SEATTLE – A 21-year-old Scottsdale, Ariz., man accused of coercing consumers to buy software that actually turned their computers into spamming machines agreed to a settlement that substantially restricts how he markets software in the future, the Washington Attorney General’s Office announced today.
The Attorney General’s Consumer Protection High-Tech Unit sued Messenger Solutions, LLC, and owner Ron Cooke, in March. The suit, filed in King County Superior Court, accused Cooke of violating Washington’s Computer Spyware Act and Consumer Protection Act while marketing programs under the names Messenger Blocker, WinAntiVirus Pro 2007, System Doctor and WinAntiSpyware.
Under the settlement filed today, Cooke cannot use Net Send messages or simulated security alerts to market products, transmit software to another person’s computer without a user’s knowledge or make other misrepresentations in the advertising or sale of products.
He will pay $5,000 in attorneys' costs and fees and $202 in restitution, which will be used to provide refunds to nine Washington consumers who purchased the software. The settlement also includes a $100,000 civil penalty, waived provided Cooke complies with the settlement.
“Ron Cooke now has a $100,000 fine hanging over his head as a reminder to him and other online marketers that the Attorney General’s Office won’t tolerate Internet anarchy,” said Assistant Attorney General Katherine Tassi. “There are plenty of opportunities for young entrepreneurs to profit online without deceiving consumers.”
The Attorney General’s Office launched its investigation in October 2007 after a computer in the High-Tech Unit’s lab received ads via Windows Messenger Service. The lab uses “honey pots” to detect hackers, spyware purveyors and other Internet mischief.
The state’s complaint alleged Cooke uses Windows Messenger Service to bombard consumers with a continuous stream of pop-ups advertising porn and sexual-enhancement products. Windows Messenger Service, not to be confused with the instant-messaging program Windows Live Messenger, is primarily designed for use on a network and allows administrators to send notices to users.
He then sent those same consumers another bout of pop-ups intended to simulate system warnings, which directed users to a Web site to buy software to supposedly block pop-ups.
Consumers who downloaded the software were further victimized when the program caused their computers to stealthily blast messages to other PCs at a rate of one every two seconds.
The Attorney General’s Consumer Protection High-Tech Unit has brought a total of six lawsuits under Washington’s Computer Spyware Statute, RCW 19.270, since the law was approved by the Legislature in 2005.