By Eric Reed
NEW YORK (
FREE MSG FROM MAINSTREET!!!!! You have been chosen to test & keep a BRAND NEW iPad for free only today!!
You WON! Go to www.mainstreet.com to claim your free $1,000 gift card RIGHT NOW!
If you've received messages like this, or one of many others, you may have been targeted by the latest ring of text message scammers to get shut down by the FTC.
Last Monday the Federal Trade Commission filed a complaint against a network of scam artists working through messages just like the ones above, although without the friendly
label to make your day. According to Steve Wernikoff, an attorney with the FTC who signed the complaint, the scam artists sent out tens of millions of text messages similar to the ones above, all offering free gift cards or prizes for costumers willing to visit their websites. However it never turned out to be that easy.
Then the robo-calls started.
"We've alleged that these companies ran websites where consumers were fooled into providing their personal information," Wernikoff said. "That information was later shared with third parties, and the consumers weren't provided with clear or conspicuous notices of what was happening."
Once in the system, the victims were told that they needed to jump through multiple hoops in order to get their prizes. The websites demanded intensely personal information including names, addresses, credit scores and even health data as a part of the process required to qualify for the allegedly free prize. The defendants, according to FTC filings, then collected this data, sold it to third parties and used it themselves for mass-marketing purposes, most notably in bombarding consumers with robo-calls related to home security, satellite television and travel services.
After consumers entered their personal information they were also asked to participate in a series of offers, once again necessary in order to qualify for the increasingly elusive prize. According to Wernikoff this often included over a dozen "special offers," most of which required either an up front payment or created a series of hidden subscriptions with ongoing fees.
In virtually all cases it would have been impossible for the consumers to receive the allegedly free products without spending any money, had there actually been any prizes in the first place.