The operators of a text messaging scheme that regulators said scammed consumers out of tens of millions of dollars have agreed to surrender more than $10 million in assets, the Federal Trade Commission announced today.
The forfeited property includes cash in numerous bank accounts, multi-carat diamonds, several cars, along with real estate in Los Angeles and Chicago, according to a statement from the commission.
According to the FTC, defendants Lin Miao and Andrew Bachman ran several “phone cramming” scams through various companies they owned or otherwise controlled, in which services like “love tips” or weekly horoscopes were sent to users via premium text messaging services without the customer’s authorization.
Bachman was not named in today’s settlement, though a number of the businesses he owned or served as a corporate officer during the alleged scheme were named as corporate defendants in the settlement.
In one example given in the commission’s statement, a website advised visitors they were eligible for free tickets to a Justin Bieber concert in exchange for completing an online quiz. After entering their phone number, users never received any prizes, but would later receive the premium texts and associated fees.
Victims of the scam would find mysterious charges on their monthly bills, typically with cryptic labels like “77050IQ12CALL8663611606” or “25184USBFIQMIG.” Those seeking refunds for the dubious billings faced a “highly cumbersome” reimbursement process, the FTC said.
“If consumers were able to find a phone number, they have often reached representatives who claim they will provide refunds, but do not,” the complaint reads. “In many cases, consumers have not received refunds for all of the months that they paid the bogus charges.”
Miao “directly received” at least $29 million from the scam, with Bachman securing $4.5 million, according to investigators.
Companies named in the complaint include: Tatto Media, WinBigBidLow, Bullroarer, Inc., Shaboom Media, Bune, Mobile Media Products, Chairman Ventures, Galactic Media and Virtus Media.
Bachman, a Boston-area tech entrepreneur, was featured in a November Boston Globe article on local tech entrepreneurs only weeks before the FTC’s allegations were made public.
Somewhat amazingly, Bachman is also the founder of Scambook.com, an online service that describes itself as the Internet’s “leading complaint resolution platform.”
“We are here to provide a platform where we can help you spread the word and fight against scammers, fraud, and bad business,” its “about” page reads, without even a hint of irony.
Correction: While Bachman was named as an individual co-defendant in the FTC complaint and was a controlling officer in companies listed as corporate defendants in Friday’s settlement, he was not included in the judgment as an individual co-defendant.