FTC Goes Undercover to Hunt Spam Sources

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An undercover investigation by the Federal Trade Commission revealed that visiting certain popular places on the Web is a sure way to wind up on spammer e-mail lists, the FTC said yesterday.


The six-week investigation found that registering for Internet chat rooms, news groups and Web pages and free personal Web pages were most likely to result in consumers receiving unsolicited commercial e-mail, or spam. The FTC conducted its investigation by planting 175 locations on the Internet with 250 invented e-mail addresses.


According to the FTC, 100 percent of e-mail addresses posted to chat rooms subsequently received spam, in one case about 8 minutes after the address was posted. For news groups and pages, 86 percent of e-mail addresses received spam, along with 50 percent of addresses registered for free personal Web pages.


Some places on the Internet are safer from spammers, the FTC said. Only 27 percent of addresses posted to message boards received unsolicited commercial e-mails, while 9 percent posted to e-mail service directories received spam.


Instant-messaging user profiles, dating services, domain name registries and online resume services also tended to be spam-free, the FTC said. Overall, investigators received about 3,300 spam e-mails.


In addition to the investigation, the FTC announced a spam sting operation that resulted in three FTC complaints, four out-of-court settlements and warning letters sent to about 100 e-mailers the agency accused of sending spam. A dozen federal, state and local law enforcement agencies cooperated in the "Spam Harvest" sting, the FTC said.


One participating agency, the Massachusetts Attorney General's office, said that a newly elected state senator, Jarrett Barrios, planned to propose anti-spam legislation next year. It would require e-mail marketers to include the letters "ADV" in the subject lines of their e-mail to indicate its commercial nature and require them to include similar warnings for adult-oriented e-mail, as well as ban deceptive subject lines, sender and routing information.


"It simply requires them to be upfront about what they're about and what they're offering," said Tom Reilly, Massachusetts attorney general. "It's not too much to ask."


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