The suit is not the first legal action accusing a prominent online company of deception. In 2003, Bonzi Software settled a class action lawsuit that alleged its banner ads (which mimicked Windows operating system warnings) were deceptive. And in January, Member Source Media agreed to pay $200,000 to settle a Federal Trade Commission complaint about the company's spam messages that promised consumers, "Congratulations. You've won an iPod video player."
While the FTC and state attorneys general have handled some deceptive advertising claims, in tight financial times the burden of online fraud fighting is increasingly falling on class-action attorneys, according to Kamber.
"Attorney General offices are seriously under budget pressure and federal enforcement in last eight last years has not been picking up the slack for the state budget issues," Kamber said. "That leaves class action attorneys on the front line of technology in the consumer area."
Neither Classmates.com nor Michaels' law firm, Kabateck, Brown and Kellner, responded to requests for comment.
Attorney Erik Sinrod, a partner at Duane Morris in San Francisco and a legal columnist at Findlaw, says that legitmate companies make a better target for lawsuits than outright scammers, like those sending fraudulent offers of long-lost Nigerian fortunes.
"Classmates.com is not some fly-by-night company -- it is a real service, not something being operated by unknown people offshore," Sinrod said. "So they are subject to U.S. law and regulators if they are conduct themselves improperly."