The action, filed Thursday in King County Superior Court in Seattle, charges that Jason Heckel, the owner of a company called Natural Instincts, violated the law by sending out messages with forged return addresses and misleading subject lines, along with using a third party's domain name without permission. "Washington Internet users were bombarded by this spammer with e-mail advertisements for a get-rich-quick scheme," state Attorney General Christine Gregoire said in a statement. "Consumers didn't know where the message was coming from and weren't told in the subject line of the message what it was about." The messages "clearly crossed the boundary from being annoying to being illegal," Gregoire said.
The lawsuit seeks a restraining order against Heckel and his Salem, Oregon-based company, along with fines of $2,000 per message sent to Washington residents, along with attorney's fees.
As with many spam messages, the e-mail in this case advertised a bulk e-mail service. The solicitations were sent under the subject line "Did I get the right e-mail address?" and offered customers access to 50,000 e-mail addresses for $39.95, according to the Attorney General's office.
The anti-spam group Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial E-mail applauded the action.
"When a spammer violates Washington state's law by forging contact information and using a misleading subject line, they should be pursued and punished," said CAUCE Chairman Scott Mueller. "It is a fraudulent business practice and should be treated just as severely as fraud in the offline world."
Washington is one of a handful of states to enact anti-spam laws, along with California and Nevada, and the Federal Trade Commission has also zeroed in on spam as a major problem for consumers using the Internet.