Readers of this blog will be familiar with the operation we call the “Com Spammers“. The name is because they often use domain names of the form com-XXX.net, where XXX are three or four random characters. For several years now they have generated a lot of email and SMS spam, and have also been responsible for spam attacks on Pinterest and other social networks. This week the FTC obtained a restraining order against the people and companies they allege are behind the diet pill scam that was promoted by the Com Spammers. I’m happy to say that Cloudmark may have had something to do with the FTC deciding to investigate this particular outfit.
In October 2013 I attended a M3AAWG conference in Montreal, and met one of the FTC lawyers responsible for taking down the “Free Gift Card” SMS spammers. He had helped put an end to a major SMS spam problem, and I was giving a presentation showing just how effective the FTC’s action had been in reducing SMS spam levels. We got on well, and stayed in touch by email after the meeting. I asked if the FTC would consider investigating a major email spammer, and got a positive response.
Some of the most successful spammers we were seeing were unlicensed pharmacies, fake designer goods, fake news sites selling diet pills or work from home scams, and various sorts of adult spam. Most of those were probably based offshore and therefore outside the easy legal reach of the FTC. However, the fake news sites were very wordy, and appeared to be written by a native English speaker. Later, Cloudmark investigation showed that the diet pills were being shipped from within the United States. It seemed that there was a strong possibility that this operation was US based. My contact at the FTC referred me to another lawyer there in the department specializing in diet scams, and we suggested that they look into this spam attack.
In early 2014 I noticed that the Com Spammers had stopped promoting the work from home scam, and were just pushing diet pills and anti-aging skin cream. 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. However, the lawyers working on this case had not traced the traffic back to the source, so the Com Spammers were still in business.
We didn’t hear anything from the FTC on this case for about a year, until the press release on May 4th, 2015, stating that the FTC had stopped a weight loss scam that had been promoted with spam. A look through the FTC’s documentation on the case confirmed that this was most probably the Com Spammers. The image of the alleged Sale Slash landing page from the FTC’s web site (left) is almost identical with the one the the Com Spammers are currently using (right).
The Com Spammers are not a single organization. It’s been clear from the start that there is an affiliate program in operation where spammers are paid by the owner of the landing pages who in turn get paid by the different scammers doing the monetization. That’s why the takedown of the work from home scam did not disable the whole operation. However, this time 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. My thanks to everyone at the FTC who worked on this. We’ll be watching our spam statistics eagerly for the next week or two to see if diet spam goes down.