FTC Expands Case Against St. Louis Spammer

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is expanding its investigation into the adult Website Married Bit Lonely, alleging Dutch citizen Martin P. Bevelander participated with Brian T. Westby in sending consumers sexually explicit spam with deceptive subject lines that disguised the content.

In April, The FTC charged Westby, who lives in the St. Louis area, with sending spam containing subject lines that read, among others, “Did you hear the news?” and “New movie info.” When consumers opened the messages, they were immediately subjected to sexually explicit solicitations to visit Westby’s adult Web sites. Westby subsequently agreed to an injunction against the practice.

Steven Wernikoff, a staff attorney in the Midwest division of the FTC, told internetnews.com the agency is now investigating whether Westby was working with Brevelander both before and after Westby agreed to the injunction.

“The FTC has authority over companies and individuals that engage in deceptive practices in the U.S.,” Wernikoff said. “While it is true that Mr. Brevelander is individually outside the U.S., we will work with other international agencies. In the past, we have had meaningful relief working those agencies.”

The FTC says because of the deceptive subject lines, consumers had no reason to expect to see such material. The complaint alleges consumers “may” have opened the e-mails in their offices, in violation of company policies, and, in other cases, children may have been exposed to inappropriate adult-oriented material.

Westby’s spam provided a hyperlink for consumers who wished to “unsubscribe” to the e-mail, but, according to the FTC, when consumers used the hyperlink in an attempt to get off the mailing list, they received an error message and they were unable to unsubscribe.

The FTC also alleges that the defendant used false “reply to” information in the e-mail, making it appear that an innocent third party was the sender, a practice known as spoofing. As a result, thousands of undeliverable e-mails flooded back to the computer systems of these third parties, deluging their computer systems with an influx of spam that couldn’t be delivered to the addressee.

In addition, according to the FTC, it unfairly portrayed these innocent bystanders as duplicitous spammers, often resulting in their receiving hundreds of angry e-mails from those that had been spammed.

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