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Fake Anti-Spyware Makers Settle Fraud Charges

Two supposed anti-spyware companies that used misleading ads to frighten consumers into purchasing software to eliminate non-existent threats have settled deceptive trade practice charges brought by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

The civil lawsuits targeted the makers of the "SpywareAssassin" and "Spykiller" software titles. According to the FTC's complaint, Spyware Assassin and its many "affiliate" marketers used Web sites and e-mail, banner and pop-up ads to drive users to its site, which offered free spyware scans.

The scans invariably told consumers their computers were infested with spyware, whether they actually were or not. Consumers who freaked out and paid the $30 for the software were no better off after having done so, the FTC said, because the "protection" software was a worthless pile of garbage.

SpyKiller went a step further, the FTC said, by using banner ads and pop-ups to tell consumers their machines had been remotely scanned and that spyware had been detected. Again, frightened users who fell for the ruse and paid $40 for the software got sold a bill of goods, the FTC said.

The FTC also accused  SpyKiller of sending junk e-mail ads using bogus "From:" addresses without providing a postal address or giving recipients a way to refuse future mailings, all violations of the CAN-SPAM Act.

It is not at all uncommon for the makers of these types of what I call "scareware" to produce multiple products that all use the same "engine" (for want of a better word) but are branded and marketed separately. A great place for finding everything you ever wanted to know and more about how these different products are related can be found over at SpywareWarrior.com.

In the case of Spykiller, for example, we can see that it is essentially the same product as Adware Filter, AdwareX and Adware Safe, all of which SpywareWarrior warns produce scans that "are almost worthless information-wise."

Under the terms of the settlement, both companies will be required to cough up all profits from scareware sold, which the FTC said amounted to about $2 million. One set of defendants will be barred from selling or marketing any anti-spyware product or service in the future.

For anyone interested in reading more about the brazenness of the scareware industry (with some nice pictures to boot) check out the most recent post over at Mark Russinovich's Sysinternals blog.

I've said it before but it bears repeating: Do your research before you buy (much less install) any software title, especially those that claim to affect some level of security on your computer.

By Brian Krebs  |  January 5, 2006; 1:50 PM ET
Categories:  Fraud  
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