Duane Morris Takeaways: U.S. Magistrate Judge Joseph Marutollo’s recent report and recommendation – a novel order in the context of class action settlements – in the proceeding captioned In Re Payment Card Interchange Fee and Merchant Discount Antitrust Litigation, Case No. 1:05-MD-01720, Doc. No. 9009 (E.D.N.Y. Nov. 28, 2023), highlights the risks associated with class action claims websites and the potential for bad actors to create fraudulent web pages to mislead claimants. Corporate defendants should take care to monitor online activity following the creation of a court-authorized settlement website in order to protect any class-wide settlement and claimants against potential fraudsters. Indeed, in a world where scammers are becoming increasingly more sophisticated through the use of technology, class action settlement websites may be the next frontier in the battle against cybercrime.

Background

After 15 years of contentious litigation, Visa and MasterCard settled a putative class action for $5.6 billion to resolve allegations that the credit card companies violated federal and state antitrust laws resulting in over 12 million merchants allegedly paying excessive fees to Visa and MasterCard. As is typical in class actions of this size, a court-authorized settlement website was created to accept claim submissions and provide claimants with details regarding the settlement agreement.

On November 28, 2023, Magistrate Judge Marutollo recommended that the Court order the website “settlement2023.org” (and any affiliate website) be taken down, as the operators of the Settlement2023.org entity, who remain unknown, were attempting to deceive putative class members into using the site through various schemes, including using fake voicemails from rap artist Snoop Dogg to convince users of its validity. According to Magistrate Judge Marutollo’s report, although the scam website ceased operation on November 21, 2023, it was unclear if other webpages remained open under different domain names that were also operated by the Settlement2023.org entity.

The Magistrate Judge’s Recommendation And Report

In addition to recommending the Court issue an order to take down of any and all remaining webpages that attempt to mimic the court-authorized settlement website, Magistrate Judge Marutollo also recommended that the owners and operators of the Settlement2023.org entity be required to identify themselves, and provide a list of all class members that signed up for its services, as well as give notice to would-be customers that any contract they entered into with the entity was now void. Finally, the Magistrate Judge requested that the Court be notified of any newly-detected websites and recommended that the court-authorized website be updated to alert those who may have been deceived by the settlement2023.org website.

Implications

Cybercriminals continue to capitalize on advances in technology to launch misinformation campaigns, and large class action settlements are in the cross-hairs of this emerging threat. Therefore, it is imperative that plaintiff and defendant-side representatives alike remain vigilant to protect class members from deception and safeguard the integrity of the class action settlement process.