FTC fells four tech-support operations in scammer crackdown

Turns out Microsoft and Apple don't use pop-up ads for tech support

The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is cracking down on scammers who fraudulently claim to represent the likes of Microsoft and Apple.

The FTC said it has been granted a court order for an asset freeze and an injunction order on four companies who it said were tricking people into paying for unneeded, and in some cases, harmful fake security or 'repair' services.

"We're pleased the court shut down these scammers, who defrauded consumers out of millions of dollars by preying on their lack of technical expertise,” said FTC consumer protection bureau director Jessica Rich.

"Our goal is now to get money back for the victims in this case, and keep the defendants out of the scam tech support business."

The commission has named four companies and four individuals in its legal complaint (PDF) alleging violations of both the FTC Act and the US Telemarketing Act.

The FTC alleged that the companies used browser ads designed to look like system alerts or phony antivirus scans. The ads asked users to call what they were told was a 'support hotline' for Microsoft, Apple, Google or Dell. Upon calling the number, the 'agent' would then attempt to sell the user unneeded support and security software or services.

In some cases, the FTC claims, the 'agents' would even use remote access software to access the victim's PC and delete files, potentially harming the system software, and then billing users hundreds or thousands of dollars.

The FTC alleges that the companies targeted by the complaint were able to raise as much as $17m in revenues since 2013.

Under the terms of the injunction (PDF), the court has barred all eight of the companies and individuals from engaging in any fraudulent marketing or billing practices.

Additionally, the preliminary injunction orders that all of the defendants 'support' telephone numbers be disconnected, their corporate websites suspended and their assets frozen pending the final outcome of the FTC case.

The complaint, Civil Action NO. 15-5777, is being handled by the US District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. ®

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