The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has charged the operators of Jerk.com of scamming people. The FTC alleged that the online service violated the FTC Act by misleading its customers.
According to the FTC, Jerk.com created profiles for over 73 million people between 2009 and 2013. The site’s operator, John Fanning, is said to have harvested information from Facebook to fuel the site with content.
However, he told users that the content had been created by other Jerk.com users and that they could change their profiles on the website by becoming members of the website. To gain access to “premium” features, internauts were asked to pay a $30 (€22) fee.
The FTC wants Jerk.com to put an end to its deceptive practices and delete the information it has improperly obtained.
“In today’s interconnected world, people are especially concerned about their reputation online, and this deceptive scheme was a brazen attempt to exploit those concerns,” explained Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection.
The FTC’s complaint reveals that the Jerk.com operators led users to believe that their Jerk profiles were created by someone they knew. The company claimed all content was created by users.
In reality, most of the profiles were created by the site’s operators with information harvested from Facebook. They used special applications to download the names and photographs of millions of Facebook members. Victims came across their Jerk profiles while searching their names in search engines.
The photos taken from Facebook included ones of children. Some of the images featured intimate family moments. Victims told the FTC that some of the content taken by Jerk was supposed to be private.
Once the profiles were created, the site’s visitors were instructed to say if a certain individual was a “Jerk” or not. People could also leave comments, which often were derisive and abusive.
A couple of comment examples cited by the FTC include “Omg I hate this kid he\’s such a loser,” and, “Nobody in their right mind would love you … not even your parents love [you].”
The site’s operators told internauts that they could manage their reputation and resolve disputes with other people. Users were charged $25 (€18) to email the company’s customer service department. Those who wanted access to premium features had to pay $30 (€22) for a subscription.
The FTC says that many of those who paid these fees didn’t get any of the promised “services.”
The hearing in this case is scheduled for January 27, 2015. In the meantime, no posts have been published on Jerk.com over the past period. The website’s “Jerk.com news” feed is flooded with news about the FTC actions.