Obscene e-mail disturbs recipients, thwarts FBI

by Jessica Steeno

An e-mail message offering sales or trade in child pornography sent to addresses across the country, and received by many account holders at the University, continues to baffle the FBI.
The message, sent Oct. 21, is titled “Child Fun!” and suggests that the recipient’s address was available from a list of people interested in child pornography. University Police Sgt. Joe May said his department has received at least 10 calls from irritated recipients since the message was sent.
“I reported it because I figured it was probably a crime and I found it disgusting,” said Michelle Emme, an account specialist with the University’s Department of Medicine in the Division of Cardiology. “My first gut feeling was, why am I getting this? I’ve never frequented any Web sites having to do with pornography or sex.’ The message was on my business account, and I was wondering what my co-workers would think.”
The message sender claims to have a large collection of child pornography, and the message offers recipients a chance to order a color catalog of products available.
The message also describes certain services and products that are available through the sender.
“If you send your picture, I can morph your face into one of the action shots to make it appear that you are the one having sex with a little boy,” the message reads. Morphed pictures sell for $14.95, according to a price listed in the message.
“Lots of police departments across the country have been receiving calls about this,” said Colleen Rowley, office spokesperson for the Minnesota FBI.
James Margolin, a press agent with New York’s FBI, said the agency believes thousands of people received the e-mail. Margolin said the FBI is currently investigating the case to determine whether the message violated federal law.
Federal law regarding child pornography states that it is illegal to print or publish any notice or advertisement seeking or offering to receive, exchange, distribute or reproduce any visual depiction of sexually explicit conduct involving a minor. The law states that such conduct would result in a fine, imprisonment of not more than 10 years, or both.
Margolin would not say specifically how the FBI links e-mail messages to senders, but he did offer some general information.
“I believe it is similar to trying to track down a phone call,” he said. “However, it’s fairly easy to conceal the origin of a message. Tracking the origin of a message is a fairly difficult task.”