The Federal Trade Commission announced that it has charged 29 people in eight actions in courts in the United States over text message spam:
The Federal Trade Commission is cracking down on affiliate marketers that allegedly bombarded consumers with hundreds of millions of unwanted spam text messages in an effort 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 provide sensitive personal information, apply for credit or pay to subscribe to services to get the supposedly “free” cards. […]
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.
According to the FTC complaints, the defendants sent text messages to random phone numbers, including to consumers who do not have a text message subscription plan. As many as 12 percent of mobile phone users fall into this category.
When consumers followed the links included in the unwanted messages, they were directed to sites that collected a substantial amount of personal information, including in some instances health information, before being allowed to continue toward receiving the supposed gift cards. […]
The FTC alleged that the operators of these sites violated the FTC Act by failing to tell consumers about all the conditions attached to the “free” gift, including the possibility that consumers would actually be required to spend money to receive the gift.