FTC Levies Largest Fine Yet for Can-Spam Act Violations

Rhett Pardon
SAN FRANCISCO — In the largest penalty yet for illegal spam, Jumpstart Technologies has agreed in a consent decree to pay a $900,000 civil penalty for violating the Can-Spam Act.

With the penalty, the Federal Trade Commission said it is ramping up fines for Internet marketers – adult and mainstream – now that the Can-Spam (Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing) Act has been on the books for several years.

“The trend is aggressive fines,” FTC spokeswoman Linda K. Badger told XBiz. “We’re trying to take the pockets out of companies that violate Can-Spam. This company will be able to afford the fine without going out of business. The fines have to hurt.”

The FTC said Jumpstart was fined for its FreeFlixTix promotion, which served as a vehicle to provide direct marketing opportunities to online advertising partners and to collect marketing data to sell to third parties.

Jumpstart operates numerous companies, including Bonus Bonez, Harding Innovations, Infinity Brands and Launchpad Services. It also operates such sites as CrushLink.com and SomeoneLikesYou.com.

The San Francisco-based company is operated by Greg Tseng, according to the California Secretary of State in its LLC filing.

The FTC’s complaint alleged that Jumpstart offered free movie tickets to consumers in exchange for the names and email addresses of five or more of their friends. Jumpstart then sent them commercial emails with the consumer’s email address in the “from” line and a seemingly personal “subject line,” such as, “Hey,” “Happy Valentine’s Day,” “Happy New Year,” “Movie time. Let’s go,” or “Invite.”

Jumpstart also made it look as though the consumer had written the message text, Badger said. With this method, Jumpstart’s emails circumvented spam filters and were opened by consumers who thought they contained personal correspondence.

“The company sent it purposefully and they devised this technique to lure you or your friends,” Badger said. “It intentionally used personal messages as a cover-up for commercial messages.”

With the negotiated fine, Jumpstart also is permanently prohibited from its unlawful practices, according to a consent decree signed by the company.