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Feds shut down spam ring for good

While denying any wrongdoing, prolific mailers have agreed to pay nearly half-a-million dollars in a deal with the FTC and California.

In a deal with the Federal Trade Commission and the state of California, the people behind a prolific spam operation have agreed to pay $475,000 and refrain from illegal activity.

The deal, which does not include an admission of any wrongdoing, was reached with Optin Global, Vision Media, Qing Kuang "Rick" Yang and Peonie Pui Ting Chen, the FTC said in a statement Thursday.

The defendants violated federal and state laws by sending millions of junk e-mail messages hawking mortgage loans and other products and services, the FTC charged. Consumers forwarded nearly 2 million of the messages to the agency.

The spam operation netted the defendants $2.4 million, the FTC said. As part of the settlement, they're required to hand over all those gains, but most of the money is gone. So they must pay $385,000 in cash and approximately $90,000 from the sale of property.

However, if it's discovered that the defendants misrepresented their financial situation, the entire $2.4 million will be due, the agency said.

In April 2005, the FTC and the state of California first sued the defendants, alleging that they had used third-party affiliates to send the unwanted commercial e-mail. The messages included links to Web sites operated by the defendants and violated the federal CAN-SPAM Act and California law, the agency charged.

Last year, at the FTC's request, a court ordered a temporary halt to the spamming and froze the defendants' assets. The settlement announced Thursday ends the litigation.

According to the FTC, the spam e-mail contained false or forged header information; included deceptive subject headings; failed to identify e-mail as advertisements or solicitations; failed to notify consumers they had a right to opt out of receiving more e-mail; failed to provide an opt-out mechanism and failed to include a valid physical postal address--all required by law.