- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 14, 2002

The Federal Trade Commission yesterday announced the start of a widespread initiative to delete e-mail spam and other Internet scams.
Partnering with 12 federal, state and local agencies in a coalition dubbed Northeast Netforce, the FTC announced three major complaints against spammers and settlements with four women it says ran an e-mail pyramid scheme.
Also, attorneys general and consumer-affairs offices from several Northeast states said they are working on more than 30 cases involving illegal Internet use, including online auction scams, identity theft, pyramid schemes and the sale of illegal drugs.
Spammers received the most attention by the FTC, which collects spam complaints in a massive database.
FTC staff attorney Brian Huseman said the agency receives about 70,000 e-mail messages to its spam database every day, almost double the number a year ago.
"It's a growing problem," Mr. Huseman said.
The FTC and other law enforcement groups sent letters to about 100 suspected spammers, warning them that their activity could be illegal.
The agency levied charges against several people who sent e-mails pretending to be representatives of a bank, and another man who sold a product that added to spam rather than eliminating it, as promised.
To help curb future deceptive spam, the attorneys general of several states said they would propose anti-spam legislation in their states, similar to the Maryland law that took effect July 1. Furthermore, the coalition said it would use information gathered from recent tests to determine which online actions put consumers at the most risk for spam.
Ten agencies participated last month in a "Spam Harvest" in which they visited sites on the Internet to determine which are scanning for e-mail addresses. The FTC said spam can be avoided if Internet users don't post their e-mail addresses on public sites and chat rooms.
The agency also said yesterday it levied charges of Internet-auction fraud against a 24-year-old EBay user who has been the subject of numerous complaints across the country.
The charges against Brian Silverman of Suffern, N.Y., came after a campaign organized by scores of people nationwide who said they paid for computers sold by Mr. Silverman but never received them.
Mr. Silverman's attorney, who said he was unaware of the FTC charges, disputed the charges and said refund checks have been sent to all but 36 of the more than 200 customers who complained. Refunds have totaled more than $300,000.
"It was just colossally bad business practices," Darrell L. Paster said. "Absolutely, he's done nothing illegal. He certainly had no intent to steal from people."
Mr. Paster said his client had no business experience and tried to sell computers through a distributor, taking a small profit along the way. But his accounting was inadequate and created confusion.
Mindy Bollinger, an advertising manager from Salt Lake City who received a refund from Mr. Silverman last month after winning an auction for a laptop computer in April, said she plans to testify against Mr. Silverman if asked.
"I'm still going to try and make people aware of the fraud," said Miss Bollinger, who helped organize a nationwide campaign against Mr. Silverman. "I'm glad the FTC finally did something."
Some previous charges and inquiries have fallen under the responsibility of the Northeast Netforce initiative. A coalition of nine states, led by Massachusetts, last month levied complaints of Internet-privacy violations against Internet advertiser Doubleclick and drug company Eli Lilly. Six states have levied similar complaints against online retailer Amazon.com. The coalition has asked the companies to provide greater disclosure of how they use the data they collect.


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