FTC Cracks Down on Deceptive Spam

Federal regulators want to shut down a spam operation that allegedly used deceptive e-mail with bland subject lines like "new movie info" and "did you hear the news" to lure people to pornographic Web sites.

The Federal Trade Commission said Thursday that after receiving about 46,000 complaints it had asked a federal judge to halt the operation until there can be a trial. It is the first FTC case involving spam with deceptive subject lines, the agency said.

"When consumers opened the e-mail messages, they were immediately subjected to sexually explicit solicitations," the FTC said. "Because of the deceptive subject lines, consumers had no reason to expect to see such material."

Children may have been exposed to the pornographic e-mail, the agency said.

The FTC accused Brian D. Westby, of suburban St. Louis, of using the e-mail spam operation to drive business to an adult Web site called "Married But Lonely."

Westby could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday.

Using a practice called "spoofing," the spam also contained false information about who sent the e-mail, the FTC said. Responses to the spam flooded the e-mail accounts of people uninvolved with the operation.

"It unfairly portrayed these innocent bystanders as duplicitous spammers, often resulting in their receiving hundreds of angry e-mails from those that had been spammed," the FTC said.

Consumers who selected an option to "unsubscribe" and stop receiving these e-mails received an error message, the agency said.

The agency's commissioners voted 5-0 file the complaint in U. S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.