Suspected "weight-loss" spammers charged in USA

April 29, 2004 Sophos Press Release

US authorities in Detroit have charged four men in connection with emailing fraudulent sales pitches for weight-loss products.

Christopher Chung, Daniel J Lin, James J Lin, and Mark M Sadek have been accused of disguising their identities in hundreds of thousands of spam emails, delivered by bouncing messages through unprotected third party computers.

Sadek's lawyer, James L. Feinberg, said that his client was "absolutely shocked" to be arrested early on 28 April at his home in suburban Detroit, and would plead innocent to the criminal charges.

According to authorities, the defendants' company sold weight-loss patches under corporate names such as AIT Herbal, Avatar Nutrition, Phoenix Avatar and others. According to Gina Balaya, a spokeswoman for the US Attorney's office, they are believed to have sent spam to "at least a million people."

According to media reports more than 10,000 complaints about unwanted email from the company have been lodged.

Investigators say that they have consulted medical experts who have confirmed that the ingredients in the weight-loss product sold via the spam emails would not work.

"It is encouraging to see the US authorities investigate complaints of users who say they are being bombarded with spam," said Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant for Sophos. "However, this is really the tip of the iceberg and more spam is being sent today than ever before. All businesses should protect themselves now to prevent spam clogging up their email inboxes."

"Weight-loss products are just one of many goods plugged by spammers, but many computer users faced by the growing tide of spam would probably like to see convicted spammers go on a diet of bread-and-water," continued Cluley.

A recent survey by Sophos revealed that 80% of small businesses have found spam has made them less productive. With the growing convergence of spam and viruses, Sophos recommends that small businesses introduce a consolidated defence against the virus and spam threat.