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Ask FTC to Increase Prosecution, Set E-mail Standards

By Published on .

WASHINGTON (AdAge.com) -- Warning that "spam" is becoming an "epidemic" that threatens the viability of e-mail, consumer groups today petitioned the Federal Trade Commission to step up enforcement and set new limits.

"Americans are drowning in commercial spam e-mail," said Samuel A. Simon, chairman of the Telecommunications and Research Action Center (TRAC). "There is urgency to make [spam] one of the FTC's top priorities."

Two consumer groups, the National Consumers League and Consumers Action, have joined TRAC to ask the FTC to take two major moves regarding spam, or unsolicited junk e-mail.

The groups argue

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that the FTC should prosecute e-mailers who use phony headers and false subject lines even when promoting legitimate products. The groups feel that the FTC's enforcement policy has been too focused on whether the advertised product is a scam and not enough on whether the message itself is a scam.

They are also asking the FTC to create guidelines for Web e-mail similar to the agency's Telemarketer Sales Rule. The rule governing telemarketers sets standards for when calls can be made, when merchandise must be shipped, and, in some cases, what must be said in a call and when callers must be dropped from lists.

The groups are asking that the Web rule not only bar phony e-mail headers but require e-mail marketers to provide reliable contact information in each e-mail and an opt-out system, and not misrepresent the subject or content of the mail.

Susan Grant, vice president of public policy for the National Consumers League, warned the FTC needs to act "before [spam] kills the online marketplace."

Same techniques as scammers
Consumer groups said they are seeing marketers using some of the same techniques to sell their products that they do for e-mail scams such as work-at-home propositions, Viagra purchases and solicitations from supposed African nationals. The groups also said as many as one in three e-mails consumers receive are spam.

The groups also announced a Web site, www.banthespam.com, to back the petition and where they hope to gather anti-spam stories they will use to bolster their case. The petition was quickly endorsed by AARP.

J. Howard Beales III, the FTC's director of bureau of consumer protection, said the agency looked forward to reviewing the petition.

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