Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced that CHRISTOPHER GOFF was sentenced today to 30 months in prison for his participation in a fraudulent scheme to charge mobile phone customers millions of dollars in monthly fees for unsolicited, recurring text messages without the customers’ knowledge or consent – a practice known as “auto-subscribing.” The fraud committed by GOFF and his co-conspirators resulted in the theft of over $50 million from consumers throughout the United States. In January 2018, GOFF pled guilty to one count of participating in a conspiracy to commit wire fraud. GOFF was sentenced today in Manhattan federal court by the U.S. District Judge Katherine B. Forrest.
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said: “Christopher Goff conspired with others in an auto-subscribing scam that stole $50 million from unwitting consumers. In return for lists of mobile phone users to victimize, Goff netted more than $350,000 in short-term gain – and a substantial term in prison.”
According to the Superseding Information filed in Manhattan federal court, trials in related proceedings, and statements made in connection with GOFF’s sentencing:
GOFF was an account manager for Mobile Messenger, a U.S. aggregation company in the mobile phone industry. In the relevant time period, mobile aggregators like Mobile Messenger compiled, or “aggregated,” charges for premium text messaging services – such as monthly horoscopes, celebrity gossip, and trivia facts – on consumers’ mobile phone bills. Between 2011 and 2013, GOFF and others engaged in a massive scheme to defraud ordinary consumers by placing unauthorized charges for premium text messaging services on their cell phone bills, through a practice known as auto-subscribing.
The auto-subscribing scheme involved two main players in the mobile phone industry: mobile aggregators, such as Mobile Messenger, and content providers, which sent consumers the unwanted text messages that ultimately resulted in them being billed for services they had not authorized. Mobile Messenger worked with four different content providers in the scheme, each of which was essential to the scheme’s success. GOFF participated in auto-subscribing through one of those content providers, Tatto, which was operated by co-conspirator Lin Miao.
In or about 2010, Miao, who was the CEO of Tatto, decided to begin auto-subscribing mobile phone users to Tatto’s premium text messaging services in order to boost Tatto’s sagging revenues. Miao and others built a computer program that could spoof the required consumer authorizations for premium text messaging services – i.e., a program that could generate the text message correspondence that one would ordinarily see if a consumer were genuinely signing up to receive the services, which was operational by in or about the middle of 2011. In or about July 2011, Miao met with GOFF and asked him to provide large batches of phone numbers from Mobile Messenger’s databases in exchange for payment. GOFF agreed to assist Miao and knew that Miao intended to subscribe consumers without their permission. GOFF provided hundreds of thousands of mobile phone numbers to Miao by email from mid-2011 to mid-2012. When sending the stolen phone numbers to Miao, GOFF hid his involvement in the scheme by using email addresses other than his work email address at Mobile Messenger. Ultimately, Miao and other co-conspirators used the phone numbers that GOFF provided to auto-subscribe consumers. In total, Miao and Tatto took more than $50 million from consumers via the scheme.
GOFF received more than $350,000 from Miao for the phone numbers he provided. GOFF used a shell company called 5 Tool Services and sent false invoices for consulting services that he never provided to Miao to hide his receipt of the money and role in the scheme.
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In addition to the 30-month prison term, GOFF was sentenced to two years of supervised release and ordered to forfeit $352,799.56.
To date, seven defendants other than GOFF – Andrew Bachman, Miao, Michael Pajaczkowski, Erdolo Eromo, Jonathan Murad, Francis Assifuah, and Jason Lee – have pleaded guilty in connection with their participation in the fraud. Two additional defendants, Fraser Thompson and Darcy Wedd, were convicted following three-week jury trials.
Mr. Berman praised the investigative work of the IRS-CI and the FBI, and expressed his sincere gratitude to the Federal Trade Commission for their support and assistance with the investigation.
If you believe you were a victim of this crime, including a victim entitled to restitution, and you wish to provide information to law enforcement and/or receive notice of future developments in the case or additional information, please contact the Victim/Witness Unit at the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, at (866) 874-8900. For additional information, go to:
The prosecution of this case is being handled by the Office’s Complex Frauds and Cybercrime Unit. Assistant United States Attorneys Sarah E. Paul, Richard Cooper, Jennifer L. Beidel, and Jilan Kamal are in charge of the prosecution.