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Washington state's first spam suit

The attorney general uses the state's four-month-old antispam law to go after a business called Natural Instincts.

Using Washington's four-month-old antispam law, the state's attorney general today filed the first state lawsuit against a spammer.

Attorney General Christine Gregoire filed the suit in King County Superior Court against a Salem, Oregon, business that is alleged to have used "false and misleading information when sending unsolicited commercial email to Washington residents," according to a press statement issued by the office.

The suit alleges that the business Natural Instincts and its owner, Jason Heckel, sent spam to millions of Net users--including Washington state residents--in an attempt to sell his book, How to Profit From the Internet.

The Washington law, signed March 25 and enacted June 11, makes it illegal for junk emailers to forge headers, hijack other email systems, or otherwise "misrepresent the messages' point of origin."

It allows individuals and Internet service providers to sue bulk emailers who send spam that violates the law to anyone in the state. Individuals can sue for up to $500 each time the statute is violated, and ISPs can sue for $1,000.

While antispammers have long backed enactment of national legislation, they are using state laws to fight unsolicited bulk email until federal recourse is available. California recently passed what are considered to be two of the most stringent pieces of such legislation.

Because it is almost impossible for spammers to know which states all their recipients live in, state laws are seen as an important weapon in the spam wars.

This is not the first time that the Washington state law has been used, but it is the first time that an agency representing a state has used it. In July, a Washington state resident received the first legal settlement in conjunction with the Washington state law. Another resident tried to sue a spammer but was having a tough time finding him.

"Washington Internet users were bombarded by this spammer with email advertisements for a get-rich-quick scheme," 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. His spam clearly crossed the boundary from being annoying to being illegal."

The suit goes on to allege that Heckel used a "misleading" subject line that read, "Did I get the right email address?" to entice recipients to open his message. But when they clicked on the email, they discovered a sales pitch for a $39.95 product.

The suit also alleges Heckel used an invalid return address, a common occurrence with spam.

Spammers have become increasingly deceptive with headers, in an effort to get people to click on their email. Sometimes they will start headers with "Re" making it appear as if they are replying or will use subjects like, "Sorry I missed your call."