Bryan Cohen May 2, 2013, 6:28pm

OLYMPIA, Wash. (Legal Newsline) -- Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson on Wednesday announced a $97,000 settlement with an Arizona-based software company and its owner for allegedly engaging in deceptive and unfair practices against consumers.

ZookaWare, the seller of the software programs SpyZooka, RegZooka and CyberBackup, allegedly misled consumers into thinking standard tracking cookies and empty registry keys were dangerous computer problems, when that was not the case.

ZookaWare and Carl Haugen, the company's sole manager, sold the products to customers to fix the purported problems.

"It's the attorney general's job to root out unfair and deceptive behavior in the marketplace and to hold companies accountable," Ferguson said in a statement. "Our nationally-recognized High-Tech Unit protects customers from online scams and encourages fairness in the marketplace."

ZookaWare also allegedly filled customers' shopping carts with multiple products when they were trying to buy just one product, included free trials with a fine-print disclosure detailing a $9.95 monthly charge after the first month, provided ineffective and minimal disclosure about an automatic annual renewal, made cancellation difficult and provided fake positive reviews on blogs, social media and news stories.

"Fake reviews and false free trials are highly deceptive practices that trick customers into paying for products they might otherwise have avoided," the attorney general said. "Moreover, no business should trap consumers in auto-renewals with no easy way to escape."

Under the terms of the agreement, ZookaWare and Haugen agreed to change the company's business practices, pay $40,000 in civil penalties, pay $57,000 in costs and attorney fees, and provide consumer restitution to Washington consumers who bought the software products between Jan. 1, 2009 and July 19 or were charged automatic fees beyond their initial purchase.

The defendants will be charged an additional $25,000 per violation if they violate the agreement.

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