An affiliate marketer has agreed to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that he was responsible for sending millions of unwanted text messages to consumers that deceptively promised “free” gift cards and electronics.
The marketer, Jason Q. Cruz of West Bend, Wisc., was a subject in a series of FTC complaints targeting the senders of deceptive spam text messages. In its complaint against Cruz, the FTC alleged that he sent text messages to consumers around the country offering free merchandise, such as $1,000 gift cards to major retailers or free iPads, to those who clicked on links in the messages. A typical message read, “You have been selected for a $1,000 Walmart GiftCard, Enter code ‘FREE’ at [website address] to claim your prize: 161 left!”
Consumers who clicked on the links did not receive the “free” merchandise. Instead, consumers were taken to websites that requested personal information and required them to sign up for multiple risky trial offers to qualify for the supposedly “free” merchandise. Most of those trial offers were for questionable products and services that cost money and included recurring monthly charges.
“When scammers use unwanted text messages to entice consumers with deceptive offers, that’s a significant problem,” said Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “Banning a serial spammer like Mr. Cruz from sending unsolicited text messages helps the FTC take a huge cut out of scammers’ efforts to target consumers in this way.”
Under the terms of the stipulated final order, Cruz is permanently banned from sending or assisting others in sending unsolicited text messages to consumers. The order also bans Cruz from deceptively presenting an offer as “free,” and from misleading consumers about the use of their personal information.
The order also includes a judgment of more than $185,000, which represents all of the money Cruz received in connection with the scam. Under the terms of the order, all but $10,000 of the monetary judgment is suspended based on Cruz’s inability to pay the full amount.
In addition, Cruz is required to destroy all consumer information he may have acquired over the course of the scam and cooperate with any further FTC investigations.
The Commission vote approving the proposed stipulated final judgment was 4-0. The FTC filed the stipulated final judgment in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. The District Court judge signed and approved the order on Jan. 16, 2014.
NOTE: Stipulated final judgments have the force of law when approved and signed by the District Court judge.
The Federal Trade Commission works for consumers to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices and to provide information to help spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint in English or Spanish, visit the FTC’s online Complaint Assistant or call 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357). The FTC enters complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to more than 2,000 civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad. The FTC’s website provides free information on a variety of consumer topics. Like the FTC on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, and subscribe to press releases for the latest FTC news and resources.
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