The Federal Trade Commission said Thursday that it had seized nine copycat websites that harvested and sold users' personal information by posing as US military recruitment sites.
The operators of websites such as Army.com and NavyEnlist.com tricked people interested in joining the military out of their personal information by falsely claiming to be affiliated with specific branches of the military, the FTC said in a complaint filed in an Alabama federal court.
The complaint alleges the site operators promised users to use the information only for military recruitment purposes but then sold the information as sales leads to post-secondary schools for $10 to $40 per lead. Tens of thousands of consumers visit these sites each month, the FTC said in its complaint.
The crackdown is part of an FTC effort to combat government imposter schemes, a frequent fraud complaint the commission receives from military consumers.
"Those who are considering a military career deserve to have confidence that the recruitment site is legitimate and their personal information will not be misused," FTC Chairman Joe Simons said in a statement. "The FTC will take action against any party in the lead generation ecosystem -- from sellers to purchasers -- that fails to comply with the law."
People who submitted their information also received follow-up phone calls from telemarketers who posed as members of the military and tried to sell them on specific schools, giving the false impression that the US military actually endorsed those schools, the FTC said.
The defendants, including the Alabama-based companies Sunkey Publishing and Fanmail.com, were charged with violating the FTC Act and the FTC's Telemarketing Sales Rule. In a settlement agreement, the two have agreed to turn over the domain names to the FTC and to stop the practices that they allegedly used to deceive consumers.
The domain relinquishment partially satisfies the civil penalty judgments of $11.1 million against Sunkey and $1 million against Fanmail, which were suspended due to defendants' inability to pay.
Other sites turned over to the FTC include Air-Force.com, AirForceEnlist.com, ArmyReserves.com, CoastGuardEnlist.com, MarinesEnlist.com and NationalGuardEnlist.com.
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