Attorney General Hardy Myers today announced Oregon's participation in a joint effort with eight federal and state law enforcement groups and four Canadian agencies in targeting deceptive Internet fraud and spam. The agencies brought more than 60 law enforcement actions against Web-based scams ranging from bogus cancer cures to auction fraud sites and have sent hundreds of letters warning people to not send deceptive spam.
"Joint efforts such as this one have proven to be the most effective way to attack unlawful activities on the global network," Myers said. "When web con artists realize that an organized, international force is watching their every move,they will think twice before launching another illegal site on the Internet."
Over the last year, the Oregon Department of Justice has filed four court actions against companies allegedly using the Internet unlawfully including Rick Hendrix of Portland, who sold Bose radios on Internet auction sites, did not provide the merchandise, and failed to make refunds to consumers. Hendrix did not comply with an Assurance of Voluntary Compliance and Justice obtained a default judgment against him for more than $17,000.
Defendant Alain Rech of Salem advertised and sold Microsoft products on Internet auction sites and allegedly either failed to deliver the goods or shipped copied software. Attorney General Myers filed a lawsuit against him in January 2002. The complaint seeks restitution for victims, a prohibition on Internet-related sales and a $25,000 civil penalty for each violation. Subsequently, Rech agreed to sign an Assurance of Voluntary Compliance, which required him to comply with the state's consumer protection laws and provide refunds to software purchasers who returned the purchased items. The AVC, which admits no law violation, was filed along with a stipulated dismissal of Justice's lawsuit and Rech's counterclaims in Marion County Circuit Court in May 2002.
Stacey Haner of Portland signed an Assurance of Voluntary Compliance in March 2002 after failing to deliver computers advertised for sale on Internet auction sites. Ms. Haner has repaid customers more than $15,000 and agreed to refrain from Internet commerce for three years.
Sound City 2000, a Lake Oswego mail order company that advertised "hard-to-find" compact discs (CDs) on the Internet, is out of business in Oregon as of March 5, 2002. Owner Linda Simmons signed an Assurance of Voluntary Compliance in which she agreed to stop operating in Oregon and to provide restitution to victims filing complaints with Justice.
In addition to the law enforcement actions, the Oregon Department of Justice, the Federal Trade Commission, eight other state agencies, and Canada's Competition Bureau sent warning letters to spammers based in the Northwest region and Canada who are running illegal chain letter schemes. The spammers promised quick money to recipients who would send five dollars in cash to each of four or five participants at the top of the list. In return for the five dollar payment, recruits received "reports" providing instructions about how to start their own chain letter schemes and recruit tens of thousands of others via spam. The chain letter deceptively claimed the program is legal and urged recruits who question its legitimacy to contact the FTC.
The FTC maintains a database of unsolicited commercial e-mail (UCE). Consumers currently send unwanted spam to the agency at a rate of approximately 15,000 e-mails a day using the agency's database address, firstname.lastname@example.org. The FTC has collected more than eight million unwanted spam messages since 1998.
Oregon's Department of Justice also joined Northwest Netforce partners in testing whether "remove me" or "unsubscribe" options in spam were being honored. From e-mail received by investigators, the agencies culled more than 250 e-mails that purported to allow recipients to remove their name from a spam list. The agencies set up dummy e-mail accounts to test the pledges, but discovered that the vast majority of addresses to which they sent the requests were invalid. Most of the "remove me" requests did not get through. Based on information gathered by the Netforce, the FTC has sent letters warning spammers that deceptive claims in unsolicited e-mail are illegal.
In conjunction with the law enforcement initiative, the agencies also are mounting a consumer education campaign. Consumers who want to reduce the amount of spam they receive can:
Try not to display e-mail addresses in public.
Read and understand the entire form before transmitting personal information through a Web site.
Be careful about Web sites that ask for an address registration, claiming to remove it from spammers' lists.
Think about using two e-mail addresses - one for personal messages and one for newsgroups and chat rooms.
Use a unique e-mail address.
Use an email filter
Partners joining Attorney General Myers in the Northwest Netforce include the Alaska Attorney General, the Alaska State Troopers, the Alberta Government Services, the British Columbia Securities Commission, the British Columbia Solicitor General, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, the Federal Trade Commission, the Idaho Attorney General, the Canada Competition Bureau, the Montana Department of Administration, the Washington Attorney General, the Washington State Department of Financial Institutions, and the Wyoming Attorney General.
For more information about Internet fraud, consumers may contact the Attorney General's hotline at (503) 378-4320 (Salem area only), (503) 229-5576 (Portland area only) or toll-free at 1-877-877-9392. Oregon Justice is online at www.doj.state.or.us. Consumers wanting more information on how to reduce the amount of spam they receive may visit www.ftc.gov/spam.
Jan Margosian, (503) 947-4333 (media line only) email@example.com