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

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, [email protected], 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

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