RealTime IT News

Memo to Spammers: The Feds Are Watching

The Federal Trade Commission and U.S. Postal inspectors put more than 1,000 junk e-mailers on notice that the agencies are monitoring unsolicited e-mail for pitching fraudulent schemes.

In recent months the FTC has joined with other countries to conduct sweeps of the Internet looking for get-rich-quick schemes and suspect health-care promotions, putting the operators of such sites on notice that they would be monitored for fraud.

"Fraud promoters should think twice before plying their trade on the Internet," Jodie Bernstein, director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection, told the New York Times.

"First, the FTC is on the Internet beat and will follow up with spam artists who don't clean up their correspondence. Second, many consumers are already on to them--they know better than to believe promises from strangers."

Bernstein said that an "overwhelming majority of junk e-mail at the present time is fraudulent," but that the commission thinks that can change with aggressive monitoring to clean up the business.

The FTC has a special e-mail address, uce@ftc.gov, where consumers can forward spam that they believe may be fraudulent or deceptive. The electronic address is said to be getting about 500 e-mails a day.

Bernstein was quoted as saying the largest category of junk e-mail targeted by the FTC was chain letters, which urge e-mail recipients to send a small amount of money to a list of several people, remove one name, add their own, and forward the e-mail in bulk to others.

Theoretically, the participants will start to receive money as other, "downstream" recipients receive the e-mail and participate. Economists have estimated that about 95% of such "pyramid scheme" participants lose their money.