Quackwatch Home Page

Spam Messages:
Some Preventive Strategies

Uninvited messages are a serious growing problem on the Internet. Federal antispam legislation is urgently needed. Meanwhile, the following strategies may help:

Proposed Legislation

On April 26, 2001, the Federal Trade Commission told the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation that it favors legislation to limit junk e-mail by allowing consumers to refuse to receive it and imposing penalties on those who ignore the consumers' choice. The agency is concerned about the widespread use of junk e-mail to disseminate false and misleading claims about products and services offered through the Internet. Since January 1998, over 8.3 million pieces of unsolicited commercial e-mail (UCE) have been forwarded to the Commission and the agency's UCE mailbox receives an average of 10,000 new pieces of UCE every day. The CAN SPAM Act of 2001 (S. 630), introduced by committee chairman Conrad R. Burns (R-MT), would require:

The bill would also make it unlawful to send subsequent e-mail to a consumer who had requested that they receive no further e-mail or to send e-mail with a false header or misleading subject lines. S. 630 also includes a multi-faceted enforcement scheme and would allow other federal agencies, Internet Service Providers, and Attorneys General enforcement authority to obtain injunctions against violations and to recover damages. Senator Burns also co-chairs the bipartisan Congressional Internet Caucus, which has over 150 members.

Enforcement Actions

In September 2002, a judge in Washington upheld charges that Jason Heckel, of Salem, Oregon, and his company, Natural Instincts had violated the state's anti-spam law by sending unsolicited emails plugging his booklet "How to Profit from the Internet." The complaint describes many of the techniques used in such solicitations.

In September 2003, anti-spam activist Nigel Featherston won a $250,000 default judgment in the Superior Court of Washington State for King County against a spam organization known for sending millions of spam emails ranging from multilevel schemes to diet pills. The judgment was against Charles F. Childs and Linda Jean Lightfoot, Ohio spammers doing business as Universal Direct, Mega Direct and Ultra-Trim, among others. An engineer and former Microsoft developer, Featherston began fighting spam in 1998 when he was deluged with unwanted emails that required him to change his email address. He filed numerous complaints, often getting the senders' web sites shut down. In March 2002, in retribution, spammers used his email address in spam sent to others, which resulted in thousands of bounced back emails coming to Featherston's address, and overwhelming his system. Washington's anti-spam law statute permits asking for $500 per spam. In this case, Featherston could have sued for $29 million, but decided that a $250,000 request would be sufficient. The court concluded that he had sufficient evidence that he had received approximately 58,000 illegal e-mails due to the defendants' actions.

The Federal Trade Commission, Securities and Exchange Commission, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, three United States Attorneys, four state attorneys general, and two state regulatory agencies have filed 45 criminal and civil law enforcement actions against spammers. In addition, the FTC and 21 U.S. and international agencies are urging organizations in 59 countries to close the open relays that allow spammers to avoid detection by spam filters and law enforcers. [Law enforcement posse tackles Internet scammers, deceptive spammers. FTC news release, May 15, 2003] The FTC has also issued a 16-page analysis of 1,000 spam messages drawn from a pool of over 11 million spams collected from the public, undercover FTC email boxes, and FTC employee inboxes. The report noted that consumers have been forwarding about 130,000 messages per day to the FTC's spam database. About 10% involve health-related products such as dietary supplements, weight loss products and sexual aids.[False claims in spams: A report by the FTC's Division of Marketing Practices, April 3, 2003]

For Additional Help

Spammers Facing $631,585 Penalty ||| junkfaxes.org
Quackwatch Home Page

This page was revised on September 20, 2003.