The porn's in the post

Andrew North on the outrage caused by a tasteless `spam'

Thousands of subscribers to America Online and several other online services received an unwelcome surprise when they checked their e-mail last week. They found they had been sent junk e-mail offering a wide range of child pornography.

Investigations into the source of the "spam" are still continuing, but there are signs that it is actually a tasteless hoax. The message purported to be from a named individual with a New York state address. But as many recipients have already pointed out, no one would be so stupid as to put their real name on such a posting.

The author claimed to be "a fan of child pornography" and was offering videotapes, posters, games and even tape recordings of young boys moaning requested names. Recipients were also told they could have their own face "morphed" into a video to make it appear that they were participating. Prices and payment details were attached. The message informed people they had been sent the offer "because your e-mail address was on a list that fit (sic) this category".

Variously titled, "Child pornography", "Child Fun" or Child XXX", AOL was first alerted to the posting last Monday, when its helpdesk was deluged with complaints. Users of other online and Internet services, including CompuServe, Prodigy, AT&T WorldNet and Netcom also reported receiving the message. More than 200 people had complained about the message to CompuServe UK's helpdesk within 24 hours of the posting.

The posting originated from two AOL addresses (TipToe0001@aol.com and R9ch@aol.com), but people who tried to reply found their messages bounced back immediately. Experts suspect the addresses were actually "screen names", which were simply deleted once the spam had been sent. In common with many other Internet companies, AOL's software allows subscribers to create several screen names for each account.

In theory, it should be possible for AOL to trace the owner of the accounts or accounts. But this will not necessarily lead to the author of the message because the account could have been used illegally. The company said: "The source of the e-mail is still unknown." The FBI is now investigating the case and British police have also been contacted.

Opinion in the newsgroups was tending towards the view that the child porn spam is either a prank or an attempt to smear the person named in the e-mail. One theory is that people who had contributed to newsgroup discussions on combating child pornography on the Net had been deliberately targeted with the posting. Alternatively, people's e-mail addresses may simply have been grabbed as they passed through particular Web sites.

Whatever the case, it is hard to believe this mass posting was a real attempt to sell child pornography. Moreover, by sending it to so many people, the originator was inviting trouble. As one newsgroup contributor wrote: "Short of actually walking in to a police station and confessing, I can't imagine a faster way of getting attention from local, state and federal authorities than sending e-mail to a thousand strangers announcing that you have child porn for sale"

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Sport
Laura Trott with her gold
Commonwealth Games
Arts and Entertainment
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman
film
News
Bryan had a bracelet given to him by his late father stolen during the raid
people
Sport
France striker Loic Remy
sportThe QPR striker flew to Boston earlier in the week to complete deal
Extras
indybestSpice up your knife with our selection of delicious toppings
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Copywriter - Corporate clients - Wimbledon

    £21000 - £23000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Copywriter - London As a Copywrite...

    Horticulture Lecturer / Tutor / Assessor - Derbyshire

    £15 - £18 per hour: Randstad Education Nottingham: As a result of our successf...

    Retail Lecturer / Assessor / Tutor - Derbyshire

    £15 - £18 per hour: Randstad Education Nottingham: Randstad Education are succ...

    Business Studies Tutor / Assessor / Lecturer - Tollerton

    £15 - £18 per hour: Randstad Education Nottingham: Randstad Education are succ...

    Day In a Page

    A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

    A new Russian revolution

    Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
    Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
    Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

    Standing my ground

    If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
    Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

    Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

    The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
    The man who dared to go on holiday

    The man who dared to go on holiday

    New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

    For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
    The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

    The Guest List 2014

    Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
    Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

    Jokes on Hollywood

    With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
    It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

    It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

    Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
    Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

    Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

    Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
    Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

    Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

    Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
    Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

    Edinburgh Fringe 2014

    The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
    Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

    Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

    The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried