Holiday shoppers should not be fooled by gift card spam

With the holiday shopping season just around the corner, the idea of a free gift card from a major retailer may be very appealing. However, don’t be fooled by spam emails such as these.

Walmart Gift Card Spam Victoria's Secret Gift Card Spam

Like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, no matter how hard you try, you can never actually reach the promised reward, any you may find yourself incurring a number of unexpected expenses along the way.

In 2013 the FTC successfully sued what was then the leading promotor of free gift card spam in the US, a company called Acquinity Interactive. According to the FTC’s press release:

Consumers who clicked on the links in the messages found themselves caught in a confusing and elaborate process that required them to provide sensitive personal information, apply for credit or pay to subscribe to services to get the supposedly “free” cards. In addition, consumers’ phone numbers were signed up to receive unwanted automated telemarketing calls, also known as robocalls.

The recent gift card spam shown above comes from RewardZoneUsa, which according to the Better Business Bureau is an alternative business name for Fluent, Inc of New York. It’s no surprise to find that at least two employees at Fluent formerly worked at Acquinity. According to LinkedIn, the former Director of Media Buying at Acquinity now fills the same role at Fluent, and the Senior Account Manager, Ad Operations at Fluent was formerly Performance Advertising Manager at Acquinity.
Linkedin page

Unlike Acquinity, Fluent does seem to be trying to stay within the letter of the law with regards to consumer fraud. Their emails do contain the words “Participation Required” or “Purchase Required” and there is fine print on the terms and conditions page that spells out in more detail how difficult it is to get a gift card. However, according to one poster on RipoffReports.com, “About everyone I know that has a computer has been scammed by this company, Fluent, Inc. offering gift cards that never materialize.” Fluent does appear to have a good record in resolving complaints with the Better Business Bureau, so if you believe that you qualified for a gift card from one of their promotions and have not received it, file a complaint with the BBB.

The emails promoting Fluent are unquestionably spam, and employ a number of techniques to attempt to avoid filtering, such as the insertion of different random character strings in each message, the use of URL shorteners to disguise the landing page URL, using only external images instead of text in the message, and having a forged From: address. There are several violations of the CAN-SPAM law in these messages.

The volume of email promoting Fluent websites had been ramping up during the course of this year.
Fluent email volume graph
We expect it to be even higher during the holiday shopping season, so make sure you are not taken in. You can report fraudulent spam promoting free gift cards, fake diet pills, work from home scams etc. to the Federal Trade Commission by forwarding it to spam@uce.gov.


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