FTC cracks down on text message spammers

By Amy Davis - Reporter/Consumer Expert

HOUSTON - If you've got a cellphone, chances are you've received one of those text messages claiming you've won a gift card. On Thursday, the Federal Trade Commission announced its cracking down on the spammers, and a Houston man who has been in trouble before is on their list.

The FTC received 20,000 complaints about the gift card text messages last year. They believe the gift card text spam accounts for more than half of all of the text spam in the US.

They've charged 29 people they said are responsible for sending the texts or running the websites that the texts referred consumers to so that they could collect personal information.

"I thought I had actually won something," Paul Rodriguez told consumer expert Amy Davis about a text he received last November.

It read "Your entry has won! Go to bestbuybfpromos.com/?a and enter the code '1122' to claim your $1000 Best Buy gift card! Must claim by 11/30/2012."

Local 2 did that. We discovered instead of offering a gift card, the website asked for information like our email address, health information and a credit card number.

"I think somehow that needs to be policed more and protect the people, the consumers," said Rodriguez.

That is what the FTC is doing by charging 29 defendants it said sent more than 180 million unwanted text messages to consumers. One of those men is Houstonian Rashib Verma, who is no stranger to the Fort Bend County District Attorney's office.

"One of the brightest kids that I've seen unfortunately come through the criminal justice system," said Fort Bend Assistant District Attorney Scott Carpenter.

In 2011, then 19-year-old Verma pleaded guilty five to felonies related to hacking into Fort Bend ISD High School computers to change student grades, attendance records and get teachers personal information. Verma is still on probation for those crimes, and Carpenter said Verma may well have violated the terms of that probation.

"Where there's smoke, there's a little fire," he said. "So we're going to look into these allegations. We just received them today."

KPRC Local 2 stopped by Verma's office and tried calling him with no success.

The FTC does want to hear from you if you get a spam text. You can file a complaint at this link: https://www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov/FTC_Wizard.aspx?Lang=en.

You should also forward spam texts to 7726 to alert your phone provider.

What you don't want to do is text "stop" if the text prompts you to. That is just another way to let the scammers know yours is a legitimate number.

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