Whatever you may think of complaints about supposedly "fake news," there's no arguing that fake government websites defraud consumers to the tune of millions of dollars and, in the process, often steal vital personal data while dispensing bogus information.
Take the case of On Point Global, recently ordered to pay $102 million in refunds to consumers who were taken in by phony websites that claimed to be official government sites.
Consumers must submit claims by July 5, 2022
The scammers, sued by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in December 2019, ran hundreds of deceptive websites that promised a quick and easy government service, such as renewing a driver’s license, or determining eligibility for public benefits like Section 8 housing or food stamps.
The sites had names like DMV.com, floridadriverslicense.org and were designed to mimic legitimate government websites. The defendants operated under several names, including On Point Global.
On sites where consumers submitted payments for supposed government services, they received at most a PDF with publicly available information on how to apply for a drivers’ license.
On other sites that claimed to tell consumers if they were eligible for government benefits, consumers who submitted detailed and sensitive personal information almost immediately began receiving a wave of unwanted sales and marketing contacts.
As a result of the FTC’s win at trial, a federal court ordered a refund process to be established for consumers who were harmed by On Point Global and its network of fake websites. Consumers must submit claims in order to receive payments, and payment is available both for consumers who paid money to the sites and those who submitted personal information.
How to file a claim
If a consumer either:
- paid money to an On Point Global fake DMV site between January 2017 and December 2019 and didn’t already get their money back, or
- submitted their personal information to an On Point Global government benefits site in 2019
they are eligible for a payment, and should receive an email by mid-April with instructions from the company handling the claims process. Legitimate emails related to this settlement will come from email@example.com, or from an ftc.gov email address, and will be sent to the e-mail address used when consumers paid or submitted information to the bogus site.
Consumers who believe they are eligible for a payment and have not received an email should visit https://onpointclaimform.comand enter their name and email address. They should get an email immediately with a personalized claim link, and they should follow the instructions in that link. They must enter the same email address used when they paid for fake DMV services. If they don't have access to that email, the site provides instructions on how to change their contact email.
While the refund process is not being administered by the FTC, there is additional information available for affected consumers on the FTC’s website. Consumers who paid money to fake DMV sites can visit https://ftc.gov/OnPointDMV for more information; consumers who submitted personal information to fake government benefits sites can visit https://ftc.gov/OnPointBenefits for more information.
Source of funds
The money being used to provide payments to consumers is a result of a contempt motion filed by the FTC against one of the defendants in the case, Burton Katz.
Katz was previously sued by the FTC for placing millions of dollars in unwanted charges on consumers’ mobile phone bills by using spam text messages pitching “free” gift cards. As a result of that suit, Katz was placed under a court order prohibiting from any further violations of the FTC Act.
Because of his involvement in this new fake government websites scam, the FTC filed the motion alleging that Katz and other defendants were in contempt of that order. The court ruled in the FTC’s favor on the motion and awarded the monetary relief.