Computer Crime Research Center


US authorities shutter worldwide spam operation

Date: October 27, 2008
Source: Computer Crime Research Center

Authorities said Tuesday they have shut down one of the largest spam operations in the world, a vast network involving countries from New Zealand to China and the United States.

The spammers sent out billions of e-mails in recent years encouraging people to click through to Web sites that allegedly used false claims to peddle prescription drugs, as well as "male enhancement" and weight-loss pills.

The Federal Trade Commission received more than 3 million complaints about the spam and related Web sites, illustrating the scale of the operation, officials said.

The sites, including one called "Canadian Healthcare," were difficult to distinguish from legitimate online pharmacies — making the pitches more persuasive, said Steve Baker, the FTC's Midwest Region director.

"These sites are really professionally constructed," he said. "Some years ago you used to be able to tell the bogus things because they looked cheesy and had misspellings. Anymore, I don't think that's true."

The operation violated the federal CAN-SPAM Act of 2003, meant to restrict commercial spam, by using false header information to hide the origin of messages, not offering an opt-out link and failing to list a postal address, the FTC said.

As part of their inquiry, FTC staff made undercover purchases from the sites. No one asked the clandestine buyers to provide verification of a prescription and the shipped drugs did not include doctors' instructions or dosage information, officials said.

A federal judge in Chicago issued a temporary injunction to halt the operation and also froze its assets. The Federal Bureau of Investigation is investigating and those involved could also face criminal charges, Baker said.
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