US consumer groups want commercial spam stopped

Three consumer groups have launched a petition drive to ask the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to stop deceptive and unsolicited commercial junk email, or spam, from filling the in-boxes of internet users.

          Three consumer groups have launched a petition drive to ask the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to stop deceptive and unsolicited commercial junk email, or spam, from filling the in-boxes of internet users.

          At a press conference held at the JW Marriott Hotel in Washington, the groups charged that the unregulated flow of millions of commercial emails sent out daily by marketing companies harms consumers through fraud and frustration.

          Samuel Simon, chairman of the non-profit Telecommunications Research and Action Center (TRAC) in Washington, said the FTC must take action "to halt the outrageous excesses of bulk email senders."

          TRAC was joined by the Washington-based National Consumers League and the San Francisco-based non-profit group Consumer Action in unveiling banthespam.com, a website where consumers can log their comments and negative experiences about receiving unwanted spam.

          The comments will be sent to the FTC for their review as part of a massive online petition the consumer groups hope to use to get the FTC to act.

          Simon said the groups want the FTC to use its powers under the Federal Trade Act to deal with unregulated email transmissions from marketing companies.

          Under proposed rules the consumer groups want enacted, it would be unlawful and deceptive to misrepresent the sender of a commercial email message, as well as to misrepresent the subject of the email in the header or title. It would also be unlawful for commercial emails to be sent without reliable and accurate contact information, as well as illegal to make it difficult for recipients to remove their names from a sender's email lists.

          And itwould be unlawful under the proposal for a commercial email sender to leave a recipient's name on an email list after a recipient has asked to be removed.

          "We need your help, and we urge everyone to go to banthespam.com and be heard," Simon said. "This is your chance to do something about it."

          Susan Grant, vice president of public policy for the National Consumers League, said FTC action is needed because of the constant assault consumers face in their in-boxes from marketers pushing work-at-home schemes, phony credit card offers and other frauds, as well as products from Viagra to pornography.

          "The Federal Trade Commission needs to stop the epidemic now ... before it gets completely out of hand and kills the online marketplace," she said.

          An FTC spokesman declined to comment. But the agency issued a statement from J Howard Beales III, the director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection.

          In his statement, Beales said the agency is concerned about the problem and will review the petitions from the three consumer groups. "We have brought numerous cases against deceptive and misleading spam practices, and that's exactly what we'll continue to do," he said.

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