Verizon files suit alleging text-message spam

Verizon Wireless is suing a travel company over alleged spam text messages.

A travel company that allegedly sent spam text messages to Verizon Wireless customers is now facing Verizon in court, where the mobile operator is seeking an injunction to stop the messages.

Verizon sued Passport Holidays, of Florida, alleging the company sent more than 98,000 unsolicited text messages to Verizon customers' mobile phones. The messages said, "You just WON a Cruise to the Bahamas" and told the recipients to call an 800 number, but didn't identify the sender, according to a complaint Verizon filed in U.S. District Court in Trenton, New Jersey, last Monday. The messages started on Oct. 11 and went to numbers in just three area codes, with many of them going to subscribers with New Jersey numbers. Verizon is based in Bedminster, New Jersey.

Verizon also said Passport used deception to hide the source of the messages and avoid filters Verizon uses to stop spam messages. In addition to Passport, the carrier named "John Does 1-50" in the suit because it had not yet identified the individuals involved in sending the messages. Passport officials could not immediately be reached for comment.

When a Verizon security investigator contacted Passport via e-mail, the company responded by saying every phone number it contacted had opted in for the messages. Most, if not all, of the consumers who got the messages never agreed to be contacted on their cell phones by Passport, Verizon said in the complaint.

Many of the messages were sent to sequential numbers within a short time span, indicating the company used an automated dialer, which is a violation of U.S. Federal Communications Commission regulations, Verizon charged. Sending the messages also violated the federal CAN-SPAM Act, Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and Telephone Consumer Protection Act, as well as New Jersey laws against trespassing and invasion of privacy, according to the complaint.

In addition to stopping the messages, Verizon wants damages for every violation: US$500 or the actual damages, whichever is greater, trebled because the defendants knew what they were doing. Among other things, Verizon also wants punitive damages.

It cost Verizon money to carry the messages and cost some customers to receive them, but that's not the main issue, said Verizon spokesman Tom Pica.

"What's more important than cost is the invasion of privacy of our customers, the inconvenience, and the violation of their space," Pica said. The carrier has sued several companies in recent years to stop unsolicited messages and calls to its customers, he said.

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