Court Orders Spammers to Pay $3.7 Million

A U.S. district court has ordered members of an alleged international spam ring to give up US$3.7 million that they made while sending out illegal e-mail messages pitching bogus weight-loss products and human growth hormone pills.

The operation, with key players located in Canada and St. Kitts, used spammers to drive traffic to Web sites selling an extract of the hoodia gordonii plant that the sellers claimed would cause significant weight loss and a "natural human growth hormone enhancer" that sellers claimed would reverse the aging process, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission said Thursday.

The FTC, in a complaint filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division, called the claims false or unsubstantiated and charged the defendants with violations of the FTC Act and the CAN-SPAM Act. For the first time, the FTC also used powers granted under the U.S. Safe Web Act, a law passed by Congress in 2006 that enhances the agency's ability to exchange information with foreign counterparts and helps protect consumers from cross-border spam and other Internet fraud.

The FTC's complaint, filed in October 2007, charged eight defendants -- Spear Systems, three other corporate defendants, and four individuals.

The commission settled with three defendants in the case -- Spear Systems and two individuals, one in the U.S. and one in Australia -- in May 2008.

The FTC was unable to reach settlements with the remaining five defendants, and they are subject to the order announced Thursday. Those defendants are Xavier Ratelle and Abaragidan Gnanendran, both of Quebec, Canada; and corporate defendants 9151-1154 Quebec, 9064-9252 Quebec and HBE.

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