Porn Spammers Settle With FTC

Rhett Pardon
CHICAGO – The Federal Trade Commission has settled a lawsuit against the former owners of a “Married But Lonely” adult website for using deceptive spam to drive its business.

The FTC sued Brian Westby of Ballwin, Mo., and Martijn J. Bevelander of the Netherlands for employing spam that used “deceptively bland subject lines, false return addresses, and empty ‘reply-to’ links to expose unsuspecting consumers, including children, to sexually explicit material.”

According to the FTC complaint, the pair sent spam with subject lines that would disguise the contents of email. Subject lines included "Did you hear the news?" and "New movie info," and when consumers opened the email messages, they were immediately subjected to naked women and sexually explicit solicitations to visit adult websites, the FTC said.

The lawsuit was one of the first by the FTC to go after "spoofing," the practice of making it appear the email came from someone else – an innocent third party. Large volumes of undeliverable emails bounce back to the spoofed addresses, crippling their computer systems and deluging them with angry accusations from consumers who mistakenly think they originated the spam.

In the court filing, the FTC also said that spam from the business provided a hyperlink or an email address for consumers who wished to “unsubscribe” or stop receiving email in the future.

When consumers used the hyperlink or email address in an attempt to get off the mailing list, they received an error message – they could not unsubscribe.

FTC spokeswoman Claudia Bourne Farrell said the agency received 46,000 complaints about the spam operation, which made an estimated $1 million.

The settlement, which was reached April 22, allows the FTC to monitor businesses run by Westby and Bevelander. They also agreed to make restitution of $112,500.

The pair, which have business interests in Maps (spam spelled backwards) Holding and other Internet companies, were not charged criminally because the suit predates the Can-Spam Act, which became effective in January.

The case is FTC vs. Brian D. Westby, Martijn P. Bevelander, Maps Holding B.V, USDC, Northern District of Ill., Eastern District, No. 03C2540.