Amazon is suing to stop SMS raffle scams

Ever get a text message informing you that you’ve won a prize — from Amazon itself? I certainly have, and I’ve even known a person or two who fell for those scams. Now, Amazon is attempting to hunt those scammers down, with a new lawsuit aimed at unmasking 50 unknown defendants in federal court.

According to Amazon’s legal complaint, which you can read in full below, the scam uses Amazon’s logos, web design, and meaningless “surveys” to trick people into buying products (ones that aren’t actually from Amazon), seemingly for cheap. The scammers aren’t necessarily the ones selling those products, either — but because they’re acting as referrers, they get a finder’s fee in the form of affiliate marketing commissions. The Better Business Bureau says it received 771 reports of scams impersonating Amazon in 2020, second only to those annoying calls claiming to be the Social Security Administration.

The tricky part is finding the scammers, because Amazon doesn’t actually know who they are, just which domain names they used to host the scam. But by filing a lawsuit against these 50 John Doe plaintiffs, Amazon may be able to get a doe subpoena to unmask their identities. The company tells us that’s worked in the past; in 2018, the company filed a John Doe lawsuit against a very similar scam and was able to track down at least four defendants. Each case ended with a permanent injunction, according to court records, and Amazon says it’s won at least $1.5 million in settlements so far.

The lawsuit also gives Amazon time to find them (against the statute of limitations) and puts the scammers on notice, just in case they might like to stop before they get hauled into court.