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2/27/2007
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Cell Phone Spammer Slammed With $200,000 Fine

After a year-and-a-half-long legal battle, Verizon Wireless wins a permanent injunction against Specialized Programming and Marketing and its owner.

Verizon Wireless has won a permanent injunction against a company that sent nearly 100,000 spam messages to cell phone users tempting them with a cruise to the Bahamas.

In a default judgment against Specialized Programming and Marketing and its owner Charles Henderson, the court prohibited them from sending any more spam to Verizon Wireless customers and to pay damages of more than $200,000, according to a company release.

"Text messaging is a great and increasingly popular way to communicate, but unwanted or unsolicited text message spam to our customers' handsets is unacceptable," said Steve Zipperstein, a VP at Verizon Wireless, in a statement.

Sending unsolicited text message spam to wireless phones using auto-dialing technology violates the Federal Telephone Consumer Protection Act. Auto-dialing is set up to send large bursts of text messages to sequential phone numbers within short periods of time.

Verizon Wireless reports that it initially filed the suit against Passport Holidays in October 2005 in U.S. District Court in Trenton, N.J., alleging that Passport arranged and coordinated the sending of the text messages to Verizon Wireless customers. The message urged people to take action to claim a Bahamas cruise prize. In February 2006, the telecom company filed an amended complaint, after officials from Passport Holidays named Specialized Programming and Marketing and Henderson as the company and individual that sent out the spam messages that formed the basis for the suit.

A permanent injunction against further spamming by Passport Holidays was entered last winter as the result of a settlement between Verizon Wireless and Passport Holidays. The settlement also required Passport to pay $10,000, which Verizon Wireless then donated to the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

"Misguided companies may be tempted to exploit modern technology in their attempt to get marketing messages in front of their potential audience, but spamming mobile phones is not acceptable," said Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant for Sophos, in a statement. "SMS text spam is a tiny problem compared to conventional e-mail spam, but it is growing. Users should report SMS abuse to their phone network providers and think carefully before acting upon unsolicited text messages."

SMS is an abbreviation for short message service, which refers to text messages sent to cell phones.

Last month, Sophos reported that a Florida couple were being sued for sending 5 million spam messages to cell phones advertising time shares.

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