Federal regulators try to shut down deceptive spam e-mail operation

Thursday, April 17th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Federal regulators want to shut down a spam operation that allegedly used deceptive e-mail with bland subject lines like ``new movie info'' and ``did you hear the news'' to lure people to pornographic Web sites.

The Federal Trade Commission said Thursday that after receiving about 46,000 complaints it had asked a federal judge to halt the operation until there can be a trial. It is the first FTC case involving spam with deceptive subject lines, the agency said.

``When consumers opened the e-mail messages, they were immediately subjected to sexually explicit solicitations,'' the FTC said. ``Because of the deceptive subject lines, consumers had no reason to expect to see such material.''

Children may have been exposed to the pornographic e-mail, the agency said.

The FTC accused Brian D. Westby, of suburban St. Louis, of using the e-mail spam operation to drive business to an adult Web site called ``Married But Lonely.''

Westby could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday.

Using a practice called ``spoofing,'' the spam also contained false information about who sent the e-mail, the FTC said. Responses to the spam flooded the e-mail accounts of people uninvolved with the operation.

``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,'' the FTC said.

Consumers who selected an option to ``unsubscribe'' and stop receiving these e-mails received an error message, the agency said.

The agency's commissioners voted 5-0 file the complaint in U. S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.