The Federal Trade Commission today said it has filed eight court cases to stop companies who have sent over 180 million illegal or deceptive text messages to all manner of mobile users in the past year.
The messages -- of which the FTC said it had received some 20,000 complaints in 2012 -- 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. In some cases if users responded to the texts, they were subjected to other scams.
According to the FTC, once consumers entered their personal information, they were directed to another site and told they would have to participate in a number of "offers" to be eligible for their gift card. In some cases, consumers were obligated to sign up for as many as 13 of the offers. These offers frequently included recurring subscriptions for which consumers were required to provide credit card information. In other cases, they required consumers to submit applications for credit that would be reflected in their credit reports and possibly affect their credit score. If a consumer completed all of the "offers," they were then notified that to get the promised gift card, they had to find three others who also would complete the offers, the FTC stated.
"Today's announcement says 'game over' to the major league scam artists behind millions of spam texts," said Charles Harwood, acting director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection. " 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 FTC complaints were filed against the alleged senders of the unsolicited text messages and included:
- Superior Affiliate Management, a case against five defendants: Ecommerce Merchants, LLC (also doing business as Superior Affiliate Management); Cresta Pillsbury, Jan-Paul Diaz, Joshua Brewer and Daniel Stanitski. This case was filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois in Chicago.
- Rentbro, Inc., a case against three defendants: Rentbro, Inc., Daniel Pessin and Jacob Engel. This case was filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois in Chicago.
- Jason Q. Cruz, a case against one defendant, Jason Q. Cruz (also doing business as Appidemic, Inc.) This case was filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois in Chicago.
- Rishab Verma, a case against two defendants: Verma Holdings, LLC and Rishab Verma. This case was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas in Houston.
- AdvertMarketing, a case against three defendants: AdvertMarketing, Inc., Scott A. Dalrymple and Robert Jerrold Wence. This case was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas in Houston.
- Henry Kelly, a case against one defendant, Henry Nolan Kelly. This case was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia in Atlanta.
- Seaside Building Marketing, a case against four defendants: Phillip Flora, Sandra Skipper, Kevin Beans and Dakota Geffre (all of whom are also doing business as Seaside Building Marketing Inc. and SB Marketing). This case was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California in Los Angeles.
- SubscriberBASE Holdings, Inc., a case against 10 defendants: SubscriberBASE Holdings, Inc.; SubscriberBASE, Inc.; Jeffrey French; All Square Marketing, LLC; Threadpoint, LLC; PC Global Investments, LLC; Slash 20, LLC; Brent Cranmer; Christopher McVeigh (also doing business as CMB Marketing, Inc.) and Michael Mazzella (also doing business as Mazzco Marketing, Inc.). This case was filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois in Chicago.