Windows tech support scams have been conning PC users out of money for years, and there's seemingly no end in sight. The Federal Trade Commission today announced that "a federal court has temporarily shut down two massive telemarketing operations that conned tens of thousands of consumers out of more than $120 million by deceptively marketing computer software and tech support services."
This is the third in a series of actions against such operations, the FTC said, and if the past is any indication, it won't be the last. The FTC announced a big crackdown in late 2012 and another in late 2013. But PC users continued to hand over money to nearly identical scammers, according to the latest FTC complaints. Today's FTC press release described a method that has tricked PC users time and again:
According to the FTC’s complaints, each scam starts with computer software that purports to enhance the security or performance of consumers’ computers. Typically, consumers download a free trial version of software that runs a computer system scan. The defendants’ software scan always identifies numerous errors on consumers’ computers, regardless of whether the computer has any performance problems.
The software then tells consumers that, in order to fix the identified errors, they will have to purchase the paid version of the software. In reality, the FTC alleges, the defendants pitching the software designed these highly deceptive scans to identify hundreds or even thousands of “errors” that have nothing to do with a computer’s performance or security. After consumers purchase the “full” version of the software at a cost of $29 to $49, the software directs them to call a toll-free number to “activate” the software.
When consumers call the activation number, however, they are connected to telemarketers who try to sell computer repair services and computer software using deceptive scare tactics to deceive consumers into paying for unneeded computer support services.
According to the FTC, the telemarketers tell consumers that, in order to activate the software they have just purchased, they must provide the telemarketers with remote access to their computers. The telemarketers then launch into a scripted sales pitch that includes showing consumers various screens on their computers, such as the Windows Event Viewer, and falsely claiming that these screens show signs that consumers’ computers have significant damage. After convincing consumers that their computers need immediate help, the telemarketers then pitch security software and tech support services that cost as much as $500.
The FTC teamed up with the State of Florida on the latest cases, winning federal court orders against the companies that "also temporarily freeze the defendants’ assets and place the businesses under the control of a court-appointed receiver." The complaints say the defendants have been scamming consumers since at least 2012.