state attorneys general announced on December 20, 2005, that they had collectively taken action against spammers responsible for millions of illegal e-mail messages. The FTC targeted three operations, the Canadian Competition Bureau settled two cases, and the attorneys general of Florida, North Carolina, and Texas filed complaints seeking to block the illegal spamming of three other operations. U.S. federal criminal authorities have executed search warrants as part of this initiative.

    The three FTC cases, a part of what the agency has tagged "Operation Button Pusher," involved alleged scams relating to mortgages, online pharmaceuticals, and a product called Fuel Saver Pro that supposedly increases fuel efficiency. In all three of the cases, the FTC was tipped off by a spam database kept by Microsoft Corporation.

    The three spam operations each violated the federal CAN-SPAM Act, the FTC says, by sending e-mails with false "from" information and misleading subject lines, and by failing to provide an "opt-out" option or a physical address. According to agency documents, the spammers hijacked consumers' computers and turned them into "zombies" -- mindless spamming machines that sent out illegal spam while hiding the identity of the actual sender. This practice obscures the original source of the message so spammers can avoid detection, and allows them to elude filters used by Internet service providers. Two "victims" that appeared to be computers with open proxies actually were "honey pots" or "proxy pots" that did not relay the spam, but captured it, with its original routing information, to pass along to anti-spammers and law enforcers.

    The FTC is seeking court orders that bar the defendants from violating the anti-spam law and require them to give up their ill-gotten gains. The new actions bring to 21 the number of cases the agency has filed under CAN-SPAM, on top of the 62 anti-spam cases that it brought before the enactment of the law two years ago.

    Significance: The multi-agency, international law enforcement initiative demonstrates that government and private industry are increasingly employing teamwork and technology to combat illegal spam.