The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has outlined plans for a "vigorous law enforcement programme against spam" after submitting of a report to Congress warning that the current system, whereby consumers are encouraged to forward unsolicited emails a FTC database, is not working.
In its place FTC is examining whether it would be appropriate to initiate a "reward scheme" that effectively places a bounty on the head of spammers by offering payment for information leading to successful convictions.
"The Commission's views on a reward system are strongly influenced by its experience with the anti-spam enforcement program it has been conducting for several years under the FTC Act, before passage of the CAN-SPAM Act," FTC's report stated.
The FTC expects that "substantial financial rewards" would be needed to tempt whisteblowers or insiders within spam gangs to provide the evidence required to secure convictions. It suggests that rewards would need to be approximately $100,000, but sometimes as much as $250,000.
The FTC was required to submit the report to Congress as part of the CAN-SPAM Act which became active in the U.S. on 1 January 2004, in an attempt to discover whether financial rewards would assist in the capture and sentencing of spammers.
"Although there have been some convictions of U.S. spammers, these have been few and far between, and have done little to slow the tidal wave of unsolicited emails - it's therefore unsurprising that the FTC is proposing a bounty for the heads of spammers," said Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant for Sophos.
"It's a sad reflection on society that people can not question their own behaviour, but need a financial incentive to break up criminal gangs engaged in spamming," added Cluley.
"However, if this is what is necessary to make the spammers sleep uneasily in their beds at night, it's probably the right step."
In the last year, software companies including Microsoft and SCO have offered substantial rewards for information leading to the successful conviction of virus writers who have launched attacks against their websites or customers.