The Federal Trade Commission is seeking to halt deceptive spamming activities that have promised consumers free gift cards for big-name retailers, like Walmart, Best Buy and Target.
The agency announced Thursday that it filed eight complaints in U.S. district courts in Chicago, Houston, Atlanta and Los Angeles to dismantle several rings of spammers.
In the complaints, the FTC charged 29 defendants, including several businesses, and 18 individuals with sending more than 180 million unwanted texts to consumers.
The texts contained links that took users to sites were they were guided to enter personal information, sometimes including Social Security numbers or credit card information, to claim gift cards that supposedly were worth up to $1,000, the FTC contended. The spammers made money by selling the consumer data to third-party companies.
In addition to the alleged spammers, businesses or individuals that operated the deceptive sites that promised the “free” gift cards were also named in complaints.
“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,” said a Thursday news release from the FTC. “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.”
Among the list of individuals named for their involvement in the scams was Phillip Flora, who worked with Seaside Building Marketing, and was barred by the FTC in 2011 from spamming consumers with texts.
The FTC is pursuing a contempt of court action against Flora for his purported continued involvement in these operations. Two years ago, the agency charged Flora with delivering 85 texts per minute to consumers – often leaving them to pay the fees for such occurrences.