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August 12, 2008
I spy spyware, spam and scams

McKenna’s office leading the online fraud fight, national report finds

WASHINGTON, DC – The Washington Attorney General’s Office is at the frontlines in the fight against online fraud, according to a new report by the Center for American Progress and the Center for Democracy and Technology.

"In New York and Washington, attorneys general have equipped themselves to take on Internet fraud and abuse," said Ari Schwartz, vice president and chief operating officer at the Center for Democracy and Technology. "As a result, they have won a string of important cases.”

The report, titled “Online Consumers at Risk and the Role of State Attorneys General,” describes Washington as one of “the most aggressive online enforcers, setting an example for others to follow.”

The Washington Attorney General’s Office entered the fray back in October 1998 when it filed the nation's first state lawsuit against a spammer. The national report spotlights several recent accomplishments, including a six-pack of spyware suits and a crackdown on freebie promoters who sold consumers’ personal information.

“The sword of justice can prevail in the virtual world,” Attorney General Rob McKenna said. “Our Consumer Protection Division remains at the center of the cybercrime combat zone because we’ve strengthened our forces and armed ourselves with the best investigative tools and legislation.”

Senior Counsel Paula Selis, a Washington assistant attorney general who heads the office’s Consumer Protection High-Tech Unit, said several factors have allowed Washington to make patrolling the Web a top priority.

“First, there must be recognition that online fraud is a huge threat to consumers as well as to the future of online commerce,” she said. “We go out and look for scams, in addition to responding to consumer complaints.”

At McKenna’s request in 2005, the Legislature approved an additional $1.6 million in support for the Consumer Protection Division. The funds paid for two new consumer protection attorneys, a computer forensics investigator and a state-of-the-art computer lab where sophisticated tools are used to detect hackers, spyware purveyors and other Internet mischief.

Washington was one of the first states to pass laws in the area of spam, spyware and phishing. Well-crafted laws help states bring enforcement action and serve as guidelines for e-commerce, pointing out what business practices are and aren’t acceptable in a virtual world, Selis said.

Washington has taken other steps in its fight against cybercrime, including joining many other states in enacting laws that require consumers to be notified of security breaches. The statutes encourage public agencies and businesses to be responsible with consumer data and enable consumers to quickly protect their personal information.

Protecting children online is another of McKenna’s priorities. He formed the Youth Internet Safety Task Force last year to increase Internet safety awareness in Washington.

AUDIO – Today’s teleconference with the report authors and Selis can be heard here.

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Media Contact: Kristin Alexander, Washington Attorney General’s Office, (206) 464-6432

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