The Federal Trade Commission took action against telemarketers who conned consumers into believing their computers had viruses, spyware and malware; then charging up to $450 to remotely fix them.
A U.S. District Court Judge has halted six alleged tech support schemes pending further hearings, and has frozen their assets. Operations – mostly based in India targeted English-speaking consumers, with five of the six using telemarketing boiler rooms to call consumers. The sixth lured consumers by placing Google ads appearing when searching for computer company tech support phone numbers.
Telemarketers allegedly claimed they were affiliated with legitimate companies, including Dell, Microsoft, McAfee, and Norton, and told consumers they had detected malware that posed an imminent threat to their computers.
People were directed to a utility area of their computer, and were told that the computer was infected. They then offered to rid the computer of malware for fees ranging from $49 to $450.
When consumers agreed to pay the fee for fixing the “problems,” telemarketers directed them to a website to enter a code or download a software program that allowed them remote access. Once telemarketers took control of the computers, they “removed” the non-existent malware and downloaded otherwise free programs.
To avoid detection by law enforcement, they used virtual offices that were actually just mail-forwarding facilities, used 80 different domain names, and 130 different phone numbers.
The FTC charged defendants with violating unfair and deceptive commercial practices, the Telemarketing Sales Rule, and illegally calling numbers on the Do Not Call Registry. The FTC asked the court to permanently halt operations, and order restitution for consumers.
This was a joint effort with agencies in Australia, Canada and the UK, plus Microsoft and computer companies. The FTC cases targeted 14 corporate defendants and 17 individual defendants in 6 legal filings. The complaints were filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. Cases will be decided by the court as the complaint is not a ruling that the defendants have violated the law.
Learn more about protecting yourself against bogus telephone and email offers by visiting the Tri-State BBB.