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FTC Slaps Spammer With Record Fine

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Thursday hit Internet marketer Jumpstart Technologies with a $900,000 civil fine for violating the CAN-SPAM Act, the largest penalty to date for a violation of the two-year-old law.

According to the FTC, the San Francisco-based Jumpstart violated the law by disguising its commercial e-mails as personal messages.

The FTC's complaint claims that Jumpstart offered free movie tickets in exchange for the names and e-mail addresses of five or more friends in connection with its FreeFlixTix promotion.

Jumpstart then sent the friends commercial e-mails with the consumer's e-mail address in the From line and a seemingly personal message in the Subject line.

Jumpstart also made it appear as if the consumer had written the text of the messages.

"These defendants intentionally used personal messages as a cover-up for commercial messages," Lydia Parnes, director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection, said in a statement. "Deceptive subject lines and headers not only violate the CAN-SPAM Act but also consumer trust."

The FTC said people received six or more e-mails urging them to join FreeFlixTix, some containing ads for other products and services offered by Jumpstart or its partners. When consumers attempted to opt out of the promotional mailings, they continued receiving offers from Jumpstart for "weeks afterward."

The FTC's complaint also claims Jumpstart engaged in deceptive advertising by misleading consumers about the terms and conditions of the promotion.

The offer of a free movie ticket required some consumers to submit their credit card information to one of Jumpstart's partners and to sign up for one of the partner's promotions.

Other Jumpstart partners required consumers to actually pay for a promotion while others made free offers that had to be cancelled at a later date to avoid a charge.