Spyware Slayer vendor settles false advertising suit

Washington State Attorney General says that deceptive ads for security software are becoming more common -- more charges loom

The sellers of the Spyware Slayer antispyware program have agreed to pay US$300,000 in fines to settle charges that they violated Washington State spyware and consumer protection laws.

Both the charges and the settlement were filed Wednesday in King County Superior Court in Seattle, said Washington State Assistant Attorney General Katherine Tassi.

Two companies, both controlled by the same owners, were named in the settlement, she said: High Falls Media LLC, of Hilton, New York, and Roc Telecommunications LLC, of Rochester, New York. Company associates Thomas Tortora, Mark Libutti and Brian Einhaus, all of New York, were also named as defendants. They could not be reached immediately for comment, and the freepcscan.com Web site used to market Spyware Slayer was no longer active on Wednesday.

High Falls promoted Spyware Slayer with false pop-up ads warning victims that their computer was infected with spyware, Tassi said. If the victim tried to leave the site, another pop-up cautioned, "if you leave now, damage could be done by harmful worms, viruses, adware, spyware, malware or hacker code."

These ads "were essentially startling consumers into believing that they had spyware on their computer," Tassi said. "They had a pop-up that said 'we have detected a 99 percent chance that you have spyware on your computer,' and this was just an advertisement. They had not done anything to detect anything."

This type of inducement is illegal under Washington's Computer Spyware Act, but has become an "all too common mode of marketing security software," Tassi said. "We do see this as an increasing trend: the exploiting of consumer fears over spyware and adware as a way of marketing software products."

Las week, Washington's attorney general announced a similar settlement with a New York man who used pop-up ads designed to look like Internet Explorer alerts. He was marketing a program called QuikShield Security, she said.

Roc Telecommunications ran a number of music download sites, including 24/7 Downloads, Free Download Club, and MP3s Unlimited, which also engaged in deceptive marketing practices, Tassi said.

The defendants have not admitted any wrongdoing under the agreement and will have the bulk of their $300,000 fine suspended, provided that they comply with the terms of the agreement and no longer misrepresent what they are selling. "They pay $25,000 of that and then the remaining portion hangs over their head as an incentive to comply with the injunctive provisions," Tassi said.

The defendants must also pay $30,000 in legal fees and provide refunds to Washington state residents who purchased their products.