FTC: Two-thirds of e-mail spam contains false claims

Two-thirds of all spam contains some kind of false information, according to a report released Tuesday by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

During the last six months of 2002, the FTC analyzed 1,000 randomly-selected junk e-mail messages and found that 33 percent of the senders hide their true identities in the message's From line, in part by claiming to be someone who has a personal or business relationship with the recipient.

Beginning tomorrow the FTC is holding a three-day Spam Forum to focus on the proliferation of unsolicited commercial e-mail and to explore the technical, legal and financial issues associated with it.

In the report released Tuesday, the FTC said many marketers put a misleading phrase in the message's Subject line, such as "your order's status." The agency also found little compliance with a number of state laws requiring that spam senders begin every Subject line with ADV to indicate that it is an advertisement. Only about 2 percent of the messages studied used the abbreviation.

The FTC said 96 percent of the spam used to tout business and investment opportunities contained false information, while 48 percent of junk e-mail promoting health services or products and 47 percent of travel/leisure spam contained false information.

The FTC also found that the majority of spammers marketing pornography didn't let recipients know that the e-mails contained graphic images. And 41 percent of the spam containing adult images also contained false information in the From and Subject lines.

To coincide with the FTC's three-day public workshop on spam, SurfControl PLC, an e-mail filtering company in Scotts Valley, Calif., released a report indicating that U.S. business users overwhelmingly favor antispam legislation pending in Congress.

In a national poll conducted this month, 86 percent of 1,600 business users contacted said they favor legislation that would outlaw spam that hides the identity of the sender or misleads the recipient about the content of the e-mail.

The survey was conducted for SurfControl by Public Opinion Strategies, an Alexandria, Va.-based national political and public affairs research firm.

In addition to supporting the legislation, 85 percent of business users said they would support their company using technology to control spam.

Earlier this week, Sen. Charles Schumer, (D-N.Y.), said he plans to introduce new antispam legislation that would create a national "no e-mail" list similar to the recently enacted do-not-call lists aimed at curbing telemarketers. Schumer's proposal envisions the creation of a no-spam list under FTC authority. Citizens could register their e-mail addresses for inclusion on the list, which commercial e-mail senders would be required to check before sending mass e-mails.

A separate measure, introduced by Sens. Conrad Burns, (R-Mont.), and Ron Wyden, (D-Ore.), would require all unsolicited marketing e-mail to have a valid return e-mail address so recipients can easily ask to be removed from mass e-mail lists. Marketers would also be prohibited under that bill from sending any further messages to a consumer who has asked them to stop.

Burns and Wyden's bill, known as the CAN-SPAM bill, or the Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act, has been introduced in Congress before but has not been passed into law.

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