FTC asks court to shut down text spammer who promised home loan modifications
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The Federal Trade Commission has filed a complaint against a Huntington Beach man who it says sent millions of illegal text spam messages advertising a mortgage modification website that claimed to offer government-affiliated services.
The FTC said in the court document that Phillip A. Flora sent out text messages at a ‘mind boggling’ rate of about 85 messages a minute, every minute of every day for a 40-day period that began on Aug 22, 2009.
During that time, Flora allegedly sent out more than 5 million illegal text messages, according to the complaint filed Tuesday in Los Angeles federal court.
The commission, in the complaint, has requested that the court freeze Flora’s assets and order a permanent injunction against him from sending such text messages.
Among the messages sent, some read: ‘Homeowners, we can lower your mortgage payment by doing a Loan Modification. Late on payments OK. No equity OK. May we please give you a call? Loanmod-gov.net,’ the complaint said.
Some others stated: ‘If you are struggling to keep up with credit card payments and have more than 10k in debt, we can help. May we give you a call regarding this?’ the court document said.
Loanmod-gov.net, a website that is no longer up, contained text that said it could offer ‘Official Home Loan Modification and Audit Assistance Information’ with an image of a U.S. flag beneath it, according to the complaint.
Many of the sites and texts were designed to trick consumers into believing they were affiliated with the U.S. government, the court document said.
The commission also alleges that the text spam blasts resulted in many recipients losing money because they ended up having to pay fees to their respective mobile carriers for receiving the unsolicited messages.
The FTC said in its complaint that Flora collected contact information from those who responded to the text spam, even if they were asking him to stop sending the messages, which was then sold to marketers as ‘debt settlement leads.’
The commission is also accusing Flora of sending a number of e-mail spam messages to commercial e-mail marketers touting his success in sending such text message blasts.
In his e-mails, Flora promoted the texts by writing, ‘Currently able to send out 200k text messages a day; I designed, own and operate the marketing system. All companies on the internet charge a penny a message, I charge a tiny fraction of that and I do not charge for cell phone data because I maintain a database of 100 million cell phone opt-in uses,’ the complaint said.
The e-mails failed to offer recipients a way to opt out of receiving the messages and didn’t list a physical mailing address for the sender, two items required by law for such commercial e-mails, the FTC said.
In the e-mails, Flora offered a rate of $200 for 50,000 messages and $300 for 100,000 messages sent, the complaint said.
The FTC said it was assisted in its investigation into the text message spam by AT&T, Verizon and CTIA - The Wireless Association.
-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles
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