FTC targets text spammers' 'free gift card' scams

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) building in Washington, D.C.

I don't know about you, but I pay as little attention to cellphone spam as I do to email spam. The last one I got said, "Hey ... check this out," then pointed me to a sketchy-sounding website in Colombia. I closed it without a second thought.

Like email spam, though, it's a thriving enterprise because pays off among some less-skeptical recipients. And worse than email spam, some of the unlucky recipients - those charged by carriers on a per-text basis - are actually paying to be targeted.

On Thursday, the Federal Trade Commission filed eight lawsuits in Illinois, Texas, California and Georgia against 29 companies and individuals it says are behind a sizable slice of the ugliness. Seven of the suits target those accused of sending more than 180 million "unsolicited text messages  containing deceptive promises of free gifts and prizes," the FTC says, and one targets SubscriberBASE Holdings Inc. and nine other companies and individuals it says operated deceptive websites where the victims were directed.

You can find the FTC's announcement and lawsuits here.  The agency said:

The messages promised consumers free gifts or prizes, including gift cards worth $1,000 to major retailers such as Best Buy, Walmart and Target. 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....

"Today's announcement says ‘game over’ to the major league scam artists behind millions of spam texts," said Charles A. Harwood, Acting Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. "The FTC is committed to rooting out this deception and stopping it. For consumers who find spam texts on their phones, delete them, immediately. The offers are, in a word, garbage."

Garbage, of course, is a polite word for what these people are accused of sending.The FTC says  text-message spam, like its email counterpart, is often a device for collecting sensitive personal data used by identity thieves. For the FTC's consumer advice, click here.