FTC goes after 45 alleged spammers, Net scammers

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and several other law enforcement agencies have filed 45 civil and criminal actions against alleged Web scammers and deceptive spammers, and have kicked off an initiative to close the open relays that allow spammers to evade filters.

In a teleconference Thursday, the FTC, in conjunction with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, three U.S. attorneys and three U.S. attorneys general, which make up NetForce, detailed plans to make spam and scams a criminal offense.

The law enforcement actions announced by the FTC reflect illegal Internet-based schemes including auction fraud, the illegal sale of controlled substances, specifically tobacco sales to minors, deceptive moneymaking scams and identity theft.

"Internet crimes typically are not confined to a single jurisdiction," said Greg Abbott, Texas attorney general. "Through the World Wide Web, these crimes cross all jurisdictional boundaries ... We are working to protect consumers from Internet scams and to protect children from predators and child pornographers."

The five actions filed in Texas Thursday cover simple scams all the way to complex schemes. Two of the cases filed involve an online chain letter scheme that promised other participants big dollar returns, when in fact that was false. The FTC has also filed three suits against bogus online business opportunity schemes.

In the last 10 days alone, the FTC and NetForce partners have filed more than eight new actions, the largest against Alyon Technologies. The FTC has charged Alyon of illegally rerouting Internet connections to its own connection in New Jersey, thereby charging users hundreds of dollars in long distance fees.

"(The case against Alyon) was a collaborated effort by the FTC and numerous attorneys general and emphasizes what can be done when state and federal law enforcement work together," said Mark Groman with the FTC Bureau of Consumer Protection. "In this case the FTC received over 1,200 complaints from consumers about the unfair and deceptive billing practices of Alyon Technologies."

While Groman said that law enforcement action is important, he admitted law enforcement alone will not stop the epidemic of spam. To further eradicate unwanted spam mail, the FTC and NetForce partners have coordinated the Open Relay project. The project takes aim at shutting down open relays -- e-mail servers that allow anyone anywhere in the world to bounce or route e-mail, enabling spammers to avoid filters and conceal identities.

"We want the open relays around the world closed," Groman continued. "(So far) as part of this initiative, 50 individuals from 16 law enforcement agencies identified 1,000 potential open relays around the world and are located in 59 different countries."

On Tuesday, the FTC sent e-mail letters to contacts at each potential open relay to suggest they take the necessary steps to secure their servers and close the open relays.

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