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Amazon sues text scammers who it says used company name to gain clicks

A lawsuit filed in federal court aims to widen Amazon's investigation into scammers who flood phones with fake deals and discounts.

Laura Hautala
Laura Hautala
Laura Hautala Former Senior Writer
Laura wrote about e-commerce and Amazon, and she occasionally covered cool science topics. Previously, she broke down cybersecurity and privacy issues for CNET readers. Laura is based in Tacoma, Washington, and was into sourdough before the pandemic.
Expertise E-commerce, Amazon, earned wage access, online marketplaces, direct to consumer, unions, labor and employment, supply chain, cybersecurity, privacy, stalkerware, hacking. Credentials
  • 2022 Eddie Award for a single article in consumer technology
Laura Hautala
2 min read

Amazon says scammers earned fees by generating traffic for advertisers and websites under false pretenses.

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Amazon sued a group of unnamed individuals in a Washington federal court Tuesday for allegedly participating in text message scams involving texts that claim to come from the e-commerce giant. The scam messages made fake offers in hopes of getting targets to click on links that take them to specific advertisers and websites. 

"These bad actors are misusing our brand to deceive the public and we will hold them accountable," Kathy Sheehan, Amazon's vice president of business conduct and ethics, said in a statement. "We also want to remind consumers to be vigilant and learn how to recognize the signs of a scam so they are protected, no matter where they shop."

According to the maker of anti-spam app RoboKiller, spam texts are becoming a more popular scam than robocalls, as people increasingly avoid answering calls from unknown numbers (both types of scam messages are increasing). RoboKiller said it detected more than 7.4 billion spam texts in March alone. 

Courts and regulators have in the past shut down scammers who used Amazon's name. In March, the FTC got a federal court to ban a scammer from selling "work from home" opportunities while using Amazon's name. Amazon also filed lawsuits against scammers in three states in June 2020, and four individuals in other cases agreed to stop using Amazon's name in marketing messages.

In the scheme that Amazon sued over on Tuesday, scammers send text messages offering rewards and gifts, the company said. Targets are then directed to a survey that also uses Amazon's name, and then sent to websites that sell products unrelated to Amazon. The scammers earn fees from advertisers and websites for generating traffic, Amazon says.

The FTC says phone users should be cautious about text messages that offer free prizes, gifts or coupons, or other too-good-to-be-true offers. Other common text scams claim there's a malware infection on users' phones or falsely claim to provide an update on shipping for a package.