Attorney General Christine Gregoire Thursday, July 11, filed a lawsuit against two Minnesota men whose e-mail pitches for debt consolidation services could mislead some people to think their credit ratings are at risk.
The lawsuit, filed in King County Superior Court, accuses Samuel and Adam Meltzer and their companies, Chippynet.com and Mobydns.com, of sending possibly thousands of deceptive e-mails to Washington residents in violation of the state's groundbreaking anti-spam law.
The lawsuit alleges the Meltzers use deceptive subject lines, such as "Payment Past Due," "Check Unclaimed," and "URGENT - Account Update," to entice recipients to open the e-mails.
The e-mail directs consumers to a website that promotes debt consolidation services. Investigators say the websites change names frequently to avoid easy detection.
"As with most e-mail spam, the defendants try to make people believe they are receiving important information from a business with which they already have a relationship. Instead, consumers find nothing but a commercial pitch," Gregoire said.
The Meltzers, the lawsuit alleges, also use deceptive sender information in the "from" field of the e-mails, such as "Collections Department" and "Payment Department."
"When e-mail spam is misleading and deceptive, it's more than just annoying. In Washington, it's illegal. This action serves as notice to spammers that they could face lawsuits if they send deceptive messages to Washington consumers, " Gregoire said.
The lawsuit contends the e-mails violate the state's Unsolicited Electronic Mail Act, which outlaws misleading and deceptive subject lines and false sender information that conceals the e-mails' true source.
The Attorney General's Office has received about 19 complaints about the unsolicited e-mails from the Meltzers, and attorneys suspect that thousands of Washington residents have received illegal e-mail messages from the pair.
Attorneys are asking for a court order permanently barring further deceptive commercial e-mails and are seeking an unspecified amount of civil penalties.
The lawsuit is just the latest effort by Gregoire's office to combat illegal e-mail spam.
The Attorney General's Office is currently developing a comprehensive program to educate the public about what type of unsolicited commercial e-mail violates the law and what consumers can do to avoid it.
Specifically, the law prohibits unsolicited commercial e-mail that contains misleading information in its subject line, uses a third party's domain name without permission or misrepresents the message's point of origin.
To avoid it, consumers should avoid submitting their e-mail address online, refrain from responding to any spam e-mail, and should create separate e-mail accounts and screen names -- one for private, personal use and the other to make online purchases or to visit chatrooms.
In September, a trial in the first case to be brought against an e-mail spammer is scheduled to begin in King County Superior Court. That case has been pending while the state's Unsolicited Electronic Mail Act, which was passed by the Legislature in 1998, was challenged. The law was upheld by the Washington state Supreme Court last year.