"Consumers were also told on these websites that they were going to receive a free $1,000 gift card for going to the sites, and that turned out not to be true," Wernikoff said. "We haven't seen an instance where a consumer actually received a free gift card."
The defendants also broke the law by spamming consumers' text messages to begin with. Sending unsolicited, commercial texts is generally banned by the FTC, as consumers typically either pay for each one received or have a monthly cap. This type of spam imposes a real cost on customers; even if it's only 10 cents per individual, by the time a company has sent out tens of millions, the numbers add up.
Unfortunately, while the FTC can shut down this type of illegal activity, it's much harder to make the victims whole.
"This is a tricky case as far as trying to get money back to the consumers," Wernikoff said, emphasizing that the widespread but often minor nature of the injury makes it much harder to compensate victims. Indeed, it's often difficult to even identify who the victims are in a matter like this, although as the lawsuit progresses the FTC anticipates that will become more clear.
The commission also expects to have more information regarding the defendants in this case once discovery is complete. Currently the complaint names marketing firms Acquinity Interactive, Worldwide Commerce Associates, RevenuePath Limited and the Firebrand Group, S.L. of Nevada along with several of their directors and officers. According to Wernikoff, however, the FTC is continuing its investigation to decide whether any further defendants will be named.
More information regarding text message spam is available at the FTC's website
. Still, a good rule of thumb is to just keep it simple: if someone is promising you $1,000 free, there's almost always a catch.
--Written by Eric Reed for MainStreet