The U.S. government has helped break up one of the largest organized spam rings in the world, which was responsible for sending billions of unsolicited e-mails.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) received more than 3 million complaints from internet users who received the spam e-mails tied to the group.
HerbalKing, promoting weight-loss drugs, male enhancement pills and prescription drugs, operated in the United States, China, New Zealand, and other nations, the U.S. government said. Credit card transactions were processed in Cyprus and Georgia, and all products were shipped from India and China, with Chinese web servers used to host each web site.
According to the FTC investigation, the group received $400,000 in Visa credit card charges in a single month. The government has asked a federal district court in the city of Chicago to freeze the ring's bank accounts, after accusing HerbalKing of violating the Can-Spam Act of 2003.
The FTC made purchases from the web sites, and discovered that they were not forced to provide prescription verification, and none of the drugs shipped to customers had instructions or dosage information.
The group's largest botnet, Mega-D, had 35,000 zombie PCs capable of sending 10 billion e-mail messages per day, according to security firm Marshal Software.
Roland Smits and Shane Atkinson of Christchurch, and Lance Atkinson of Pelican Waters, Queensland, Australia, along with Jody Smith of Texas, are named in the lawsuit filed by the U.S. government. The cases are now pending in the U.S. federal court and New Zealand High Court.
It has been harder to crack down on spam, especially as many spammers become more organized at sending spam offering fake products. Estimates indicate as much as 90 percent of all e-mail sent across the world is spam.
More organized spam ring leaders are forced to shut down, pay fines and sometimes go to jail, but the government-led effort has done little to curb the growing spam problem.