FTC Takes Action to Quell Tech Support Scam Epidemic

Anthony Freed
By | October 09, 2012

Posted in: Network Security Trends

Consumers are being inundated with bogus warnings that their systems are infected with spyware and viruses by "scareware" scammers intent on fraudulently collecting fees and seeking to gain remote access to victim's computers.

At the behest of the Federal Trade Commission, a U.S. District Court Judge has issued orders to halt the operations and freeze the assets of six companies at the center of the probe, identified in the judicial action as being Pecon Software Ltd., Finmaestros LLC,  Zeal IT Solutions Pvt. Ltd., Virtual PC Solutions, Lakshmi Infosoul Services Pvt. Ltd., and PCCare247, Inc., which are now under investigation by regulators.

Altogether, the FTC has charged fourteen companies and and seventeen individuals "with violating the FTC Act, which bars unfair and deceptive commercial practices, as well as the Telemarketing Sales Rule and with illegally calling numbers on the Do Not Call Registry." The agency is also seeking restitution in an amount that has not yet been disclosed.

“The FTC has been aggressive – and successful – in its pursuit of tech support scams. And the tech support scam artists we are talking about today have taken scareware to a whole other level of virtual mayhem," FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz said in an agency press release.

The tactics employed by the companies in question put a spin on the old scareware con game, which in the past often entailed a popup window from a malicious website directing web surfers to download antivirus or anti-spyware software to mitigate non-existent malware said to have been detected on the target's computer.

The latest version of the scam involves unsolicited telemarketer phone calls from individuals claiming to be representatives of well known companies such as Dell, McAfee and Microsoft. The caller falsely informs the victim that their computer has been infected and offers to remove the malicious software from the device for a fee ranging from $49 to $450, according to the FTC.

Targets are then directed by the caller to navigate to a website which allows the scammers to gain remote access to the victim's computer, at which point the caller purports to have rid the device of the nonexistent threats.

In an effort to evade detection by authorities, the companies are said to have used as many as 130 different phone numbers and 80 domain names, and the FTC believes the number of victims of the scams is in the tens-of-thousands.

Consumers should understand that legitimate companies do not make unsolicited calls to warn of possible malware infections, and the best defense is to keep operating systems, browsers and applications up to date with the latest versions, as well as investing in one of the many security products available from trusted sources.

"Users must understand how criminals use psychology with lures of easy money. The most effective way to protect yourself is to install a full suite of security protection on your computer so your money and your information remain guarded," says consumer fraud prevention expert Robert Siciliano.

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