“In most, if not all, instances, it would be impossible for a consumer to receive the allegedly ‘free’ merchandise without spending money,” the FTC said in an announcement of the action.
The additional offers consumers had to sign up for sometimes involved recurring subscriptions and up-front charges for shipping and handling.
In some cases, consumers had to sign up for as many as 13 other offers before receiving the gift cards.
In an agency blog post, Consumer Education Specialist Cristina Miranda said, “There were no free gifts or gift cards, but there were plenty of follow-up illegal robocalls.”
The information the companies gathered was eventually sold for marketing purposes, the FTC alleged. Targets of the scam received telemarketing calls for satellite television and home security systems, among other offers.
In response to the scam, the FTC is reminding consumers to contact their phone service carrier if they receive spam via text message and never to give out personal information to untrusted sources.
The agency filed its complaint with a district court, which will decide whether the companies involved violated the law.