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(SACRAMENTO) - Attorney General Bill Lockyer today filed the first consumer protection lawsuit on behalf of the state targeting "spamming," the practice of sending unsolicited, commercial e-mails in violation of state law. The suit names a California company and its two owners/operators.
"Spamming is the scourge of the Information Age. It burdens the Internet system, costs individuals and businesses an estimated $8 billion a year and is extremely annoying to those who find their e-mails clogged with electronic junk mail," Lockyer said. "In filing this action, we are sounding a warning that we will track down and prosecute those who send illegal spam."
Named as defendants are Paul Willis of Northridge and Claudia Griffin of Canyon Country, as well as their company, PW Marketing LLC. The defendants are alleged to have sent millions of illegal, unsolicited commercial e-mails promoting products that the company claims will help others make money through spamming. The company's unsolicited e-mails advertise books, software and lists of e-mail addresses, including one list purported to contain only e-mail addresses of California residents.
Filed in Santa Clara County Superior Court, the lawsuit alleges the company violated various California consumer protection statutes that prohibit the sending of spam, using false addresses in advertising, failing to disclose required information, engaging in untrue or deceptive advertising and engaging in unfair business competition.
Since 1998, California has prohibited individuals and companies from sending commercial e-mail to those who have neither requested nor consented to receive the e-mail, or with whom they do not have an existing business or personal relationship, unless:
* The sender has either established a toll-free telephone number that recipients can call to stop future e-mails or included a valid e-mail address that recipients can contact to stop future e-mails;
* And the subject line of the e-mail begins with the four characters "ADV:" designating it as commercial communication, or "ADV:ADLT" designating it as sexual, adult material.
The state lawsuit seeks an injunction prohibiting the owners from engaging in the unlawful activities and civil penalties of $2,500 for each violation of state law by both individual defendants, or at least $2 million.
The lawsuit filed against Willis, Griffin and PW Marketing is the first that the office has brought on behalf of the people of California. The Attorney General's Office recently defended the constitutionality of the California statute in a friend of the court brief in a case brought against spammers by private individuals. In that case, Ferguson v. Friendfinders, Inc., (2002) 94 Cal.App.4th 1255, the First District Court of Appeal in San Francisco ruled that California's anti-spam law is constitutional.
Lockyer noted spam cases can be difficult to investigate. "It is costly and time-consuming to track down spammers who often hide their identities and locations by routing, or 'relaying,' their solicitations through unsuspecting or unprotected Internet Service Providers (ISPs) or the mail servers of innocent third parties," he said.
Even when spammers include mailing addresses and phone numbers that make it easier to track them, prosecutors need the help of consumers. Under California law, spam is not illegal unless it is actually received by a California resident. Lockyer encouraged California consumers who believe they are targets of illegal commercial e-mails to contact their local prosecutors or file complaints with the Attorney General's Office.
Consumers can help in the Attorney General's anti-spam enforcement efforts by furnishing examples. The Attorney General's web site also has available other consumer protection information. Californians can file consumer complaints using the online form or by writing the Public Inquiry Unit at P.O. Box 944255, Sacramento, CA 94244-2550, or calling 1-800-952-5225.