If you’ve ever gotten a notice advertising a service to boost your personal computer’s performance, you might want to be careful. A recent Federal Trade Commission proceeding demonstrates how you could be getting scammed.
The case involves two companies – Vast Tech Support LLC and OMG Tech Support LLC. According to a complaint filed by the FTC, the companies had a pretty slick operation going. They offered a service called PC HealthBoost. Consumers who visited pchealthboost.com were offered the opportunity to download a free version of the PC HealthBoost program. That program would perform an automatic “system scan” (editor’s note – the FTC used the quotation marks in its complaint. This is never a good sign for the defendant). Lo and behold, the scan would inevitably turn up errors that slowed down the PC’s performance.
But, and you probably saw this coming, the errors had no material impact on the PC’s performance. According to the complaint, the PC HealthBoost scan flags innocuous and beneficial files found on nearly every computer, such as the computer's temporary files and cookies. Worse, the free scan identifies Windows DLLS (Dynamic Link Libraries) as "errors" to be removed, which could potentially cause problems for the computer.
The system scan was step one. Step two was to trick consumers into thinking their computers had big problems. Consumers were instructed to “’Click to continue' to restore your PC to full health. (Recommended),". When consumers clicked the “Continue" button, they discovered they were required to pay $29.97 for the “Registered" version of the program in order to fix the vast majority of the so-called "errors."
Many consumers agreed to pay the $29.97 fee for the program (or $43.94 for two years). Apparently, Vast and OMG managed to successfully scare enough consumers to rake in over $51 million in net payments from them. That’s a lot of fear mongering.
Vast and OMG decided it was better to settle with the FTC (and that is typically the case when the FTC files a suit). The settlement enjoins Vast and OMG from:
“Advertising, marketing, promoting, offering for sale, selling, [or] providing . . . any tech support product or service; and [o]wning or controlling any entity advertising, marketing, promoting [or] offering for sale . . . any tech support product or service.” Vast and OMG also agreed to a consent judgment against them in the amount of $27,227,272. That is a huge amount, but as a practical matter, the FTC is not awarding bonuses with that money.
Vast and OMG are in receivership and likely unable to pay anywhere near that amount. The companies agreed, as part of the settlement, to turn over any remaining assets once the companies are wound down.
The good news is that there are at least a few less scammers out there. The bad news is, like roaches, they can never be completely eradicated. Before plunking down any money on an online promotion, it probably pays to do some research.