The US Federal Trade Commission has charged 29 individuals who allegedly sent millions of spam text messages to phone users promising "free" prizes. The defendants are reportedly responsible for sending more than 180 million unwanted messages to random phone numbers, including many victims without a texting plan, forcing them to pay for the message. It's estimated that 12% of US users lack a texting plan.
The spam tempted users with the promise of free goods including gift cards worth up to $1,000 for major retailers such as Best Buy, Walmart and Target. Those who took the bait were sent to unsavory sites that requested a large amount of private information including medical and financial details.
After providing that data, victims were prompted to sign up for a dozen or so "offers," some of which were recurring subscriptions that demanded the person's credit card information so they could be charged later. Others were simply credit card applications that could affect the person's credit rating.
After jumping through those hoops, the folks who weren't scared off had to convince three other people to apply for various offers before supposedly getting their reward. It's unclear if anyone actually received anything, but we assume not. Regardless, the FTC says the operators violated FTC Act by not telling consumers about the strings attached, especially the fact that they might have to spend money.
The agency has filed eight complaints in federal courts across the country, mostly against small companies. Among those charged is Phillip A. Flora, a serial text spammer who was banned from sending unsolicited texts in 2011. He could face felony charges for violating that federal court order.
"Today's announcement says 'game over' to the major league scam artists behind millions of spam texts," the FTC said. "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."