Chain Letter Promotion Promised $46,000 in 90 Days

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WASHINGTON (AdAge.com) -- Seven mass e-mailers who claimed to have the Federal Trade Commission's blessing for a get-rich-quick chain letter have instead settled charges with that agency for sending consumers deceptive letters.

The seven defendants agreed to refund additional money made from their chain letter and to stop sending them out.

$46,000 in 90 days
The charges stem from an alleged scam in which letters offering a report for $5 explaining how to make "$46,000 or more in the next 90 days" claimed the program was legal. Those responding to the e-mail questioning the legitimacy of the claims were told to contact the FTC's associate director of marketing practices. The FTC said consumers who paid the $5 got instructions on how to start their own chain letters withthe hopes of recruiting thousands of others via spam.

Eileen Harrington, the real FTC associate director for marketing practices, today said: "I am the associate director for marketing practices, and these chain letters are illegal."

'Eileen spams'
The FTC said internally it has been calling the chain letters "Eileen spams."

The FTC claimed that the chain letter scheme had been continuing since September 2000, when the commission notified 1,000 e-mailers to cease sending the letters. In October 2001, the FTC, trying to determine if the e-mails were ongoing, said it sent $5 to some e-mailers who earlier had been warned to stop.

2,000 others involved
The FTC said it plans to warn more than 2,000 others who allegedly are still running the scheme to stop.

Ms. Harrington said the FTC intends to take enforcement action. Today's annoucement "should be viewed as a warning to spammers who are sending out mail using deceptive headers and deceptive subjects," she said.

The FTC said it also will begin an education campaign about illegal chain mail scams.

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