The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) mailed over $668,000 in the form of 3,791 refund checks to victims of a tech support scam last month.
In July 2016, the FTC and the state of Florida alleged Big Dog Solutions LLC (doing business as Help Desk National and Help Desk Global) and related defendants operated a telemarketing scheme that deceived consumers into purchasing unnecessary computer security or technical support services for problems that did not actually exist by misrepresenting to consumers that their computers were compromised and falsely claiming they were authorized by companies such as Microsoft and Apple to service their products. Tactics included generating pop-ups that in some cases rendered web browsers unusable and instructing consumers to call a toll free number for technical assistance. Paid internet advertisements placed by affiliate marketers often drove traffic to the websites that generated these pop-ups.
The complaint alleged consumers that called the numbers were routed to call centers where supposedly “certified” technicians would run “diagnostics” and notify the consumer that resolution of the issues would cost $200-$300 and sometimes an extra $200-$500 to replace antivirus software. The FTC has taken action against such tech support operations since 2010 and launched an international effort to crack down on the scams called “Operation Tech Trap” in May 2017. The defendants settled with the FTC and the state of Florida that month and are currently banned from offering tech support and engaging in deceptive telemarketing practices.
Takeaway: Advertisers should be aware that the FTC continues to jointly file enforcement actions with state attorneys general in an effort to protect consumers.