The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has put 1,000 spammers on notice that they aren't just luring victims with their get-rich-quick schemes and chain letters--they also are attracting law enforcement.
The spammers will receive letters this week telling them that their unsolicited email asking for money probably violate the law. The FTC further warns they could face court action and fines.
John Rothchild, an attorney and spokesman for the FTC, said he didn't have figures estimating how much people have lost by sending money in response to get-rich-quick spam. But he said the problem will only grow in magnitude if scammers are not put on notice.
He put spammers requesting cash in two categories: those who fairly innocently pass along email they receive and those who purposefully defraud their fellow Netizens.
"A lot of these people, particularly the ones involved in chain letters, are not career criminals," Rothchild said. "They're ordinary people who received a chain letter. They think, 'Maybe it's a way we can make a little money.' This is a way of letting people know it's not true. I think a lot of people when they find out that it's illegal are going to stop."
For those who are aware that it's illegal, "Hopefully they'll be deterred by the knowledge that we're watching them," he said.
The FTC has a special email box that it has set up to receive spam and spam complaints at "email@example.com." The FTC collects the mail, then looks for patterns.
Many in the antispam community have been looking for legal remedies to curtail junk email.
While the FTC can go after spammers soliciting money, the agency has no jurisdiction over those who simply use bulk email to advertise legal products.
For that, antispammers are looking to legislators for a remedy. Several laws have been proposed nationally and regionally.
Meanwhile, companies are using the legal system to try to protect their customers from junk emailers by taking them to court and getting them banned from their systems.
While companies have been successful in winning lawsuits so far, they have barely scratched the surface of the problem. It could be likened to removing water from the Titanic with a bucket.
Companies such as America Online, however, are hoping, like the FTC, that eventually those who send out junk email will be frightened away from the business for fear of being sued or fined.