Microsoft and the attorney-general of Washington State on Monday announced that they are teaming up to curb the spread of so-called scareware pop-up advertisements. These insidious pop-ups warn consumers that their PCs are in risk, often using windows that are styled to look like part of the operating system. When fooled by such scams, consumers often pay for tools that fix largely imaginary problems on their PCs. These tools are rarely needed and infrequently perform any useful functions.
"It's a blatant rip off of consumers," Washington State attorney general Rob McKenna said in a news conference Monday, at which he announced legal action against several scareware firms. "We won't tolerate the use of alarmist warnings or deceptive 'free scans' to trick consumers into buying software to fix a problem that doesn't even exist."
So far, the state of Washington has filed lawsuits against Branch Software and AlphaRed, companies that market a scareware product called Registry Cleaner XP. But Microsoft said that it, too, was prepping lawsuits against several other companies outside of Washington State for similar violations. One such company is called Registry Update.
Scareware vendors are violating Washington State's anti-spyware law, which states that it is illegal to deceive computer users and misrepresent the state of a user's PC. They also violate the Consumer Protection Act, a law which supports unlimited damages. Defendants face penalties of up to $2,000 per violation.