Announcing a “major, international crackdown” on tech support scams, the Federal Trade Commission filed suit against six defendants who tricked consumers into purchasing fixes for viruses or malware.
Five of the defendants used telemarketing calls to contact consumers, the agency alleged, while the sixth placed ads on Google that would appear when consumers searched for the tech support number of their computer company.
The defendants claimed they were affiliated with companies like McAfee and Norton and told consumers that malware had been detected on their computers. Consumers were directed to the “Event Viewer” in their computer’s utility log where defendants claimed innocuous entries were really evidence of a virus.
For fees ranging from $49 to $450, the defendants offered to “fix” the computer. Consumers were instructed to download software allowing the defendants remote access from which they would remove the malware or virus. In addition, the defendants offered consumers long-term technical support or security services for additional fees.
Targeting consumers not only in the United States but Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom, the defendants used 80 different domain names and 130 different phone numbers, according to the complaint.
The complaints alleged that 14 corporate defendants and 17 individual defendants violated the FTC Act, the Telemarketing Sales Rule, and made illegal calls to numbers on the federal Do Not Call Registry.
A federal court judge in New York already issued an order against the defendants, halting their business operations and freezing their assets.
To read the complaints and the court’s order granting a temporary restraining order, click here.
Why it matters: Tech scams are keeping the agency busy. Just one day prior to the announcement of the international crackdown, the FTC confirmed that a U.S. District Court Judge imposed a $163 million judgment in a case against a “scareware” operation. The defendants in that case also used Internet ads to trick consumers into believing their computers were infected and then sold them software to fix the problem. The judge imposed the penalty after a two-day trial against the remaining defendant in the suit (the other defendants previously settled with the agency; two agreed to pay $8.2 million last year). Finding the sole remaining defendant joint and severally liable, the judge imposed the $163 million penalty, a sum calculated by the FTC to reflect either the amount of consumer redress, or the amount paid by consumers for the defendants’ products, minus any refunds.