The Federal Trade Commission is cracking down on affiliate marketers that allegedly bombarded consumers with hundreds of millions of unwanted spam text messages to steer them towards deceptive websites falsely promising “free” gift cards.
In eight different complaints filed in courts around the United States, the FTC charged 29 defendants with collectively sending more than 180 million unwanted text messages to consumers, many of whom had to pay for receiving the texts. The messages promised consumers free gifts or prizes, including gift cards worth $1,000 to major retailers such as Best Buy, Walmart and Target. Consumers who clicked on the links in the messages found themselves caught in a confusing and elaborate process that required them to give sensitive personal information, apply for credit or pay to subscribe to services to get the supposedly “free” cards.
“Today’s announcement says ‘game over’ to the major league scam artists behind millions of spam texts,” said Charles A. Harwood, Acting Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “The FTC is committed to rooting out this deception and stopping it. For consumers who find spam texts on their phones, delete them, immediately. The offers are, in a word, garbage.”
The FTC complaints targeted defendants who sent the unwanted text messages, as well as those who operated the deceptive websites. In addition, the FTC is pursuing a contempt action against a serial text message spammer, Phil Flora, who was barred in 2011 from sending spam text messages and who is accused of being part of this spam texting scheme as well.
The Commission’s complaints seek restraining orders against the defendants preventing them from continuing their alleged deceptive and unfair practices as well as preserving and accounting for their assets.
▪ Report the spam to your carrier free of charge by copying the text and sending it to SPAM (7726). This service is available for AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon customers.
▪ Download spam-blocking apps for your Android device such as Mr. Number, Call Blocker, Anti-SMS Spam, and SMS Filter.
▪ AT&T members can pay $4.99 per month to subscribe to the Smart Limits for Wireless program which helps customers selectively control text messages. Customers can block up to 30 numbers and choose how many text messages can be sent.
▪ Sprint customers have many options when it comes to blocking text spam. By texting commands to 9999, they can block all messages from specific email addresses, senders who use numeric short codes, and particular internet domains.
▪ For T-Mobile users, all text messages can be blocked at no charge, but they cannot block texts from specific senders except for spammers who use PCs to send the messages.
▪ Verizon members can use the company’s Spam Controls tools found on its website to block unwanted messages. Up to 15 e-mail addresses and internet domains can be blocked. Keep in mind that after 90 these will be unblocked, but can be reinstated.