| Updated at: 1144 PST, Sunday, January 09, 2011|
ROME: Italian police warned of a new system by which thousands of Internet users around the world have received spam emails for business offers that actually click through to child abuse material.
"The sites concerned didn't know what was going on. They were small business websites," said Elvira D'Amato, an official at the postal and communications police in Italy, which started the investigation against the spam.
The inquiry is now being coordinated by Europol, the European Union's law enforcement agency, based in The Hague.
Italian police said the investigation began after a grandmother shopping for her grandchildren online in 2009 clicked to a page on a legitimate business web server that contained child abuse material and reported the problem.
D'Amato said 20 people in Italy who clicked on the links in the spam and then used credit cards to acquire paedophile pornography have been charged.
A total of around 100 websites were contaminated with the malicious software in Italy and around 1,000 more were affected in 30 countries including most of Europe, the United States, Australia and New Zealand, she said.
"The criminal group behind the spamming appeared to be from Eastern Europe but we are still investigating by following the money," she said.
They had used legitimate business websites to sell child pornography in an attempt to avoid increasingly stringent Internet police checks, she added.
The websites in Italy that have been affected included gyms and hotels. They have been cleaned up and cleared of any involvement, D'Amato said.