WASHINGTON (AP) _ Federal regulators accused seven companies Wednesday of hiring others to send illegal e-mails with pornographic messages to tempt consumers to visit adult Internet sites.
The government said four of the firms already agreed to pay nearly $1.2 million to settle the charges, making it among the most aggressive government crackdowns on pornographic e-mail operations.
The Federal Trade Commission described the practice as ``electronic flashing'' and said at least some of the unwanted e-mails were sent to children. The threat of children unwittingly receiving smut in their inboxes helped drive the U.S. government to impose restrictions on sending commercial e-mails last year.
The FTC said the messages were not prominently marked ``sexually explicit,'' did not include instructions for consumers to block future e-mails and did not include a postal address, all required under federal law.
Consumers complained about receiving the pornographic e-mails and forwarded copies of the troublesome messages to a special e-mail address set up by the FTC (spam(at)uce.gov), said Jonathan M. Kraden, an attorney with the agency's Bureau of Consumer Protection. ``We received thousands of messages,'' Kraden said.
The FTC said the seven companies did not send e-mails directly to consumers but operated affiliate programs, paying others to send unwanted messages to drive Internet traffic to adult Web sites. The FTC said under the ``Can Spam'' law, defendants in such cases are liable because they paid others to send e-mails on their behalf.
The FTC said it directed the Justice Department to file civil lawsuits against three of the companies: T.J. Web Productions LLC of Henderson, Nev.; Cyberheat Inc. of Tucson, Ariz.; and Impulse Media Group Inc. of Seattle. The lawsuits seek unspecified payment to the government for ``every violation'' of the federal anti-spam law.
The FTC said four of the companies agreed to settle cases against them. BangBros.com Inc. of Miami agreed to pay $650,000; MD Media of Bingham Farms, Mich., agreed to pay $238,743; APC Entertainment Inc. of Davie, Fla., will pay $220,000; and Pure Marketing Solutions LLC of Miami and Internet Matrix Technology of New Orleans will together pay $50,000, the FTC said.