FTC Gets Medieval on Spammers, Canada Cries Like a Baby

homerThere’s nothing quite so satisfying as seeing bad things happen to bad people. And unquestionably, spammers are bad people. Before you jump all over that statement and try to make a case for some email or text marketers, trying to convince us that they deserve a crack at the Nobel Peace Prize (actually, nobody but an email marketer would try to defend another email marketer), remember that the very definition of spam is unwanted, unsolicited mail. The stuff that clogs our inboxes on a daily basis is a social disease that leaves most of us baffled and befuddled as to how to deal with the nasty stuff. Well, the United States Federal Trade Commission has two words for 29 people this week: “you’re busted.”

The FTC made an all-out major attack on spam by filing eight separate complaints against the 29, according to CNET. The accused, says CNET, “tricked consumers into divulging sensitive personal information by promising free gifts or prizes, including $1,000 gift cards at major retailers. Consumers who clicked on the links were taken through a maze of Web sites that required victims to sign up for subscription services or credit cards before they could receive the “free” gifts.”” Victims were, in some cases, required to sign up for as many as 13 offers. The criminals then used the registration information as a means of padding their own wallets by selling it to others for marketing purposes. It’s the sleazy circle of life.

This is a major victory for the US in the ever-annoying war against spam. Those 29 were responsible for more than 180 million spam messages, and in some cases, it cost a lot of people real money. According to the FTC, 12 percent of the targeted users weren’t subscribed to a text messaging plan and therefore it cost them to receive the evil messages.

Charles Harwood, acting Director of the FTC Bureau of Consumer Protection, put it aptly: “Today’s announcement says ‘game over’ to the major league scam artists behind millions of spam texts. For consumers who find spam texts on their phones, delete them, immediately. The offers are, in a word, garbage.” Amen, Charles Harwood. Amen.

CNET notes that the FTC is seeking restraining orders against the 29 accused to prevent them from bothering anyone else, but it’s not clear what will happen to them beyond that. The FTC is a regulatory body, not a law enforcement agency, and the organization does note in its release that “the Commission files a complaint when it has “reason to believe” that the law has been or is being violated and it appears to the Commission that a proceeding is in the public interest.  The complaint is not a finding or ruling that the defendant has actually violated the law.  The cases will be decided by the court.”

So we’re not sure whether it’s a civil or criminal suit, but the FTC states that “the Commission’s complaints seek restraining orders against the defendants preventing them from continuing their alleged deceptive and unfair practices as well as preserving and accounting for their assets.“ So there’s hope that these [allegedly] nasty, nasty people will be made to feel very uncomfortable, and hopefully, rendered penniless. They’re all named in the FTC document, so feel free to send them a few million emails and see how they like it.

D’Oh! Canada

What this action does show is that the US government is not satisfied merely talking about the evils of spam. It’s actually doing something about it. The same cannot be said for the United States’ neighbor to the north. The Canadian government was lauded only a couple of years ago for passing what was very likely the toughest anti-spam legislation in the world. But the Canadian Anti-Spam legislation (CASL) has been met with a great deal of opposition, especially from companies that believe the law should protect them, and not consumers. The government passed the law in 2010, with ballyhoo suggesting that Canada was the new sheriff in Spam town. But three years of foot dragging and numerous public and industry consultations have managed to water down the legislation to the point where no one has any faith in the Canadian government’s ability – or desire – to actually enforce the thing.

It appears that the Canadian government has done a bait-and-switch on the Canadian people. Perhaps they need a three day session with the folks at the FTC to learn how it’s actually done.

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