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Verizon files lawsuit against Money Warehouse Inc. for unsolicited SMS

Verizon Wireless, as part of its ongoing efforts to protect customer privacy, has filed a lawsuit against Pennsylvania-based Money Warehouse Inc. and other John Does.

Verizon alleges that the company, which was doing business as All State Mortgage Lender, sent at least 800,000 wireless spam messages promoting mortgage products to Verizon Wireless customers and employees beginning in February 2009. The lawsuit, filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Trenton, NJ, alleges these unsolicited messages were sent using an autodialer to randomly generated numbers in violation of the Federal Telephone Consumer Protection Act, which prohibits the use of an autodialer to call mobile phones.

"This is not the first lawsuit that Verizon Wireless has filed against people that have allegedly been spamming our customers illegally -- there have been between eight to 10 of these suits against spammers over the past four to five years, and 20 suits altogether including telemarketers and pretexters," said Debra Lewis, spokeswoman for Verizon Wireless, Basking Ridge, NJ.

"There were more than 800,000 messages we could trace back to this particular company, unsolicited, unwarranted, unwanted messages sent to our customers, and none of our customers opted in to receive these messages that I'm aware of, but the fact that they used an autodialier is illegal," she said.

"It comes back to their methodology, using an autodialer to reach customers is illegal, it's a violation of federal statutes, so we felt it was important to file this suit to protect our customers."

Verizon Wireless operates a wireless voice and data network, serving more than 86.6 million customers, making it the No. 1 carrier in the U.S.

Verizon Wireless is a joint venture of Verizon Communications and Vodafone.

Text messaging represents an increasingly important tool used by wireless customers to stay in touch with colleagues, friends and family, as well as by public safety and emergency medical services personnel across the country.

Verizon Wireless customers exchanged 127 billion text messages in the fourth quarter of 2008, 18.2 billion more than the previous quarter, for an average of more than 1 billion per day.

Wireless spam may hinder the delivery of legitimate messages, and because spam is often sent in high volume over short periods of time, it can place a strain on the overall performance of the wireless network.

The current suit comes at a time when there is increased scrutiny of unsolicited text messages from the U.S. government (see story).

Is the inclusion of a do-not-text registry -- similar to the no-call list -- in a new Senate bill on unsolicited SMS messages a case of legislative overreaction? A solution chasing a problem? (see story)

Since 2004, Verizon Wireless has brought nearly 20 lawsuits against wireless spammers, telemarketers and pretexters, people who call up and pretend to be someone else to get information.

"These suits are all in the same vein of protecting our customers' privacy," Ms. Lewis said.

Verizon Wireless has won permanent injunctions against individuals and companies that have engaged in illegal telemarketing or wireless spamming to Verizon Wireless customers and against those who have attempted to obtain information about Verizon Wireless customers to sell to third parties.

On behalf of its customers, Verizon Wireless has donated tens of thousands of dollars to domestic violence prevention and law enforcement organizations as a result of these settlements.

"At a time when many Americans are concerned about making their mortgage payments, these types of unwanted text messages, from unknown senders, can be upsetting," said Steven Zipperstein, vice president and general counsel at Verizon Wireless, in a statement.

"Our company will continue to work diligently to stop these people who break the law and harass our customers," he said.