As it fights to extinguish an email scam it has been investigating for more than a year, the US Federal Trade Commission has launched a campaign against all spam.

The FTC announced yesterday that it had settled charges against seven people who collected money using the 'shuttered chain' email system. The defendants' chain email asked people to send $5 to the top five people on the list. In return, it promised "$46,000 or more in the next 90 days", and other large sums to participants.

"This chain letter deceptively claims the program is legal and urges recruits who question its legitimacy to contact the FTC's associate director for marketing practices. Well, I am the associate director for marketing practices, and these chain letters are illegal," Eileen Harrington said at the FTC announcement yesterday.

More than 2,000 people in 60 countries participated in this particular spam scam, FTC officials say. The agency has been battling spam for some time. Since September 2000, the FTC has sent 3,000 email warnings about illicit online ventures.

When the FTC uncovered the scam in September 2000, it contacted the 1,000 participants with a warning to stop participating in the illegal money-making chain. Six months later, the FTC found 2,000 more participants involved in the chain email, says Jennifer Mandigo, staff lawyer at the FTC.

Mandigo said FTC investigators joined the chain under cover, sending payment to participants who responded, confirming their guilt. Seven of these repeat offenders were taken to court. Chain letters involving money or other prizes violate federal law even if they contain contrary statements.

The FTC is still in the process of mailing 2,000 people who are keeping the chain alive, underscoring the problem of rooting out spam.

"We're going after deceptive spam and the people who send it," said Timothy Muris, chairman of the FTC. "We want it off the net."

The spam battle will be waged through an awareness campaign in partnership with ISPs, officials say.