An operation that uses the lure of free lyric files, browser upgrades, and ring tones to download spyware and adware on consumers’ computers has been ordered to halt its illegal downloads by a U.S. District Court at the request of the Federal Trade Commission. The court also halted the deceptive downloads of an affiliate who helped spread the malicious software by offering blogs free background music. The music code downloaded by the blogs was bundled with a program that flashed warnings to consumers who visited the blog sites about the security of their computer systems. Consumers who opted to upgrade by clicking, downloaded the spyware onto their computers. The court has frozen the organization’s assets pending a further hearing. The FTC will seek to bar the deceptive and unfair practices permanently and require the operators to give up their ill-gotten gains.
The FTC complaint alleges that the Web sites of the defendants and their affiliates cause “installation boxes” to pop up on consumers’ computer screens. In one variation of the scheme, the installation boxes offer a variety of “freeware,” including music files, cell phone ring tones, photographs, wallpaper, and song lyrics. In another, the boxes warn that consumers’ Internet browsers are defective, and claim to offer free browser upgrades or security patches. Consumers who download the supposed freeware or security upgrades do not receive what they are promised; instead, their computers are infected with spyware.
The agency’s complaint alleges that the defendants’ software code tracks consumers’ Internet comings and goings; changes consumers’ preferred home page settings; inserts new toolbars onto consumers’ browsers; inserts a large side “frame”or “window” onto consumers’ browser windows that in turn displays ads; and displays pop-up ads on consumers’ computer screens, even when consumers’ Internet browsers are not activated. In addition, the agency alleges that once the spyware is loaded on consumers’ computers, it interferes with the functioning of the computer and is difficult for consumers to uninstall or remove.
The FTC alleges the practices are unfair and deceptive and violate the FTC Act. The agency will seek a permanent ban on the practices, and redress for consumers.
This case was brought with the invaluable assistance of the Microsoft Corporation, Webroot Software, Inc., and Google Incorporated.
Defendants named in the FTC complaint are Enternet Media, Inc.; Conspy & Co., Inc., Lida Rohbani, also known as Linda Rohhani and Lida Hakimi; Nima Hakimi; Baback (Babak) Hakimi, also known as Bobby Rohbani and Bobby Hakimi, individually and doing business as Networld One, all based in California which used exploitative code called: “Search Miracle,” “Miracle Search,” “EM Toolbar,” “EliteBar,” and “Elite Toolbar.” The defendants do business as “Enternet Media, Inc.,” “Enternet,” “www.searchmiracle.com,” “www.c4tdownload.com,” and “www.cash4toolbar.com”. The affiliate, also charged in the complaint, is Nicholas C. Albert, doing business as Iwebtunes and www.iwebtunes.com, based in Ohio.
The FTC has set up two ways for consumers who have had experience with these defendants to contact the FTC with any information that may be relevant to the FTC’s action. Consumers can send email to email@example.com or call 202-326-2992 to leave messages.
The Commission vote to file the complaint was 4-0. It was filed in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, in Los Angeles.
Steps consumers can take to reduce their risk of spyware infection include:
- Update your operating system and Web browser software, and set your browser security high enough to detect unauthorized downloads.
- Use anti-virus software and a firewall, and keep them up-to-date.
- Download free software only from sites you know and trust. Enticing free software downloads frequently bundle other software, including spyware.
- Don’t click on links inside pop-up windows.
- Don’t click on links in spam that claim to offer anti-spyware software; you may unintentionally be installing spyware.
- Consider using anti-spyware software.
To learn more about spyware, including how to avoid it, visit www.OnGuardOnline.gov/spyware.
NOTE: The Commission files a complaint when it has “reason to believe” that the law has been or is being violated, and it appears to the Commission that a proceeding is in the public interest. The complaint is not a finding or ruling that the defendant has actually violated the law. The case will be decided by the court.
Copies of the complaint are available from the FTC’s Web site at http://www.ftc.gov and also from the FTC’s Consumer Response Center, Room 130, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20580. The FTC works for the consumer to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices in the marketplace and to provide information to help consumers spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint in English or Spanish (bilingual counselors are available to take complaints), or to get free information on any of 150 consumer topics, call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357), or use the complaint form at http://www.ftc.gov. The FTC enters Internet, telemarketing, identity theft, and other fraud-related complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to hundreds of civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.
(FTC File No. 052-3135)
- Media Contact:
Claudia Bourne Farrell
Office of Public Affairs
- Staff Contact:
- Mona Spivack and Tara M. Flynn
Bureau of Consumer Protection
202-326-3795 or 202-326-3710