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FTC slaps orders on alleged diet pill spamvertising scam scum

'Com Spammers' turned out to be US-based and within reach

A person measuring her waistline

Watchdogs at the US FTC (Federal Trade Commission) have obtained a restraining order against alleged diet pill scammers.

The “Com Spammers”, nick-named over their use of domain names in the form of com-XXX.net, where XXX are three or four random characters, have been pushing out huge volumes of email and SMS spam for years. The same group also spamvertised their wares on Pinterest and other social networks.

A FTC injunction against Sale Slash charges the Glendale, California, operation with using "fake news" websites, false weight-loss claims, phoney celebrity endorsements (supposedly from Oprah Winfrey), and spam email to flog unproven dietary supplements. The court order halts the defendants’ allegedly illegal conduct and freezes their assets, as a statement from the FTC explains.

The FTC’s complaint charges that the defendants behind Sale Slash violated the FTC Act and the CAN-SPAM Act in spamvertising various concoctions on the premise that they might help with weight loss. These supposed weight-loss supplements included "Premium Green Coffee, Pure Garcinia Cambogia, Premium White Kidney Bean Extract, Pure Forskolin Extract, and Pure Caralluma Fimbriata Extract".

Message filtering firm Cloudmark helped the FTC in detecting that the scammers were operating from inside the United States and therefore within the reach of the regulator. Fake news sites used to lend plausibility to the scammers' offer appeared to be written by a native English speaker. Cloudmark subsequently found that the diet pills were being shipped from within the US and there was a strong possibility that the whole operation was US based.

Cloudmark passed on its dossier to the FTC which responded by obtaining a restraining order against the people and companies which evidence suggests may be behind the diet pill scam promoted by the Com Spammers.

The Com Spammers stopped promoting the work-from-home scam, switching over to specialise purely on pushing diet pills and anti-ageing skin cream earlier this year.

"This turned out to be because the FTC was already investigating the work-from-home scam that the Com Spammers were sending traffic to, and had just shut them down," Andrew Conway, a research analyst at Cloudmark, explains in a blog post. "However, the lawyers working on this case had not traced the traffic back to the source, so the Com Spammers were still in business."

The Com Spammers are not a single organisation as such but an affiliate program, according to Cloudmark. Spammers were paid by owners of landing pages for driving traffic to these sites. Owners of landing pages were, in turn, paid by the different scammers doing the monetization.

The FTC alleges that they have identified the person responsible for monetizing the diet pills and the person who was managing the network of affiliate spammers. This allowed them to obtain injunctions against the alleged miscreants, something that only happened around 12 months after Cloudmark's initial investigation established that US persons might be behind the questionable business practice. ®

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