Today, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) held a press conference to announce that it recently filed 8 separate complaints in federal courts across the country against entities and individuals sending “spam” text messages offering purportedly free gift cards to consumers. The complaints follow a six-month FTC investigation into the alleged fraudulent practices of the defendants in these suits, which involved sending over 180 million spam text messages with links to websites where consumers could claim “free” gift cards to stores such as Best Buy, Wal-Mart and Target. The FTC claims, however, that consumers would be required to submit their credit card and other personal information and would never result in consumers receiving free gift cards. Instead, the consumers’ information would be sold to third parties for marketing purposes.

Seven of the complaints filed by the FTC are against the entities and individuals that were sending the text messages, while one complaint is against the alleged operators of the deceptive websites to which consumers were directed by the text messages. Collectively, the FTC named 29 separate entities and individuals as defendants, including some individuals who are subject to permanent injunctions against sending text messages. The FTC is seeking civil damages and restraining orders against the defendants to prevent them from continuing their alleged deceptive practices and to send unsolicited text messages to consumers.

The FTC also indicted that it has received 20,000 complaints concerning spam text messages advertising free gift cards, and 50,000 complaints against spam text messages generally. The FTC stated that 60 percent of consumers have received spam text messages within the last year, and 13 percent of those individuals clicked through to the link provided. Of those consumers, the FTC estimates that 12 percent pay a per text message charge, resulting in millions of dollars in charges to those consumers from receiving the unsolicited text messages. The FTC advised consumers to not click on the links contained in the spam text messages, forward the messages to the FTC and then delete the messages.