FTC Obtains Order Against 'Prize' E-Mailer

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Consumers who received an e-mail claiming they had won a prize from Yahoo got a nasty, pornographic surprise instead, the Federal Trade Commission said yesterday.


Rather than the Playstation 2 game console they were promised in the e-mail, consumers were deceived into connecting their computers to a 900 telephone number that charged them up to $3.99 a minute to view pornography, the FTC said.


Between May and November, the companies and individuals accused of running the scam billed consumers about $11 million through their phone bills, the FTC said.


The scam was particularly reprehensible because given the nature of the prize that was promised, it targeted children, the FTC said.


"It's one of the worst we've seen so far," said Howard Beales, director of the FTC's bureau of consumer protection. "This scheme is particularly insidious and full of deception."


A U.S. District Court in Las Vegas approved the FTC's request for a restraining order and asset freeze against BTV Industries, National Communications Team Inc. and LO/AD Communications Corp. as well as three individuals. The FTC also is seeking compensation for consumers, though the agency said some already had received refunds from their telephone service provider.


According to the FTC, consumers received an e-mail claiming that they had won a Playstation 2 in a Yahoo sweepstakes. A link would take them to an imitation Yahoo page, the FTC said.


The page told consumers they would have to connect to a toll-free number to collect their prize, according to the charges. Clicking another link led them to download and install a program that would allow them to register, the FTC said.


Upon downloading the program, consumers were told they would be connected to a 900 number, in contradiction with the previous claims, the FTC said. Proceeding further led consumers to an adult Internet site that charged their phone bills on a per-minute basis, according to the FTC.


The FTC said it did not know how many consumers had received charges as a result of the e-mail.


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