A New Hampshire man has been fined $2,000 for allegedly using Microsoft's name to lend credibility to false claims that users' PCs were infected with spyware.
Seth Traub, of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, paid the modest legal costs and attorneys' fees to settle a lawsuit brought by the State of Washington over charges that he punted bogus warnings to persuade surfers to buy deceptively marketed software.
Traub promoted Secure Computer's Spyware Cleaner program using Google AdWords. The use of a hyperlink marked "Microsoft AntiSpyware" meant these ads appeared prominently when surfers searched for Microsoft's line of anti-spyware products. But users who clicked on this wound up on Secure Computer's site rather than Microsoft's.
An investigation found that an initial "free" scan always detected spyware on a user's computer, even if none existed. The full fat version of Spyware Cleaner, which was sold for $49.95, failed to detect most forms of spyware on deliberately infected computers. It also erased files used to keep a record of blocked programs. Traub received three-quarters of the income from sales of Spyware Cleaner he generated.
"The Attorney General's Office alleges that Seth Traub deceptively represented that Spyware Cleaner is a Microsoft product or sanctioned by Microsoft," Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna said. "His ad also misrepresented that the program would remove all spyware. In fact, our investigation found that Spyware Cleaner not only failed to detect most spyware on an infected computer, it left that computer more vulnerable to attacks."
Traub is the third defendant to settle over the first lawsuit brought under Washington State's computer spyware act. The suit alleges that Secure Computer has used deceptive marketing practices (pop-up ads, deceptive hyperlinks and spam emails) to promote Spyware Cleaner since at least 2004.
Another defendant, Zhijian Chen, of Portland, Oregon, admitted breaching Washington's Computer Spyware Act and Consumer Protection Act in an April settlement. He was ordered to pay $84,000 in fines and customer restitution after been held liable for promoting Spyware Cleaner through Net Send messages sent to PCs that allegedly mimicked system warnings.
Gary T Preston, who is listed as the owner of Secure Computer's web domains, paid $7,200 in legal costs and attorneys' fees to settle charges that his name was used as an alias in business dealings by Secure Computer.
The lawsuit remains ongoing against defendants Secure Computer LLC, of White Plains, New York; company president Paul E Burke and Manoj Kumar, of Maharashtra, India, a Spyware Cleaner advertising affiliate.
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