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AG Rob McKenna sues Secure Computer LLC under new anti-spyware act

January 25, 2006

The Washington state attorney general's office has sued a White Plains, N.Y., company and individuals in New Hampshire, New York, Oregon and India under state and federal anti-spam and spyware laws, saying they induced computer users to download software that weakened their computers' security.

The suit alleges that Secure Computer, Paul E. Burke, who lives in the Bronx, and another defendant, Gary T. Preston of Jamaica, N.Y., made more than $100,000 by selling Spyware Cleaner through a network of affiliates.

According to the attorney general's suit, the defendants marketed the Spyware Cleaner product to computer users through pop-up advertisements and e-mails that told them their machines had been infected with spyware. The pop-up ads, which mimicked the appearance of Microsoft Windows security boxes and used the Redmond company's trademarked font, flashed warnings that spyware or viruses had been discovered on a user's computer and asked users to perform a computer scan.

Those consumers who followed through with the scan were then told that they had spyware on their computers.

"Deceived into believing that dangerous spyware is on their computer and there is no time to waste, the user is induced to purchase Spyware Cleaner," the lawsuit said.

The suit, filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court, alleges that the company's spyware-scanning software falsely labels ordinary Windows register keys as spyware to induce computer users to pay $49.95 for the company's Spyware Cleaner program.

The program doesn't actually clean spyware from the PC but rather modifies the computer's security settings, the suit alleges.

Attorney General Rob McKenna is expected to announce the suit at a news conference today in Seattle along with Nancy Anderson, deputy general counsel from Microsoft, which also has filed suit against Secure Computer.

McKenna said that this is the first lawsuit filed under Washington state's new anti-spyware act, which the Legislature passed last year, and one of the first spyware lawsuits in the country.

"This lawsuit is intended to send a message to spyware perpetrators and to hucksters who market phony products that play on the public fear of spyware," McKenna said Tuesday night. He called the alleged tactics, especially the changing of security settings, "quite startling."

Anderson described the case as an "important milestone in making sure consumers understand that they will be protected if they are preyed upon by deceptive practices."

Campaign creative for Secure Computer

Campaign creative for Secure Computer

Besides Burke and Preston, named in the lawsuit are Burke's wife, Wendy; Seth T. Traub of Portsmouth, New Hampshire; Zhijian Chen of Portland, Oregon; and Manoj Kumar of Maharashtra, India. They are accused of sending out e-mails and advertisements on Secure Computer's behalf in exchange for a 75% commission on each $49.95 software sale.





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