Millions of Americans were peppered with more than 180 million texts that led them to deceptive websites claiming they could win $1,000 gift cards to Walmart, BestBuy and other stores - among other prizes, the Federal Trade Commission said today, announcing a crackdown on the scam.
The FTC filed eight lawsuits against 29 defendants the government says are responsible for the massive onslaught of text messages and the related shady websites. "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," the FTC said.
Anyone who gets such a text should simply delete them, the agency said.
Those who got the texts apparently weren't targeted. Rather, the FTC said, the texts were sent randomly.
If a recipient clicked on a link in the text, the site that landed on would ask for "a substantial amount of personal information, including in some instances health information, before being allowed to continue toward receiving the supposed gift cards."
That information was sold, the FTC said, to "third parties for marketing purposes."
After the personal information stage, the FTC said, participants would then be shuttled to another website where they were told that to receive the gift card they would have to sign up for subscriptions and an array of other "offers."
Even if they did that, the FTC said, they would still have to get three others to do the same before they could qualify for a gift card.
"The FTC alleged that the operators of these sites violated the FTC Act by failing to tell consumers about all the conditions attached to the 'free' gift, including the possibility that consumers would actually be required to spend money to receive the gift," the agency said.
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About the author
Mitch Lipka is one of America's leading consumer journalists and advocates. He is an expert in product safety, recalls, scams, and helping consumers get out of jams. He is a nationally known consumer columnist and runs TheConsumerChronicle.com. He lives in Worcester. You can find him on Facebook or reach him at ConsumerNews@Aol.com