Wash. State Sues Over Spam, Spyware

Kat Khan
SEATTLE — The Washington State Attorney General's office has sued a New York company and individuals in New York, New Hampshire, Oregon and India under state and federal anti-spam and spyware laws, claiming they induced computer users to download software that weakened its computers' security.

The lead defendant in the lawsuit, filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court, is Secure Computer LLC of White Plains, N.Y. Secure Computer President Paul Burke and Gary Preston of Jamaica, N.Y., have made more than $100,000 since summer 2004 selling "spyware cleaner" over the Internet – software they advertised using mass, misleading emails and popups, the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit is the first filed under Washington state's new anti-spyware act and one of the first spyware lawsuits in the country, state Attorney General Rob McKenna said Tuesday.

"In general, we've made more progress on spam than we have on spyware," McKenna said. "Spyware in all its forms is a faster-growing threat than viruses."

Some of the spam and popup ads sent on behalf of Secure Computer imitated Microsoft Corp. messages and products, the lawsuit said. Microsoft has pursued more than 100 anti-spam lawsuits, winning more than $800 million from spammers.

Also named in the lawsuit are Burke's wife, Wendy; Seth T. Traub of Portsmouth, N.H.; Zhijian Chen of Portland, Ore.; and Manoj Kumar of Maharashtra, India. The three allegedly sent emails and advertisements on Secure Computer's behalf in exchange for 75 percent commission on each $49.95 software sale.

"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, which added the software does not work properly.

The lawsuit also cites several state and federal laws, from the state consumer protection laws to the federal CAN-SPAM law, short for Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act. The state could possibly be entitled to millions of dollars in damages.