NYAG Goes After Spammers

By Erin Joyce

The New York Attorney General’s office has joined the fray against spammers by filing a deceptive business practices lawsuit to stop Niagra Falls, NY-based MonsterHut, Inc., from blasting out any more unsolicited e-mails.

In a lawsuit filed in New York County, the Attorney General’s office charged that MonsterHut, Inc., its Chief Executive Officer Todd Pelow and its Chief Technology Officer Gary Hartl, “fraudulently advertised and misrepresented the company’s e-mail marketing service as ‘permission based’ or ‘opt-in'” when in fact, they were only partly “opt-in.”

The suit also charges that the company routinely sent e-mails to consumers who never asked for any messages from the company.

The suit charges that since March of 2001, MonsterHut has “flooded consumers’ e-mail inboxes with more than 500 million commercial e-mails, advertising a variety of goods and services.

“At the same time, negative consumer response to MonsterHut’s spam has been overwhelming. More than 750,000 consumers have requested to be removed from MonsterHut’s mailing lists, and tens of thousands have complained to MonsterHut’s Internet Access Provider, PaeTec Communications, Inc., of Rochester.”

PaeTec recently cut MonsterHut off its network by charging that it violated an anti-spamming provision in its service level agreement. It wasn’t the first time that PaeTec had tried to cut MonsterHut off, however. A prior action to cut MonsterHut off its network resulted in a lawsuit filed by MonsterHut against PaeTec in March of 2001. But an appeals court ruled in favor of PaeTec earlier this month, which paved the way for the company to boot MonsterHut from its system.

The AG’s action is looking for a court order to enjoin MonsterHut and company executives from “falsely representing the nature of their unsolicited commercial e-mail.” It also looks to require MonsterHut, Pelow and Hartl to disclose how it obtained all the consumers’ e-mail addresses and to for company executives to pay civil penalties and court costs “for its violations of New York’s consumer protection laws.”

Efforts to reach MonsterHut officials for comment by press time were unsuccessful. Its Web site, http://www.monsterhut.com also appeared to be offline.

The AG lawsuit charges that since January of 2001, MonsterHut has “falsely described the lists containing consumer e-mail addresses to which it sends commercial e-mail as ‘permission based,’ ‘100% permission based,’ and ‘permission based…to the best of our knowledge.'”

The Attorney General’s office asserted that such promises that its lists are based on consumers’ giving their e-mail addresses freely were false.

In addition, the suit said the company confirmed that “at least some of its so-called ‘permission-based’/’opt-in’ lists were actually generated using opt-out protocols.” Specifically, the charge said, “MonsterHut has confirmed that it collects e-mail addresses from consumers who have failed to take an affirmative act” in order to opt-out of receiving e-mail marketing messages.

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