WASHINGTON -- Those annoying "spam" e-mails for Viagra or low-rate mortgages that clog computer users' mailboxes appear to be on the decline, federal regulators said Tuesday.
In a report to Congress, the Federal Trade Commission said the anti-spam law that took effect two years ago has helped curb unsolicited e-mail. The report also credits advances in technology, such as better spam filters that weed out junk e-mail.
The report was met with some skepticism.
"For us, we have not seen one single instance where spam has actually gone down," said Jordan Ritter, co-founder of Cloudmark, an e-mail security firm based in San Francisco.
Ritter questioned how effective the anti-spam law has been in going after renegade e-mail marketers or spammers who can simply move overseas.
"It's a good law for people who want to follow it, but the real fundamental problem is the practice itself and the fact that people aren't easily tracked down," Ritter said.
The FTC cited two studies in its report. One, by e-mail filtering company MX Logic, said spam accounted for 67 percent of the e-mail passing through its system in the first eight months of this year. That's down 9 percent from the same period a year earlier, the agency said.
The second report by MessageLabs, another e-mail filtering company, said spam rates rose for much of last year but have since declined and hover near the levels they were at in December 2003 -- when Congress passed the anti-spam legislation.
Even so, the commission acknowledged that spam is still a major headache.
"We're really not here saying that the spam problem is solved," said Lydia Parnes, director of the FTC's bureau of consumer protection. "What we're saying is that we're making progress."
The commission announced three enforcement actions taken in the last several weeks to derail those accused of sending mass bundles of spam. On behalf of the FTC, the Justice Department filed civil complaints against four people who allegedly sent illegal and unwanted spam e-mails. Two cases were filed in federal court in Chicago and one in Seattle.
The commission accused the defendants of hijacking consumers' computers and turning them into spamming machines that flooded mailboxes with unwanted e-mails. The FTC said the spam was sent with false "from" information and misleading subject lines -- a violation of the anti-spam law. The spam also didn't provide a postal address or an "opt out" option, which allows a consumer to block future e-mails.