Twelve defendants that allegedly operated Web sites enticing consumers with bogus offers of "free $1,000 gift cards" for major retailers have agreed to pay $2.5 million in settlements with the Federal Trade Commission.
The settlements will require the defendants to give up the full amount of money they made as a result of the scam, as follows:
- All Square Marketing LLC; Threadpoint LLC; PC Global Investments LLC; Slash 20 LLC; Matthew Cook, Robert Nicolosi, Christopher McVeigh and Michael Mazzella are required to give up $1,320,000.
- SubscriberBASE Holdings Inc.; SubscriberBASE Inc.; Jeffery French and Jason Liester are required to give up $1,180,000.
The FTC alleged that the South Carolina- and California-based corporate defendants hired affiliate marketers to send millions of spam text messages to consumers around the country. With links to the defendants sites, the messages included text such as, "Dear Walmart shopper, your purchase last month won a $1000 Walmart Gift Card, go to [Web site address] within 24 hours to claim."
"This case halts a nationwide operation that took in millions of dollars by promising consumers free gift cards that it never delivered," said Jessica Rich, director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection. "Were pleased to stop these unwanted messages and protect consumers personal information."
When consumers clicked on the links in the spam text messages, they were taken to landing pages operated by one group of defendants that asked them to register for the free prizes they had been offered. The registration process, the complaint alleges, was actually a method by which the defendants collected information about the consumers that was then sold to third parties.
Once consumers provided this information, they were taken to sites owned by another group of defendants. On these sites, consumers were told that to win the prize they had been offered, they were required to complete a number of so-called offers, many of which involved either paid subscriptions to services, or applying for credit. The complaint alleges that the defendants were paid by the companies that advertised these offers.
All of the defendants will be banned from being involved in the distribution of unwanted spam text messages, as well as from misrepresenting whether a good or service is free or whether a consumer has won a contest or prize.
They are also banned from misleading consumers about why they are collecting consumers personal information, whether the information will be sold, or the extent to which they will protect consumers privacy. The defendants also are prohibited from using consumers personal information collected through the scam, and must destroy that information after Court approval of the settlements.