FTC gets federal court to shut down $120M tech support scam

The Federal Trade Commission today said a federal court has temporarily shut down two telemarketing operations that it says conned tens of thousands of consumers out of more than $120 million by deceptively marketing computer software and tech support services.

The FTC claims that since at least 2012, the defendants -- including companies known as PC Cleaner, Inbound Call Experts and Boost Software -- have used software designed to trick consumers into thinking there are problems with their computers, then subjected those consumers to high-pressure deceptive sales pitches for tech support products and services to fix their non-existent computer problems.

The FTC and the State of Florida have filed two separate cases against companies that allegedly sold the bogus software and the deceptive telemarketing operators who allegedly sold needless tech support services:

  • In the first case, the defendants selling software include PC Cleaner Inc.; Netcom3 Global Inc.; Netcom3 Inc., also doing business as Netcom3 Software Inc.; and Cashier Myricks, Jr. The telemarketing defendants include Inbound Call Experts LLC; Advanced Tech Supportco. LLC; PC Vitalware LLC; Super PC Support LLC; Robert D. Deignan, Paul M. Herdsman, and Justin M. Wright.
  • In the second case, the defendants selling software include Boost Software Inc. and Amit Mehta, and the telemarketing defendants include Vast Tech Support LLC, also doing business as OMG Tech Help, OMG Total Protection, OMG Back Up, downloadsoftware.com, and softwaresupport.com; OMG Tech Help LLC; Success Capital LLC; Jon Paul Holdings LLC; Elliot Loewenstern; Jon-Paul Vasta; and Mark Donahue.

According to the FTC, the telemarketers tell consumers that, in order to activate the software they have just purchased, they must provide the telemarketers with remote access to their computers. The telemarketers then launch into a scripted sales pitch that includes showing consumers various screens on their computers, such as the Windows Event Viewer, and falsely claiming that these screens show signs that consumers' computers have significant damage. After convincing consumers that their computers need immediate help, the telemarketers then pitch security software and tech support services that cost as much as $500.

"These operations prey on consumers' lack of technical knowledge with deceptive pitches and high-pressure tactics to sell useless software and services to the tune of millions of dollars," said Jessica Rich, director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection in a statement.

This court order is just the latest FTC salvo against tech support scammers.

In July the agency got a US District court to slap the operators of several international tech support rip-offs to pay more than $5.1 million in fines and retribution on charges they masqueraded as major computer companies, including Dell, Microsoft, McAfee, and Norton, to trick consumers into believing their computers were riddled with malware and then charge them to "fix" the "problems."

In that situation the FTC said that the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York issued default judgments against 14 corporate defendants and 14 individual defendants that allegedly operated the tech support scams. The operations were mostly based in India and targeted English-speaking consumers in the United States and several other countries, the FTC stated.

The default judgments permanently banned the defendants from marketing any computer security-related technical support service. The judgments also banned them from continuing their deceptive tactics and from disclosing, selling or failing to dispose of information they obtained from victims. The cases, which were part of a 2012 FTC crackdown on such tech support scams included:

According to the FTC, the scammers in some cases directed consumers to a utility area of their computerand falsely claimed that it demonstrated that the computer was infected. The scammers 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," the telemarketers directed them to a website to enter a code or download a software program that allowed the scammers remote access to the consumers' computers. Once the telemarketers took control of the consumers' computers, they "removed" the non-existent malware and downloaded otherwise free programs.

The FTC offers the following tips to address the scam:

  • Don't give control of your computer to a third party who calls you out of the blue.
  • Do not rely on caller ID alone to authenticate a caller. Criminals spoof caller ID numbers. They may appear to be calling from a legitimate company or a local number, when they're not even in the same country as you.
  • Online search results might not be the best way to find technical support or get a company's contact information. Scammers sometimes place online ads to convince you to call them. They pay to boost their ranking in search results so their websites and phone numbers appear above those of legitimate companies. If you want tech support, look for a company's contact information on their software package or on your receipt.
  • Never provide your credit card or financial information to someone who calls and claims to be from tech support.
  • If a caller pressures you to buy a computer security product or says there is a subscription fee associated with the call, hang up. If you're concerned about your computer, call your security software company directly and ask for help.
  • Never give your password on the phone. No legitimate organization calls you and asks for your password.
  • Put your phone number on the National Do Not Call Registry, and then report illegal sales calls.

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