The tech support scam isn't very sophisticated, but tens of thousands of people keep falling for it year after year.
Almost exactly a month ago, I told you how the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) had to step in and shut down an entire business built on fake "tech support" calls that took nearly $2.5 million out of victims' pockets, selling elder customers products and apps that they didn't need. That was just the beginning.
The FTC has now obtained court orders to temporarily shut down two huge telemarketing operations that have been running tech support scams. These firms are said to have taken more than $120 million by providing fake tech support services for non-existent computer problems.
According to the press release from the FTC:
“These operations prey on consumers’ lack of technical knowledge with deceptive pitches and high-pressure tactics to sell useless software and services to the tune of millions of dollars,” said Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “There’s no excuse for it, and we are pleased the court has taken steps to temporarily shut down these scams while our lawsuit proceeds.”
The FTC then detailed how this particular scam worked:
... 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.
This sweep is the FTC's third major attempt to end tech scams since 2011.
Even though there's one less network of scammers to worry about, there's still plenty of scammers out there champing at the bit to get your hard-earned money. Click here for more ways to spot tech support scams and how to protect yourself.