Antispyware efforts by Washington state target registry cleaners

Windows users tricked by guilty software advertisers, judge finds

Washington state's legal system claimed another victory in an ongoing crusade against spyware and deceptive online advertising. Last Friday, King County Superior Court Judge found Internet affiliate advertisers Securelink Networks, LLC and NJC Softwares, LCC guilty of violating consumer-protection laws while marketing registry-cleaner software. (Compare antispyware products.)

In a lawsuit filed in February 2007 by the Washington state's Attorney General's Consumer Protection High-Tech Fraud Unit, Securelinks Networks and NJC Softwares, along with a third company called FixWinReg, were accused of using Net Send messages and deceptive free scans to market each other's products, including Registry Sweeper Pro, Registry Rinse, Registry Doc, Registry Cleaner 32 and Registry Cleaner Pro.

Net Send messages, sent to computers running Windows Messenger Service, resembled system alerts that included messages such as, "Warning! Windows requires immediate attention. Windows has detected critical system errors…failure to repair an invalid or corrupt system registry may lead to data loss or system failure!"

The defendant's deceptive pop-ups directed consumers to Web sites where they were encouraged to download a free trial version of software that will scan their computer for registry errors," said Assistant Attorney General Katherine Tassi. "In every case, the scan identified 'critical errors,' In order to remove the so-called errors, consumers were told they had to pay $29.95 or more to buy the full version of the program.”

NJC Softwares, LLC and company officer Rudy O. Corella, were also accused of having transmitted bundled software that changes Internet browser home pages in a download of a trial version of Registry Doc where an unrelated search toolbar called Twikibar installed itself on users' computers.

FixWinReg, owned by HoanVinh V. Nguyenphuoc, reached a settlement last October which did not include an admission or finding of wrongdoing but in which Nguyenphuoc paid $75,000 in attorneys' costs and fees and will pay an additional $75,000 in civil penalties if he fails to comply with the settlement, which includes provisions prohibiting misrepresentation in products or services.

Under the ruling by Judge Glenna Hall last Friday granting the state's requests for summary judgment, Securelink Networks, owned by Manuel Corona, and NJC Softwares have each been ordered to provide refunds to hundreds of Washington consumers who bought products owned or advertised by them.

In addition, each must pay $400,000 in civil penalties and $141,000 in attorney fees and costs.

The judge's order also prohibits them from using Net Send messages to promote products or services, misrepresenting that a consumer's computer is at risk, installing software without the computer user's consent, making other misrepresentations and failing to review all advertisements for products they own.

The Attorney General's Consumer High-Tech Unit indicated it has brought six lawsuits since the Washington Computer Spyware Statute was approved by the state legislature in 2005.

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