The US Department of Justice is set to announce today a significant set of arrests and prosecutions of people suspected of conducting fraud via email spam.
Reportedly, as many as 100 people have been arrested this week. The enforcements are believed to be part of a year-old ongoing operation, financed partially by the Direct Marketing Association, named Slam Spam.
A DoJ spokesperson declined to comment. The DMA, which lobbied for spam laws that target crooks not marketers, and donated $500,000 to the enforcement action, said in a statement on its web site, subsequently removed, that the crackdown will be announced today.
The New York Times, which broke the story, said that half or more of the cases relate to phishing scams, which generally seek bank login information as a means to steal cash from victims, as opposed to more general spam.
Some members of the industry suspect that the majority of the cases relating to non-phishing spam will relate to regular criminal activities, which are covered by fraud laws that predate the nine-month-old US CAN-SPAM Act.
My reading of the tea leaves makes me think it will be more under fraud statutes than under CAN-SPAM, said Scott Petry, CTO of email security service provider Postini Inc., who has no direct knowledge of the cases.
In that respect the cases would differ only by size from previous enforcement actions, many of which have focused on spammers that are suspected of breaking other laws, such as selling counterfeit goods.
Jana Monroe, assistant director of the FBI’s Cyber Division, told a Senate hearing in May that Slam-Spam had identified 100 spammers, targeted 50 for investigation, and linked three groups of subjects into potential organized criminal enterprises.
As we reported in May, Monroe said that Slam Spam has an emphasis on cases involving the criminal uses of spam, and that a series of criminal and civil prosecutions were planned for later this year.
CAN-SPAM does not ban unsolicited bulk commercial email, but it does ban some practices spammers use, including spoofed headers, misleading subject lines, and lack of opt-out functionality and legitimate contact addresses.
Since CAN-SPAM hit the US statute books in January, the amount of spam has increased, and the US has remained the highest-volume spam-sender in the world. Some say that shows the law does not work.
Attorney General John Ashcroft is expect to announce the fraud efforts today. Reports suggest that today’s enforcements may not be the last under the Slam Spam operation.
Yesterday, in a somewhat related matter, Ashcroft announced that agents raided an ISP and five homes in Texas to search for evidence of a peer-to-peer network, The Underground Network, that is suspected of being used to pirate copyrighted material.
According to the DoJ, users had to commit to share at least one gigabyte of data to be eligible to join the network, unlike other P2P networks, which have less stringent upload requirements.