Copy of complaint here:
Secure Links, NJC and FixWinReg Complaint
Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna today announced a lawsuit against three California-based Internet affiliate advertisers and their respective business entities. The defendants are accused of sending anonymous “Net Send” messages to consumers’ computers that simulate Windows operating system warnings, transmitting bundled software that changes Internet browser home pages, and marketing registry-cleaner programs through the use of deceptive free scans.
The lawsuit filed today in King County Superior Court is Washington’s fifth case under the state’s Computer Spyware Act passed in 2005. The suit brings charges against three companies and their officers:
Secure Links Networks LLC and CEO Manual Corona, Jr., of Brea;
NJC Softwares LCC and company officer Rudy O. Corella, of Lake Elsinore; and
FixWinReg and president HoanVinh V. Nguyenphuoc, of Redondo Beach.
Washington’s suit lays out seven causes of action that include sending Net Send messages that:
Feign the discovery of critical errors on a computer;
Prevent a computer user from declining the installation of software;
Modify computer settings;
Intentionally misrepresent the necessity of new software for security purposes; and
Mislead consumers into believing that registry-cleaner software has performed indicated repairs.
The state is seeking injunctive provisions. If found liable, each defendant could be fined up to $100,000 per violation of the Computer Spyware Act and $2,000 per violation under the Consumer Protection Act. They may also be required to pay compensation to affected consumers.
Note that the defendants acted as affiliates for each other. They are alleged to have worked together to market each other’s products. Corona owns programs called Registry Sweeper Pro and Registry Rinse. Corella owns Registry Doc, Registry Cleaner 32 and Registry Cleaner Pro. FixWinReg marketed and sold several of the products.
The defendants did not use Web page based pop-up advertisements to encourage purchase. Instead, the products were advertised by sending Net Send messages (otherwise known as Messenger Service, and turned off by default in later operating systems) to users’ computers. Net Send is a Windows operating system command traditionally used by network administrators to broadcast pop-up messages to computer users about service outages.
The messages resembled system alerts with alarmist wording 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!”
Another version labeled as an “Important Security Bulletin” included an error string and a recommendation that the user immediately scan the system registry.
The messages instructed computer users to download software to fix the errors. By visiting the URL addresses included in the messages, users were redirected to other Web sites owned by the defendants where they were encouraged to download a free trial version of the software that will scan their computer for registry errors.
Attorney General Katherine Tassi, of the Consumer Protection High-Tech Unit said “The state’s investigation showed that the free scan always identified ‘critical errors,’ but in many cases these so-called errors were harmless files,” Tassi continued: “In order to remove the errors, consumers were told they must purchase the full version of the software priced at $29.95 and up. The full version of Registry Doc claimed to remove some files that actually remained on the user’s computer.”
She said users were also given an option to decline installation of an unrelated search toolbar called Twikibar that is bundled with the trial version of Registry Doc.
Tassi also said: “We found that even when a user didn’t want to install Twikibar, the program installed itself and automatically changed the computer’s Internet browser home page,” She continued: “There’s no obvious way to uninstall the toolbar. This is a violation of Washington’s Computer Spyware Act, which prohibits transmitting software without a user’s consent and modifying computer settings.”
Washington consumers who have purchased or downloaded products from the defendants can file a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office online at www.atg.wa.gov or call 1-800-551-4636 (number available in-state only) to request a complaint form. Consumers outside Washington should file a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office in the state where they live.
Source: Press Release - Office of the Washington State Attorney General
Edited to change "Computer Protection High-Tech Unit" to "Consumer Protection High-Tech Unit" - error in original press release.