The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has settled charges with Brian Westby and Dutch citizen Martijn Bevelander, who employed spam that used deceptively bland subject lines, false return addresses, and empty reply-to links to expose unsuspecting consumers, including children, to sexually explicit material.
The US agency alleged that Westby and Bevelander used the spam in an attempt to drive business to an adult website called "Married But Lonely". The two spammers used every trick in the book to mislead Internet users. When consumers clicked on a hyperlink in an attempt to get off the mailing list, they would receive an error message, so they could not unsubscribe.
The settlement prohibits the use of false subject lines and false header information in e-mails and requires that both men cough up $112,500 of their ill-gotten gains. Westby will pay $87,500 and Bevelander the remaining $25,000. The settlement also stipulates record keeping provisions to allow the FTC to monitor compliance.
The FTC settlement - which relates to activities predating the new CAN-SPAM act - has prompted immediate criticism among campaigners who fear that such a low fine will encourage other spammers to simply budget for penalties. Bevelander's career in the Dutch Internet business, however, appears to be virtually over. He is still in his early twenties, and left school at 17 to start his own Internet company, often citing Scrooge as his main inspiration. ®