Several fraudulent military recruitment websites have been revealed by government agencies and shut down this week.
The Department of Justice filed a complaint on behalf of the Federal Trade Commission on Thursday to shut down the fake recruitment sites that collected information from people, which they then sold to post-secondary schools, AdAge reported Thursday.
The companies have agreed to settle the charges.
— Gizmodo (@Gizmodo) September 7, 2018
Alabama-based companies Sunkey Publishing, Inc., WhereData, LLC, and Fanmail.com, LLC and their operators were the targets of the charges. The companies used domain names like army.com, armyenlist.com and navyenlist.com hosting forms requesting contact information from those interested in joining the military.
A disclaimer on the websites promised that the information would not be used for marketing purposes, and would only be used for military recruitment.
Once the company gathered the information, telemarketers posing as military representatives would call the unsuspecting individuals to promote the post-secondary schools.
The companies earned $15-$40 per marketing lead they sold to the post-secondary schools. The companies were discovered to be in operation since 2010.
Fake military websites that attempt to scam veterans out of GI Bill $. THIS is why strong for-profit college regulation is needed. https://t.co/uJQqqK7deo
— Consumer Action (@consumeraction) September 7, 2018
In addition to promoting the fraudulent recruitment websites and leading potential recruits to believe the military endorsed the schools, the companies’ phone calls to the recruits violated the Do Not Call mandates.
“The FTC charged the defendants with violating the FTC Act and the FTC’s Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR). The agency also alleged that they violated the Do Not Call provisions of the TSR by placing hundreds of thousands of illegal telemarketing calls to phone numbers on the National Do Not Call Registry and by failing to pay required fees,” an FTC press release said.
“The two proposed orders settling the FTC’s charges require the defendants to turn over to the FTC websites used to deceive consumers, including army.com and armyenlist.com. Turnover of these websites partially satisfies the civil penalty judgments of $11.1 million against Sunkey and $1 million against Fanmail,” the release said.
However, the companies are reportedly unable to pay the fines, however.
“The judgments are otherwise suspended due to defendants’ inability to pay; however, if the defendants are later found to have misrepresented their financial condition to the FTC, the full amount of the penalty would become due,” it added.
The companies are also prohibited from falsely misrepresenting their websites and representatives as part of the military. In addition, they are limited in the information they are permitted to share, and they must also list clear disclosures on their websites to show they are not affiliated with the military.
Schemes on fraudulent government imposter websites are “the most frequent type of fraud complaint from military consumers in the FTC’s Consumer Sentinel database.” As such, these websites have been targeted by crackdown efforts.