The US Federal Trade Commission has announced busting a vast international spam network run by the Herbal King gang, aka Affking, that peddled prescription drugs and bogus male-enhancement pills by sending spam e-mails from web sites in China and shipping drugs from India.
The US trade regulator also persuaded a federal court in Chicago to freeze the group's assets and order the spam network to shut down.
Herbal King operated under different names and ran international spamming operation out of the US and New Zealand, sending billions of unsolicited spam messages selling prescription drugs, phony male enhancement products and weight-loss pills that have not been approved by the US FDA and are said to be potentially unsafe as well as sex toys and replica watches.
The lawsuits were filed in the US federal court in Illinois and the New Zealand High Court in Christchurch over the past week after the Federal Trade Commission received more than three million complaints about spam messages linked to this vast business.
The spam operations were run by New Zealand resident Lance Atkinson and Jody Smith of Texas, who operated through four companies, Inet Ventures Pty Ltd., Tango Pay Inc., Click Fusion Inc., and TwoBucks Trading Limited.
The court has issued a temporary injunction based on the complaint filed by the FTC, prohibiting the defendants from spamming and making false product claims, and has also frozen their assets while authorities in New Zealand have also taken legal action, working in conjunction with the FTC.
The spammers pushed their spam via the Mega-D/Ozdok botnet and other botnets by falsely claiming to sell medications as a US licensed pharmacy that sells FDA approved generic drugs, offering generic versions of Levitra, Cialis, Propecia, Viagra, Lipitor, Celebrex, Zoloft, and other drugs which was shipped from India, as well as an herbal permanent male-enhancement pill called VPXL.
They also sold weight loss supplement pill supposedly containing hoodia gordonii, a cactus-like plant found in southern Africa and claimed that users could lose up to six pounds a week.
The FDA tested the drug 'VPXL', which was sold as a 100-per cent safe herbal male-enhancement pill to permanently increase the size of a user's penis and the tests revealed that it was neither herbal nor safe as it contained 'sildenafil', the active ingredient in Viagra.
Sildenafil contains nitrate and nitrate containing drugs are commonly prescribed to treat diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or heart disease and can cause an unsafe drop in the users' blood pressure, which is dangerous for people with heart conditions.
The spam operation used 'Mega-D' which is one of the largest spamming botnets or a network of hijacked computers, to send out messages. The botnet compromises tens of thousands of computers and is capable of sending up to10 billion spam messages a day.
They recruited spammers around the world to send billions of spam messages directing consumers to web sites operated by an affiliate program called 'Affking.'
They used false names in order to hide the origin of the messages and thereby avoiding an opt-out link, and a physical postal address in violation of CAN-SPAM (Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing) Act of 2003.
The spam ring was so widely scattered that the gang, although based in the US and New Zealand, used Chinese servers to host web sites to sell their products, processed credit card transactions in Cyprus and Georgia, sourced the products from India and transferred funds among members using ePassporte, an electronic money network.
Claims about the consumer's credit card information being treated "with the highest levels of security by using 'Secure Socket Layer (SSL) technology" was totally false as the FTC investigators found no indication that the web sites were encrypted using SSL technology.