FTC settles with alleged 'Married But Lonely' spammers

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has settled charges against two alleged spammers that used what the FTC called "deceptively bland subject lines," false return addresses and other methods to lure unsuspecting consumers, including children, to sexually explicit material.

The FTC announced Thursday a settlement with Brian D. Westby of Ballwin, Missouri, and Martijn P. Bevelander a Netherlands resident, who allegedly used unsolicited e-mail to drive business to adult Web sites titled "Married But Lonely." The settlement bars the two from using false subject lines and false header information in e-mail and requires that the defendants give up US$112,500 earned from their spamming efforts.

The defendants faced no charges under the Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing (CAN-SPAM) Act, which went into effect Jan. 1, because the spamming activity happen before CAN-SPAM became law, the FTC said.

Westby's lawyer, Sean Moynihan, of the Klein, Zelman, Rothermel & Dichter LLP law firm in New York, said his client was glad to put the case behind him. "While we didn't feel anything Mr. Westby did was improper or in any way affected the purchasing decisions of consumers, we understood the economic reality of litigating this case," Moynihan said.

The FTC filed suit against Westby and Bevelander in April 2003, accusing the two of sending spam with subject lines disguising the contents of the e-mail. Subject lines included “Did you hear the news?” and “New movie info.” When consumers opened the e-mail messages, they saw sexually explicit solicitations to visit the defendants' adult-oriented Web sites.

With consumers not expecting adult-themed content, some may have violated company policies against adult material on work computers, the FTC said in a press release. In other cases, children may have been exposed to inappropriate adult-oriented material, the FTC complaint noted.

The defendants’ spam provided a hyperlink or an e-mail address for consumers who wished to unsubscribe, but when consumers used the hyperlink or e-mail address to exit the mailing list, they received an error message.

The FTC also alleged that the defendants used false “reply to” or “from” information in the e-mail, making it appear that some innocent third party was the sender. As a result, thousands of undeliverable e-mails flooded back to the computer systems of those third parties.

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