The Federal Trade Commission and the Attorney General of California have asked a U.S. District Court Judge to order a halt to an operation that sent millions of illegal spam messages touting mortgage loans and other products and services. The agencies charge that the operation violates federal and state laws, and have asked the court to freeze the defendants’ assets pending trial and order a permanent halt to the illegal spamming.
According to papers filed with the court, the defendants use third-party affiliates or “button pushers” to send spam hawking mortgage loans and other products and services. Hyperlinks in the spam take consumers to Web sites operated by the defendants. Consumers fill in data and the information is passed along to lead companies and by them to lenders. One mortgage broker sought, and was given assurances by the defendants that they were complying with provisions of the CAN-SPAM Act. In fact, most of the 1.8 million e-mail messages sent to the FTC by the public demonstrate that they were violating almost every provision of the Act, the law enforcers allege.
The agencies charged that the defendants:
- used false or misleading header information in the “from” or “reply to” lines;
- used deceptive subject headings;
- failed to notify consumers that they had a right to opt out of receiving the e-mail;
- did not provide an opt-out mechanism;
- failed to honor opt-out requests by consumers;
- failed to identify e-mail as an advertisement; and
- did not provide a valid physical postal address.
Each is a violation of the CAN-SPAM Act.
Defendants named by the law enforcement agencies are Optin Global, Inc., also doing business as Vision Media Limited Corp.; USA Lenders Network, USA Lenders, and USA Debt Consolidation Service; Vision Media Limited Corp.; Rick Yang, also known as Qing Kuang Yang; and Peonie Pui Ting Chen.
The Commission vote authorizing staff to file the complaint was 5-0. The complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, San Francisco Division.
NOTE: 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 case will be decided by the court.
Copies of the complaint are available from the FTC’s Web site at http://www.ftc.gov and also from the FTC’s Consumer Response Center, Room 130, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20580. The FTC works for the consumer to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices in the marketplace and to provide information to help consumers spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint in English or Spanish (bilingual counselors are available to take complaints), or to get free information on any of 150 consumer topics, call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357), or use the complaint form at http://www.ftc.gov. The FTC enters Internet, telemarketing, identity theft, and other fraud-related complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to hundreds of civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.
(FTC File No. 042-3172)
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