At the boiling point about "tech support" boiler rooms

Share This Page

For most consumers, the scam started with a disturbing phone call.  We’re from Microsoft (or Dell or Norton or McAfee), the “tech support” person on the line said, and we’ve detected a serious problem with your computer.  To underscore the need for immediate action, the caller directed people to a particular location on their computers and claimed that the presence of certain files — often accompanied by red Xs, yellow triangles, and other ominous features — was proof that their computers were riddled with malware and in imminent danger of crashing.  "Tech support" promised to correct the issue if people gave them permission to access their computers remotely and paid for the service.  After some virtual smoke and mirrors — and hundreds of dollars later — the caller claimed to have fixed the “problem.”

But according to law enforcement actions filed by the FTC, the only problem consumers had was picking up the phone when they were cold-called by international scammers (mostly India-based) who targeted people in the United States, Canada, Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, and the U.K.  What about those dangerous files “tech support” claimed to spot on people’s computers?  It was the Event Viewer, innocuous notifications that are part of the day-to-day administration of most computer operating systems.  And those “fixes”?  Pretty much useless, according to the complaints.

In lawsuits targeting 14 corporate defendants and 17 individuals, the FTC charged that companies used telemarketing boiler rooms to call consumers, many of whom had phone numbers on the National Do Not Call Registry.  The FTC also says another defendant lured consumers by placing ads with Google that appeared when consumers searched for their computer company’s real tech support number.  The FTC alleges that the scammers used a web of subterfuge to avoid detection, including 80 different domain names, 130 different phone numbers, virtual “offices” and mail forwarding facilities.

Underscoring the international nature of the operations, FTC Chairman Leibowitz announced the cases today along with law enforcement partners from Australia and Canada.  A federal judge in New York has ordered a halt to the alleged scam pending further hearings and has frozen the defendants assets.

So what can businesses take from the announcement?  First, be clear with your customers about how and when you’ll contact them if there’s a problem.  There’s no one-size-fits-all defense to phishing scams, but it helps if customers know how to contact you directly to verify if a call or email is legit.  Second, tech support scams like this can harm your business financially.  Consumers who are once bitten are twice shy about opening their wallets.  Educating them about the latest forms of fraud can help empower them to spot scammers.  One resource you can share:, the federal government’s website to help people stay safe and secure online.



About time the authorities stand firm against these scammers. I've had calls like that which I reported to and it didn't surprise me when I got several complaint responses associated with the phone number. They're just unstoppable. Hopefully, it won't take long til the last scammer goes behind bars.

It is very frustrating especially when they keep calling my landlady who doesn't even have a computer. It has been an ongoing problems for at least a year now, I hope something is done soon. It's a disgrace!

And still the calls keep coming. Today alone I've received more than a dozen such calls, and the night is still young. Does the FTC have no teeth at all? You take years to bring actions against these scumbags and before you actually DO anything they have already moved on, starting the process over again.

Called me twice in a row this morning, after I told them to stop calling and hung up. This form of harassment has become very persistent.

I have received numerous calls from "windows tech support" saying I have a problem with my computer. I have cussed them out, told them not to call again, hung up on them all to no avail. Reported to Comcast , On the do not call reg. and still receiving calls. Two calls today.

I have been harassed with Windows tech support calls for over a yr., now. What do they gain from these calls if I never pay them anything? HELP.

Add new comment

Comment Policy

Privacy Act Statement

It is your choice whether to submit a comment. If you do, you must create a user name, or we will not post your comment. The Federal Trade Commission Act authorizes this information collection for purposes of managing online comments. Comments and user names are part of the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) public records system (PDF), and user names also are part of the FTC’s computer user records system (PDF). We may routinely use these records as described in the FTC’s Privacy Act system notices. For more information on how the FTC handles information that we collect, please read our privacy policy.