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Amazon goes after alleged fraudulent text message advertising schemes in new lawsuit

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An example of a fraudulent advertising scheme that Amazon is trying to eliminate with a new lawsuit. 

Amazon doesn’t know exactly who is using its name in an allegedly fraudulent text message advertising scheme, but the company is suing them anyway.

The Seattle retail giant filed a federal lawsuit in Seattle last week against 50 defendants identified as “John Doe,” alleging that they’re posing as Amazon and sending text messages aimed at driving web traffic to advertisers’ websites for profit.

The defendants, Amazon said in a complaint filed Tuesday, are “engaged in a widespread, fraudulent marketing scheme that bombards victims with unauthorized text messages that abuse Amazon’s brand to generate (web) traffic.”

In what it calls an “illegal advertising scheme,” the yet-to-be named defendants are sending “fake text messages” that are “intentionally designed to trick unsuspecting consumers to click on a link using Amazon’s name and offering recipients ‘rewards’ or other ‘gifts,’” the company said in a statement.

Those who click a link in one of the text messages are sent to online marketers, advertisers, and websites to buy products and services that have nothing to do with Amazon, the company said.

The people behind the scheme profit from fees paid by marketing networks for the web traffic.

Amazon is asking the court for unspecified damages as well as an injunction barring the defendants from using Amazon’s name and brand.

“These bad actors are misusing our brand to deceive the public and we will hold them accountable,” Kathy Sheehan, an Amazon Vice President of Business Conduct and Ethics said in the statement.

She added: “We also want to remind customers to be vigilant and lear how to recognize the signs of a scam so they are protected, no matter where they shop.”
In one case, those who click a link are led through a fake Amazon survey. In another, victims are prompted to play a game rigged for them to win a nonexistent prize, Amazon said.

Amazon has been battling similar schemes for years. The company said it has filed five lawsuits against fraudulent affiliate marketing schemes and has won multiple court injunctions to stop them. In all, Amazon said, it has entered settlements with seven parties who agreed to shut down their operations and pay more than $1.5 million in damages.

In June of last year Amazon shut down three email marketing schemes in Michigan, Colorado and California. The company blocked an Illinois-based affiliate marketer from advertising fake Amazon work-from-home jobs in 2019.

In its complaint, Amazon said it doesn’t know the “true identities” of those behind the ad campaigns but it believes the defendants “are individuals and entities working in active concert to knowingly and willfully run the scheme….”

Amazon said in the complaint that it knows the texts in question come from AT&T cell numbers and the URLs involved are hosted by Alibaba.com, with domains registered through Namecheap, Inc., among others.

The suit leaves room for Amazon to expand its investigation and track down the defendants, the company said.

See the full suit below:

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