The Federal Trade Commission said it has charged 29 defendants for sending 180 million spam text messages to consumers promising free gift cards or prizes.
According to the FTC complaints, the defendants sent text messages to random phone numbers, some of whom were paying to receive texts or did not have a text message subscription plan. The FTC said as many as 12 percent of mobile phone users don't have a text message plan.
"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, in a statement. "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."
When consumers followed links in the text messages, they were directed to submit a "substantial amount of personal information, including in some instances health information, before being allowed to continue toward receiving the supposed gift cards," the FTC said in a statement.
Some of the promised gift cards were valued as high as $1,000 to major retailers like Best Buy, Walmart and Target, the FTC said.
The FTC alleges that "the information collected was then sold to third parties for marketing purposes, meaning consumers were deceived as to the real use of the information," the agency said.
The defendants, many of which are small companies, who sent the text messages were paid by the operators of the "free" gift sites based on the number of consumers who entered their information, the FTC said.
The agency said one defendant, serial text message spammer Phil Flora, was barred in 2011 from sending spam text messages and he's now accused of being part of this spam texting scheme as well.