An operation that used illegal spam to promote a bogus get-rich-quick scheme has been shut down by a U.S. District Court at the request of the Federal Trade Commission. The FTC alleged the spammers violated federal laws by using deceptive header information and subject lines in their spam solicitations, making bogus earnings and refund claims, and withdrawing funds from consumers' checking accounts without authorization. The FTC will seek to shut down the operation permanently and will seek redress for consumers.
According to the FTC, the operation spammed consumers with e-mail that claimed that they could make substantial income by signing up for the spammers' work-at-home business opportunity. The e-mail contained claims like, "Do you think you would be interested in becoming a permanent home-based worker for our company and earning an extra Guaranteed $30k to $100,000 A Year?" In their e-mail, the defendants represented that consumers could obtain a "home mailing kit" for a "shipping and handling" fee of $24.77; that the defendants would pay consumers $4 for each envelope they stuffed and mailed; and that the offer was backed by a 30-day, money back "NO QUESTIONS ASKED" guarantee. According to documents filed with the court, however, the "kit" received by most consumers was a two-page letter and a CD-ROM showing consumers how to perpetuate the defendants' scam. Consumers who tried to get the defendants to honor the "30-day, money-back guarantee," were ignored, falsely told that the returned material was damaged, or told they failed to act within the 30-day trial period. One consumer was told he would be reported to the police for harassment if he contacted the "call center" again.
The defendants claimed that in addition to the initial "shipping and handling" fee of $24.77, consumers would be charged a $24.95 "registration fee" only after their 30-day trial period expired. Consumers who signed up for the home mailing program, however, often found their bank accounts debited for the entire $49.72 amount immediately. In other instances, the defendants withdrew this amount twice. Consumers who complained about these unauthorized withdrawals rarely succeeded in obtaining refunds.
The FTC alleged that the defendants' spam contained altered or "spoofed" header information falsely indicating that the message had been transmitted "from" either the recipient's own e-mail account or the account of an unrelated third-party. Other messages contained "reply-to" fields with e-mail addresses registered to unrelated third parties, or with e-mail addresses that the defendants got using phony names and addresses. The FTC also alleged that the defendants' e-mail messages contained deceptive subject lines to induce recipients to open them.
The FTC alleges that these practices violate the FTC Act, the Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act of 2003, and the Telemarketing Sales Rule. The FTC has asked the court to bar the illegal practices permanently and to order redress for consumers.
The Commission vote to authorize staff to file the complaint against Gregory Bryant, Jr., Nadira Bryant, Gregory Bryant & Associates, Dove Marketing Corporation, GBA Publishing, GBA Financing, Network Marketing, Miracle Moms, and DM Marketing services was 5-0. The complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, Jacksonville Division.
NOTE: The Commission files a complaint when it has "reason to believe" that the law has been or is being violated, and it appears to the Commission that a proceeding is in the public interest. The complaint is not a finding or ruling that the defendant has actually violated the law. The case will be decided by the court.
Copies of the complaint are available from the FTC's Web site at http://www.ftc.gov and also from the FTC's Consumer Response Center, Room 130, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20580. The FTC works for the consumer to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices in the marketplace and to provide information to help consumers spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint in English or Spanish (bilingual counselors are available to take complaints), or to get free information on any of 150 consumer topics, call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357), or use the complaint form at http://www.ftc.gov. The FTC enters Internet, telemarketing, identity theft, and other fraud-related complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to hundreds of civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.
(FTC File No. 042-3125)