A federal court has granted a request by the Federal Trade Commission to shut down a tech support scam that allegedly bilked consumers out of more than $17 million by pretending to represent Microsoft, Apple and other major tech companies.
The defendants in the case used internet advertisements and popups that appeared to be from well-known technology companies to lure consumers into calling them, according to both the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office and the Connecticut Attorney General’s Office.
According to a complaint filed by the FTC, when consumers called the defendants’ phone numbers, they were further misled into thinking their computers were riddled with viruses, malware or security breaches, and were given a high-pressure sales pitch for unnecessary tech support services.
As alleged in the complaint, consumers who responded to the phony ads were routed to a call center operated by the defendants, where telemarketers would frequently misrepresent that they were a "Microsoft agent," "Google support" or "work with AT&T,” among other affiliation claims. The telemarketers would then convince consumers to give them remote access to their computers, navigate to harmless portions of the computer, such as the Windows Event Viewer and mislead consumers into thinking their computer was infected with viruses and malware.
At that point, defendants would pressure consumers to sign up for technical support plans and repair services often costing hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars. In some cases, the alleged technical support consisted of deleting harmless files, but in other cases, defendants “technicians" would make changes that could potentially harm the performance of the computer, according to the complaint.
"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 Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. "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."
Under terms of the preliminary injunction order issued by the court, the defendants must stop their deceptive and unfair practices and are subject to an asset freeze while the case against them progresses. The defendants in the case are Click4Support, LLC; iSourceUSA LLC, also doing business as Click4Support and UBERTECHSUPPORT; Innovazion, Inc., also doing business as Click4Support Tech Services; Spanning Source LLC, also doing business as Click4Support; Bruce Bartolotta, also known as Bruce Bart; George Saab; Chetan Bhikhubhai Patel; and Niraj Patel.
The complaint in the case alleges that the defendants violated the FTC Act, the Telemarketing Sales Rule, the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act, and the Pennsylvania Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law.