FTC Hooks Settlement From Catalogers; Muris Says No-Spam List Won't Work

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A catalog marketer selling novelty items including a rubber singing fish has settled a federal complaint that it failed to abide by rules governing prompt deliveries, the Federal Trade Commission said yesterday.

Deer Creek Products, Golden Age Products and Michael DiStephano, all based in Pompano Beach, FL, agreed to cease the violations and to accept a suspended $150,000 penalty, the FTC said.

According to the FTC, the defendants failed to meet the federal Mail or Telephone Order Merchandise Rule, which requires sellers to ship orders within 30 days, between 29 percent and 89 percent of the time.

DiStephano and the two companies sent notices of shipment delays but did not send them in a timely manner nor provide customers with a reason for the delays and a prepaid method of cancellation as required by law, the FTC said.

Failing to meet these requirements, DiStephano and the corporate entities should have considered the orders canceled and provided an immediate refund, but they failed to do that, according to the agency.

Products offered through catalogs and print media ads include the "Big Mouth Billy Bass" mountable singing fish, the Bio Ear Electronic Sound Amplifying Device, the Ink Jet Refill Kit, a flag case and an indoor TV antenna.

The penalty was suspended based on the inability of the catalogers to pay, the FTC said. The payment will be due if the FTC finds them to have misrepresented their financial situation.

In other news, FTC chairman Timothy J. Muris yesterday called spam one of the most daunting consumer protection problems the FTC has ever faced. Addressing business executives and government officials at the Aspen (CO) Summit, Muris said legislation alone will do little or nothing to halt spam.

"No one should expect any new law to make a substantial difference by itself," he said.

According to Muris, some proposed legislation actually could make it more difficult to prosecute problematic spam. He also said a do-not-spam registry -- similar to the FTC's new do-not-call list -- would be a waste of time because spammers can constantly create new e-mail addresses and identities and because it costs virtually nothing for a spammer to clog consumers' inboxes.

"Instead, recipients and Internet service providers bear most of the costs." Muris said. "Eventually, the spam problem will be reduced, if at all, through technological innovations," including improved ISP spam filters and the integration of anti-spam technology into the e-mail services ISPs provide for consumers.

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