FTC files complaint against weight-loss pill spammer

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The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced Thursday that it has filed a complaint against Canada-based Sili Neutraceuticals, which does business as Kaycon, and its owner Brian McDaid. The FTC argues the marketing of the pills, said to contain an herb known as hoodia that is believed by some to suppress appetites, violates federal spam law.

"The defendants falsely claimed that their supposed ‘hoodia’ products cause rapid and substantial weight loss, including as much as 40 pounds in a month…The weight-loss claims are false," the FTC said Thursday in a news release. The release did not say how the FTC determined the claims are bogus.

The agency, whose database received 85,000 email submissions related to the spam operation, added that the packaging of the drugs, promising to reverse or slow aging, is also deceptive and contains false claims.

The defendants presumably are not the ones sending the junk mail, but the FTC is wisely targeting the source, experts said today.

"It’s good to see the FTC not only go after the people sending the spam, but also the people paying to send the spam," Joseph Telafici, vice president of operations at McAfee Avert Labs, told SCMagazine.com today. "The reason that spam is accounting for 85 to 90 percent of all email is because these companies pay for it."

According to the FTC, the spam messages were sent using a technique known as web-form hijacking, in which junk mailers place messages in text boxes on third-party websites, such as a "Contact Us" form. The emails then appear to emanate from that web operator’s mail server, raising their legitimacy.

Telafici said today that spammers are using automated tools in this tactic, which is growing in popularity because many of the messages are able to evade junk mail filters.

He recommends companies with web forms limit the number of times a certain IP address can send an email, implement human authentication protocols and prohibit the sending of arbitrary content.

A hearing for the defendants is scheduled for Monday when a federal judge will decide whether to freeze their assets until the FTC completes its investigation. The agency is seeking to "permanently bar them from further violations and make them forfeit their ill-gotten gains."

Neither McDaid nor a representative from Kaycon could be reached for comment today.

 

Click here to email reporter Dan Kaplan.

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