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Microsoft, Washington state to sue 'scareware' pushers

By Robert McMillan
September 26, 2008 12:00 PM ET

IDG News Service - Microsoft Corp. and Washington state are cracking down on scammers who bombard computer users with fake warning messages in the hope of selling them useless software.

On Monday, the state's attorney general and lawyers from Microsoft's Internet Safety Enforcement team will announce several lawsuits against so-called "scareware" vendors, who are being charged under Washington's Computer Spyware Act.

The vendors targeted by the lawsuits aren't being named until Monday, but the attorney general's office referred to them in a media alert sent out Friday as "aggressive marketers of scareware — useless computer programs that bilk consumers by using pop-up ads to warn about nonexistent, yet urgent-sounding computer flaws."

This isn't the first time that Microsoft and Washington's attorney general have teamed up to fight scareware. In early 2006, they jointly sued Secure Computer LLC, a security software company they accused of using fake error messages to scare users into buying its Spyware Cleaner software. Secure Computer eventually paid $1 million to settle the charges.

Washington's attorney general has also brought lawsuits against companies such as Securelink Networks and High Falls Media, as well as the makers of a product called QuickShield, all of which were accused of marketing their products using deceptive techniques such as fake alert messages.

Fake alert messages can be effective. Earlier this week, researchers at North Carolina State University reported that computer users are highly likely to click on fake Windows error messages. In their study, nearly two-thirds of respondents clicked "OK" when presented with a phony Windows pop-up message.

The use of these fake messages is a growing problem on the Internet, said Katherine Tassi, Washington's assistant attorney general, in an interview earlier this week. Scammers are "getting more and more creative, and putting more and more effort into making them look like security messages," she said.

The most prevalent scareware program in circulation today is software called Antivirus XP 2008, according to Alex Eckelberry, president of Sunbelt Software Inc. Often installed on a PC without proper notification, the software bombards victims with fake security warnings, trying to convince them to buy worthless programs that sometimes even harm their PCs.

Reprinted with permission from Story copyright 2014 International Data Group. All rights reserved.
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