FTC says it’s on the trail of deceptive spammers

A day after the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced that it shut down an operation that used deceptive e-mails to sell bogus domain names, a representative for the agency said Tuesday that while the FTC will not disclose specific plans, it intends to “vigorously and aggressively” go after deceptive spam.

The FTC announced Monday that a federal court extended until March 26 a temporary restraining order issued against the http://www.dotusa.com Web site, which was being used to sell phoney domain names ending in “.usa,” “.brit” and “.bet”

The FTC’s lead attorney on the case, Steven M. Wernikoff, said Tuesday that while it is not the commission’s policy to announce its future actions, the case emphasizes the FTC’s intention to crack down on deceptive spam.

Defendants in the dot-usa case were able to sell scores of fake domain names by sending e-mails appealing to recipients’ sense of patriotism, the FTC said, in a scheme that is estimated to have netted the perpetrators more US$1 million. Deceptive spam with subject headers like “Be Patriotic! Register .USA Domains” invited recipients to click on a link to the Web site, where the false domain names were being sold for $59 a pop.

Unlike other top-level domain names, such as “.com” or “.org”, the domain name suffixes peddled by the operation are not part of the Web’s authoritative addressing system and do not work, the FTC said.

At the commission’s request, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division, issued a temporary restraining order barring the operation from deceptively selling domain names and freezing the assets of the companies and individuals involved. The FTC said that it worked with officials from the U.K.’s Office of Fair Trading to investigate defendants TLD Network Ltd., Quantum Management Ltd., TBS Industries Ltd., and Thomas Goolnik and Edward Harris Goolnik, both of London.

Additionally, the court has suspended the false domain names, preventing them from being reestablished in different countries. The domain names in question were all registered with U.S. companies, the FTC said.

The spam scammers pulled a two-fold con, by sending deceptive spam and then selling worthless Web addresses, J. Howard Beales III, the FTC’s director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection said in statement. He added that the commission would not tolerate deceptive spam.