Verizon Wireless is suing a group of companies that allegedly duped its customers into signing up for fraudulent premium text messages.
According to a complaint filed in the U.S. District Court in Phoenix, Ariz., the ring of companies lured customers into unwittingly signing up for high-cost premium SMS services using websites about a variety of topics, from games to jokes and food recipes.
The companies allegedly hid the existence of the websites from Verizon Wireless' auditor, Aegis Mobile, by using sophisticated cloaking software which redirected auditors to shell websites compliant with Verizon's consumer protection and disclosure policies.
"We've never seen anything like this in terms of the cloaking and trying to evade our monitoring of the programs out there," says Leigh Schachter, one of Verizon's lead in-house lawyers on the case.
The suit names Jason Hope and Wayne DeStefano and a string of their companies, including Cylon, Jawa and EyeLevel Holdings, as defendants. In all, the complaint names 26 companies, shell websites and individuals who allegedly defrauded Verizon's customers. Jawa did not reply to requests for comment by press time and EyeLevel Holdings could not be reached for comment.
Verizon is asking the court for an injunction against Hope, DeStefano and their companies, as well as unspecified damages.
Schachter was unable to provide details about how many Verizon customers were potentially affected by the scam and said the company was continuing to investigate the scope of the fraud.
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has become involved in the case and filed a lawsuit similar to Verizon's against the same defendants on Monday. Verizon said it worked with Texas prosecutors on their investigation.
Verizon Wireless has set up a website, www.premiumsmsrefunds.com, where customers who believe they've been affected by the scam can submit a claim. The website provides full names of all the fraudulent premium SMS campaigns and associated short codes Verizon Wireless has been able to trace. The campaign names would appear in the data charges section of subscribers' wireless bills and customers can use MyVerizon online to get detailed bills going back one year.