Florida firm faces lawsuit over spam called “as illegal as it is annoying”
SEATTLE – Spammers have discovered one of the most popular forms of modern communication: text messages. Unwanted word-filled bubbles now pop up on mobile phone screens, pitching products and frustrating consumers. Over a period of two days in May, for example, a Florida company blistered Washington state residents with tens of thousands of texts offering “quick cash” from payday loans. The Washington State Attorney General has fired back with a first-of-its-kind lawsuit.
“Consumers pay for text messaging in order to stay in touch with family, friends and business contacts – not to receive spam that’s as illegal as it is annoying,” said Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna. “This lawsuit is a reminder to spammers that there are consequences for breaking the law.”
McKenna’s office aims to hold accountable the Florida operation responsible for last spring’s spam strike, accusing it of violating the federal Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), the Washington State Commercial Electronic Mail Act (CEMA) and the Washington State Consumer Protection Act. The company, Orlando-based Dinav Holding, Inc., potentially faces big penalties because both TCPA and CEMA allow damages of $500 per violation. McKenna’s office also seeks additional civil penalties under state law.
“Unsolicited commercial texting is yet another form of spam,” said Assistant Attorney General Paula Selis, who heads McKenna’s High Tech Unit. “Spammers, known for invading computers, now recognize that most of us now carry powerful computers — mobile phones — and they are determined to invade those, as well. Ours is the first case filed by a state attorney general’s office against text message spammers.”
Under federal law, it is illegal to make calls using an automated dialing system, such as the one used by Dinav Holding in the May incident, without first obtaining the permission of those being called. Washington state’s law, CEMA, prohibits commercial text messages to mobile phones. A violation of CEMA is an automatic violation of the state’s Consumer Protection Act.
Selis points out that many people have mobile phone plans that charge per text message. Others have plans that include a limited number of texts. Subscribers of such plans pay extra for going over a set number. Given that there was no way for consumers to avoid Dinav’s texts, many consumers ended up incurring charges when they received the spam. That wasn’t the only problem, say McKenna and Selis.
When Washington residents received Dinav’s texts, some likely clicked on the links promising easy money. When they did, they were required to fill out personal information and click a button labeled “Send Me Cash!” They landed on a Web page that proclaimed, “CONGRATULATIONS! You have been matched with the best loan providers in Washington.” But McKenna and Selis say the payday loan providers listed are not licensed to make payday loans in Washington state.
The lawsuit, filed in United States District Court in Western Washington, names as defendants owners Jonathan Charles Diaz and Juan Carlos Diaz, of Orlando, Florida. The father and son team own Dinav Holdings, Inc. The suit seeks penalties of $500 per violation of CEMA and the TCPA, and up to $2,000 per violation in civil penalties available under Washington state law. It also seeks to recover costs and attorney's fees.
Janelle Guthrie, Director of Communications, (360) 586-0725