The FTC today got $10 million to settle charges against three sets of defendants to settle charges that they operated a massive scam that sent unwanted text messages to millions of consumers, many of whom later received illegal robocalls, phony “free” merchandise offers, and unauthorized charges crammed on their mobile phone bills.
The FTC said the settlements were the culmination of an effort to crack down on the senders of unwanted text messages offering consumers “free” gift cards to retailers such as Best Buy, Walmart and Target. The messages contained links to websites that led consumers through a process that the FTC alleges was designed to get consumers’ personal information for sale to marketers, their mobile phone numbers to cram unwanted charges on their bill, and to drive them to paid subscriptions for which the scammers received affiliate referral fees.
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“The operators of this scam bombarded consumers for months with deceptive text messages offering ‘free’ items, but the costs to consumers were very real – including the misuse of their personal information to cram unwanted charges on their phone bills,” said Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection in a statement.
According to the FTC, the settlements involve three groups:
- The defendants in this settlement are Acquinity Interactive, LLC; 7657030 Canada Inc., Garry Jonas, Gregory Van Horn, Revenue Path E-Consulting Pvt, Ltd.; Revenuepath Ltd.; and Sarita Somani. The group is required to pay the FTC $7.8 million and was responsible for millions of illegal text messages, made deceptive claims about “free” merchandise, was responsible for unauthorized charges on mobile phone bills, and assisted and facilitated the sending of illegal robocalls.
- Burton Katz, individually and also doing business as Polling Associates Inc. and Boomerang International, LLC, and Jonathan Smyth, individually and also doing business as Polling Associates Inc. This group is required to pay the FTC $1.4 million. The FTC alleged that this set of defendants was responsible for cramming unauthorized charges on consumers’ mobile phone bills.
- In the third settlement, an $8 million judgment is being suspended due to the defendants’ inability to pay, after they turn over available assets. The FTC alleged that this set of defendants was responsible for making millions of illegal robocalls. Under the settlement, the defendants are required to pay the FTC $100,000, as well as the surrender value of a life insurance policy and proceeds from the sale of: a 2013 Cadillac Escalade, two motorcycles, and a real estate holding in Southern California. The settlement also bans the defendants from illegally telemarketing consumers through robocalling. The defendants in this settlement are Firebrand Group S.L., LLC, Worldwide Commerce Associates, LLC, and Matthew Beucler.
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