Lawsuit targets 'deceptive' banner ads

An Internet company that allegedly duped millions of computer users into visiting its Web site by causing fake error messages to pop up on their screens has been slapped with a class action lawsuit seeking millions of dollars in damages.

The complaint accuses Internet portal Bonzi.com of tricking users into visiting its Web site by creating pop-up banner advertisements disguised as security alerts or other computer system warnings. When users click on the advertisements they are unwittingly directed to Bonzi's Web site where the company hopes to sell them software and other products, the suit charges.

"The success of defendant's deceptive pirating of innocent users computers is demonstrated in Bonzi.com's being vaulted to the level of third most frequently 'visited' website in the world," according to the suit, filed in the Washington State Superior Court of Spokane County.

The suit seeks class action status on behalf of all users in the U.S. who encountered the deceptive ads. It asks the court to ban the site's operator from the practice and award US$500 to each affected user, as well as $5 for each deceptive banner advertisement issued. It says the company issued more than 300 million of the advertisements.

Named in the suit are Bonzi Software, which operates the site, and its chief executives. They are accused of profiteering through false pretense, false representation, and actual fraud. The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The banner advertisements used the familiar blue and gray interface of Windows system alerts and bore messages such as: "Security Alert: Your computer is currently broadcasting an Internet IP address. With this address, someone can immediately begin attacking your computer!"

When users click the "OK" button to close the box they are directed to the Bonzi.com portal, which offers a shopping mall, movie reviews and other content.

The lawsuit was filed by Lukins & Annis P.S. of Spokane, Washington. Users who want to be part of the suit or find more information can visit http://www.lukins.com/bonzi.

"The Internet has unfortunately become a cornucopia for deceptive business practices," the law firm said in a statement Tuesday. "Class-based civil litigation will hopefully establish that the Internet is not, as some think, a sanctuary for those who engage in deception."

The Spokane County judge will be charged with determining whether the lawsuit merits class action status and should be allowed to proceed.

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James Niccolai

IDG News Service

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