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FTC charges 29 in crackdown on spam text message scams

The trade agency says the accused sent more than 180 million spam text messages falsely promising free gift cards.

CBS News

The Federal Trade Commission said today it has filed complaints against 29 people accused of sending more than 180 million spam text messages falsely promising free gift cards.

The FTC alleged in eight separate complaints that the accused tricked consumers into divulging sensitive personal information by promising free gifts or prizes, including $1,000 gift cards at major retailers. Consumers who clicked on the links were taken through a maze of Web sites that required victims to sign up for subscription services or credit cards before they could receive the "free" gifts.

Consumers were sometimes required to sign up for as many as 13 offers. The information from those subscriptions was then sold to third parties for marketing purposes without victims' knowledge.

"Today's announcement says 'game over' to the major league scam artists behind millions of spam texts," Charles A. Harwood, acting director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection, said in statement. "For consumers who find spam texts on their phones, delete them, immediately. The offers are, in a word, garbage."

Many of the random targets included cell phone users who were not on a text messaging plan, meaning they had to pay to receive the text spam. The FTC said 12 percent of U.S. cell phone users don't have a text subscription plan.

The commission said it seeks to restraining orders that prevent the accused from continuing their alleged deceptive and unfair practices.