SEATTLE – Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna today announced a settlement with a New York man who allegedly allowed his name to be used as an alias in business dealings by Secure Computer, a company accused of violating Washington’s computer spyware law.
“Spyware purveyors and spammers routinely conceal their identities with layers of real or fake intermediaries in an effort to thwart law enforcement,” McKenna said. “But there’s a good reason why Washington is known as a leader in high-tech consumer fraud cases. If you try to trick consumers by assisting a spyware vendor, you are asking to be prosecuted.”
Gary T. Preston, of Jamaica, N.Y., will pay $7,200 in legal costs and attorneys’ fees. The settlement does not include any admission or finding of wrongdoing, but prohibits him from assisting any person or organization in disguising its identity from the public or law enforcement.
“The Attorney General’s Office alleges that Gary Preston was paid for the use of his name in Secure Computer’s business transactions,” McKenna said. “While his activities did not directly violate Washington’s spyware act, they made it much more difficult to identify the real seller of Spyware Cleaner.”
Investigators allege that Preston permitted Secure Computer’s Web domains to be registered in his name and provided his credit card to make company purchases.
Preston is the second defendant to settle in the Attorney General’s case against Secure Computer, based in White Plains, N.Y., and associates in the United States and India. Filed in January in U.S. District Court in Seattle, the lawsuit is the office’s first under the state’s 2005 Computer Spyware Act and follows a five-month investigation by the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection High-Tech Unit.
The suit alleges that Secure Computer has marketed and sold Spyware Cleaner since at least 2004 through pop-up ads, spam e-mails, and deceptive hyperlink ads that offer a “free scan.” The state’s investigation found that this scan always detected spyware on a user’s computer, even if none existed. The investigation also showed that the full version of Spyware Cleaner, available only by purchase, failed to detect spyware on a deliberately infected computer and erased the Hosts file, rendering the computer vulnerable to potential attacks from unwanted programs.
“Software programs such as those used to sell Spyware Cleaner are known as scareware because their intent is to cause anxiety,” McKenna said. “That sort of activity is deceptive and illegal under Washington’s spyware law.”
Burke and Preston were both named as defendants in the suit. In addition, three other individuals were charged in connection with advertising Spyware Cleaner: Zhijian Chen, of Portland, Ore.; Seth Traub, of Portsmouth, N.H., and Manoj Kumar, of Maharashtra, India.
The state reached a settlement with Chen in April. He will pay nearly $84,000 in fines and consumer restitution for promoting Spyware Cleaner through Net Send messages sent to personal computers throughout the United States. The messages simulated system warnings. By agreeing to the settlement, Chen admits violating Washington’s Computer Spyware Act and Consumer Protection Act.
Secure Computer Complaint
Consent Decree for Gary Preston
Stipulated Judgment and Order for Zhijian Chen
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Kristin Alexander, Public Information Officer, Attorney General’s Office, (206) 464-6432, firstname.lastname@example.org
Paula Selis, Assistant Attorney General, (206) 464-7662
Katherine Tassi, Assistant Attorney General, (206) 389-3974