OLYMPIA - The Washington state attorney general's office, known for its aggressive pursuit of Internet spammers, has in its sights an Arizona man they accuse of coercing consumers in the Evergreen State to buy his pop-up blocking software.
Ron Cooke of Scottsdale, Ariz., is accused in a complaint filed Tuesday of flooding Internet consumers with bogus ads for pornography and sexual-enhancement products before advertising his software, which sells for $19.95, and officials say does much more harm than good.
Assistant Attorney General Katherine Tassi, who is overseeing the case, told LegalNewsLine that after Cooke sends a torrent of bogus ads to a given computer, he sends "alarmist messages" warning computer users that their system is vulnerable to hacking or other security risks to encourage them to buy his software.
The civil complaint, filed in King County Superior Court in Seattle, charges that Cooke violated the state Consumer Protection Act and the state's Computer Spyware Act, which prohibits, among other things, modifying through deceptive means settings that control a computer user's bookmarks used to access Web pages.
Cooke is accused specifically of transmitting malicious software, attempting to coerce consumers into purchasing software by issuing allergist warnings, misrepresenting the necessity of software for security purposes and causing Washington consumers to violate the state's Computer Spyware Act.
Washington is seeking injunctive provisions, civil penalties, attorneys' fees and refunds for consumers, according to court papers. Cooke could not be reached for comment.
Cooke could be fined up to $2,000 per Consumer Protection Act violation and up to $2 million for spyware violations, Tassi said. "We will go into this seeking the maximum," she said in an interview Tuesday evening.
Cooke's software uses a technical capability enabled by default in many Windows operating systems intended to allow network administrators to communicate with network users by way of Windows Messenger Service pop-ups, also known as Net Send messages.
His company - Messenger Solutions, LLC - allegedly also used consumers who bought its pop-up blocker under the brands Messenger Blocker, WinAntiVirus Pro 2007, System Doctor and WinAntiSpyware to unwittingly blast advertising messages to other computers at a rate of 30 a minute.
"He would offer a seven-day free trial of the software and when you installed the software it does in fact block the messages, but it turns your computers into a message spamming machine," Tassi said. "So, who knows how many consumers all over the world are sending out his advertising."
This case marks the sixth complaint that the Washington attorney general's office has brought using the state's anti-spyware statute since the law was approved in 2005.