FTC turns crosshairs on text message spammers

The Federal Trade Commission has filed complaints against 29 defendants, who sent a total of 180 million ‘unwanted’ and ‘deceptive’ texts, the FTC says.

An employee holds the Apple iPhone 4s and Samsung's Galaxy S III at a store in Seoul in this file photo from August 24, 2012.

Text spam hasn’t yet reached the plague-like proportions of old-fashioned email spam. Still, it’s a pain in the neck, and it’s apt to become more of a pain in the neck in years to come – by one estimate, there are more than six billion cellphone subscribers in the world. You think advertisers and ne'er-do-wells are going to leave that kind of massive target audience alone? (Answer: no.)

So three cheers to the Federal Trade Commission, which says it will begin aggressively pursuing text-spamming marketers that run afoul of US law. This week, the agency filed eight complaints against 29 defendants, all of whom are charged with sending 180 million “unwanted” texts.

Those texts, the FTC says, promised the recipients gift cards to outlets such as Best Buy and Target. But if you clicked on the embedded link, you were brought to a page and asked to type in your credit card information before you could get your hands on the gift cards. Needless to say, it was all a high-tech hustle.  

"Today's announcement says ‘game over’ to the major league scam artists behind millions of spam texts," Charles Harwood, acting director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, says 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."

It’s worth noting that the FTC can not immediately halt this kind of practice – only a federal court can do that. So until the eight complaints are adjudicated, just be careful not to click too wantonly on the link embedded inside a mysterious text message. You never know where it might lead.

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