Cataloger's Suit Charges E-Mail List Was Stolen

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A start-up cataloger of women's swimwear and clothing and a consultant are being sued by a competitor alleging misappropriation of a customer e-mail list.


The case was filed March 28 in Duval County, FL, against Ultama Swimwear LLC, Jacksonville, FL, consultant William A. Retana and his company, Retana Designs Co.


Daryle V. Scott, president of Venus Swimwear Inc., Jacksonville, contends that Retana -- a former Venus employee who spent 2 1/2 years as its Web master -- is "the most likely source of those names ... since he is the one who designed their Web site, and he had access to the names while working for us."


Scott said Retana was released in March 2002 as the position was discontinued.


"We have strong evidence [and] sworn affidavits from decoys planted in the e-mail list as well as customers that our list is being used without permission by Ultama Swimwear," Scott said. "I have 45 confirmations from customers and four decoys that all say they've gotten the Ultama e-mail despite no prior contact whatsoever with Ultama. ... It's a start-up company that is strikingly similar to ours."


Ultama Swimwear president Lester Jackson said yesterday that he had not been served with the lawsuit.


"It's hard for me to comment on something other than as something I saw in a newspaper article [in the Jacksonville Times-Union]," Jackson said. "I don't want to comment until I see what the case is about. We're a small company that's been in business for about 45 days."


A message left for Retana was not returned.


Scott said his company has never rented or sold its e-mail list, citing a privacy policy stating that the names will never be released.


"We plant our e-mail list with decoys for the sole purpose of being able to track the usage of the list to make sure it's not being misused or abused or used in some way without our permission," he said.


"We think the one that disappeared was in the range of 200,000 names," he said, "and that's the one [Retana] last had access to, which was the full e-mail list at the time he left, which represented virtually all Web buyers."


Scott estimated the current size of the list at 300,000. He said the company valued its list, when it was 200,000 names, in excess of $12 million.


Scott cited two issues: the loss of customers who may buy "their products as opposed to ours," and the more important issue regarding the privacy guarantee.


"This has the potential to deter future sales from customers who won't share information with us as a result of this breach," he said. "We spend a lot of time and money building these lists. We began to build the e-mail list [in 1998]."


Scott provided what he said were two e-mails sent by Ultama. One he said was sent in January, inviting recipients to "Sign up now for your 2003 Complimentary Catalog!" and "Click here to enjoy a sneak preview of our 2003 Swimwear Collection." He also said one was sent in March that announced, "Grand Opening. Click here and see the exciting new look for Spring Break 2003." Photos of women wearing two-piece bathing suits provided the dominant images in both e-mails.


Venus Swimwear has been in business 21 years and distributes more than 35 million catalogs annually. Last year it produced $89 million in sales with one-third of its sales generated via venusswimwear.com. It has 300 employees, including 100 at its call center, with another 150 employees at its manufacturing operations in Jacksonville and Watertown, NY.


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