Operation Tech Trap targets tech support scams – and offers insights for business

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Does the thought of losing everything on your computer leave you queasy? That’s the anxiety fraudsters attempt to exploit with tech support scams – and it’s conduct the FTC and law enforcement partners are challenging through 16 civil and criminal (yes, criminal) actions announced as part of Operation Tech Trap.

Tech support scammers’ modus operandi is to run ads that resemble pop-up security alerts from Microsoft, Apple, or other companies. Consumers are warned that their computers are infected with viruses or are under hack attack. Some pop-ups even feature a countdown clock, supposedly showing the time remaining before the hard drive will be fried – unless the consumer calls a toll-free number supposedly affiliated with one of those big-name companies.

Once operators have consumers on the phone, the real theatrics begin. Operators claim to need remote access to consumers’ computers so they can run “diagnostic tests.” Those tests purport to reveal grave problems that can only be solved by one of their “certified technicians” – for a hefty fee, of course. Companies use high-pressure tactics to strong-arm consumers into paying hundreds of dollars for unnecessary repairs, anti-virus protection or software, and other products and services. (Here’s an example of a pitch in action.)

In four of the just-announced Operation Tech Trap cases, the FTC and the State AGs of Florida, Alabama, and Ohio allege that the defendants used methods like that to take consumers for millions. (The defendants in those actions include Repair All PC, Troth Solutions, Vylah Tec, Universal Network Solutions, and a cast of individuals and other companies the FTC and AGs allege were in on the action.) In three of those cases, federal judges have entered temporary restraining orders to halt the practices, freeze assets, and appoint temporary receivers to take control of the businesses.

In addition, settlements were announced in two pending cases. Following up on a complaint filed last year against Help Desk National and a host of others, the FTC and the Florida AG have shut down an operation that ran a tech support boiler room in Boynton Beach, Florida. The defendants in that matter are banned for life from providing tech support products or services and will turn over $700,000 in assets.

Settling another case filed in 2016 against Click4Support LLC and others, the FTC and AGs from Connecticut and Pennsylvania announced that the defendants are banned from marketing technical support services, will pay a total of more than $554,000, and will forfeit an additional $1.3 million held by the court-appointed receiver. A federal judge in Philadelphia also entered a $27 million default judgment against a related party.

But that’s not all. As part of Operation Tech Trap, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Illinois announced five indictments and one guilty plea in connection with its investigation of First Choice Tech Support, LLC and Client Care Experts. (The Florida AG had obtained an order halting the outfits in June 2016.)

How does this boil down for businesses?

  • Consumers get caught in tech support scammers’ web, but so do small businesses and people who work from home. The FTC has updated its advice on what you can do to protect yourself. Also, we’ll be hosting a roundtable this summer for law enforcement agencies leading the charge against this kind of fraud and for businesses affected by tech support scams, including companies whose names have been misused by con artists. Looking for tips on spotting other B2B scams? Our new Protecting Small Businesses site is designed with you in mind.
  • Tech support scammers inflict injury in two ways. First, they use deceptive tactics to whack consumers in the wallet. Second, they undermine genuine efforts to encourage people to protect their computers from viruses and malware. There are legitimate products out there that can help people safeguard their systems – often at a much lower cost than what tech support scammers charge for their ineffective services. Reputable businesses shouldn’t have to compete against outfits that use phony-baloney pitches to fix what ain’t broke. 
  • Operation Tech Trap illustrates the close relationship among federal, state, and local law enforcers. We’ve also been working with authorities in India to crack down on tech support scams operating in that country. That’s good news for consumers and bad news for companies that think they can profit from “divide and conquer” strategies.
  • People who participate in tech support scams aren’t just risking their assets and future livelihoods. They could face criminal prosecution. Enough said? We hope so.

     

Comments

HOW CAN I TELL IF THE SCAMMERS CORRUPTED MY OpERATING SYSTem

I hung up and disconnected rather than pay$300 for"technical services" All seems to be well on my macbook pro
However I have kept it offline. The call center sounded like operators from India. The incident happened to me while I was trying to download information from the American kennel Club site around May 5th of this this year. l

If you didn't download anything and didn't allow them to access your computer, you're fine.

There's nothing they can do without your permission.

What about robocalls? Is there anything being done about that?

Check out a company called Barewire--supposedly headquartered out of England but using skype to connect with people in India--they list themselves with all the symbols of Microsoft and Dell and you have to ask if they are either one. They got me for $299 and id NOTHING. They operate from somewhere in Southern California for those of us out here. They are total scam artists and need to be shut down and jailed.

Hopefully, your efforts will keep bringing down the scammers.

Unfortunately, these companies keep popping up and they use more complicated techniques to attract victims for this scam.

This article, for example, discusses manipulation of Google search results by fake tech support scammers:

You should look into this method, and perhaps work with Google to start removing them from the organic results.

I got scammed twice they locked my computer and had to call an 800 number had Microsoft logo it cost me 49.99 that time it went to Support Cart Solutions LLC- 844-616-8675 Tech # 442-228-0101 from Bishop,Calif.Support Cart -2001 North Dixie High way suite D-Pompano Beach, Florida 33060.Second time cost me $200.00 they locked my computer again Get 2 net 646-719-9417 or 888-885-0222 or 888-226-0555 contact person Robert Clark Ext.919 sorry no address for them I have called last number listed and got a hold of him.could sure use my money back.Thanks Garry

I got scammed from Support Cart Solutions on Saturday May 27 for $199.99. They said they were working with Mcrosoft to fix Viruses on Wndows computers. I told them my computer was old and was not worth that much but they somehow convinced me it wasn't my computer but my IP address on my router and even if I got a new computer I would still be infected. I am going to try and get my money back from my credit card.

Friday June 2nd message popped up on my computer that it had been attacked by a Zeus, back door virus and I should call the stated phone number immediately or my computer would be locked within minutes. The message even had Microsoft logo on it and that is exactly how they answered the phone as a Microsoft tech. Long story short they are a scam and should be shut down. Unfortunately in my desperation I fell for all of it and allowed them access and paid $149.99 for nothing. When the so called tech was finished he transferred me to the billing department where the reality came to life. He gave me the name of the company as SupportCart Solutions and clearly stated that they were the only company that was designated to service these types of problems for Dell. As I found out from Dell & Microsoft this place is a SCAM. Today Dell is cleaning all of the junk they left on my computer. The supposed technician, very strong East Indian accent , named Sam Martin? The billing person also, very strong East Indian accent, named Gary King ? Whatever, when I questioned their legitimacy to the Gary King character he became very belligerent, insulting & Said they would undo all they would undo everything and refund the $$$$. They didn't remove anything and doubt the $$$ will be returned Lesson learned.-

The exact thing happened to me and I was desperate to get help and did as they asked. Spoke to a man named Peter Paul who listed the billing info on my laptop in notepad. Idk why I didn't see the scam from the start but I was desperate, and my mother paid $200 to them to fix it. They do that then 3 weeks later they call me claiming their systems crashed and the payment didn't go through and requested another $200 or they'd put a virus on my laptop and release my info. My mother didn't have the money and already thought it was a scam since her bank said it went through, so she filed a dispute. A man named Tom Allen said he'd pay for me because he "liked my attitude and I was nice to him." Of course I'm still guilable and giving him the benefit of the doubt. He says we have to pay him back but wants to be connected to the computer that my mother will be on to see her account, she says hell no. He still seemed like a nice gentleman so I promised him we'd pay him back. Didffenet people call from the "company" verifying my security code, asking to look at the computer for error codes, and check that it's running well, still I'm clueless. He calls from the "company" phone and a private number. My mother, brother, and best friend evaluate the whole ordeal and are 100% it's a scam. I tried to make my number private, and I'm good with impersonations so disquise my voice, and ask speak to a higher up person and verify this whole "system crash" story, Tom Allen answers. I simply ask if the story was true and he hung up on me. That was TODAY, and then I got transfered to a total creep I didn't know who was determined to get my phone number "not to talk about the computer, just to talk." So I of course hung up. Now I'm currently trying to dig up all I can on the buisness, this "Tom Allen," every number given to me, and how they were the designated technitions, and believe me I am trying to find everything I can to see if suing is an option. We haven't given the 2nd $200 yet so thankfully I'm finally seeing all this now. At first we thought it was just this individual, but by what I'm seeing it's the entire place, Tom Allen just so happens to be the most popular of them all.

I believe my mother has been scammed in exactly the same manner described by Shirley Spaulding. She is in Kansas and I am in New Jersey. I am terrified as she paid them via her checking account in February. March and most recently in the last 2 days in excess of $8000. Can I file an FTC complaint on her behalf she has given me names and numbers. Please help I am desperate.

I was SCAM the same way as Shirley was--Called credit card company to have payment stopped.. Sure feel like a DUMB person for falling for it. I have contacted Microsoft to clean up the mess.

I got scammed from Support Cart Solutions LLC on Sunday June 25, 2017 for $149.00 ,844-616-8675 2001 North Dixie High way suite D-Pompano Beach, Florida 33060.. Message popped up on my computer that it had been attacked by a Zeus, back door virus and I should call the stated phone number immediately or my computer would be locked within minutes. The message even had Microsoft logo on it and that is exactly how they answered the phone as a Microsoft tech. Long story short they are a scam . Unfortunately in my desperation I fell for all of it and allowed them access and paid $149.99 for nothing. When the so called tech was finished he transferred me to the billing department where the reality came to life. He gave me the name of the company as Support Cart Solutions LLC and clearly stated that they were the only company that was designated to service these types of problems for asus and microsoft. Contactes microsoft and was a scam. Taking computer to a technician to get checked and anything removed. Contacted credit bureaus and card companies, bank and changing passwords. All had Indian accent

I was contacted yesterday by this company for what I assumed was part of their 'lifetime' protection package which I purchased in May 2017. Yesterday, I allowed him access to my laptop to conduct his work. Being weary of what he was going to do, I watched my screen as he now had control of the mouse.

First thing he did was delete the documents on my desktop that reference the Support Cart product I purchased and the name and contact info of technician with whom I spoke the first time. Here is a note the first person who contacted me put on my computer screen:

Technician Name : STEVE WAYNE
TECH ID : HS1310
TOLL FREE : 1-888-259-5222 /1-888-885-0222

Security key : LWERNS369
This is the key that i am giving to verify your own technician so you will ask this key from the technician for confirming that you are talking with the correct person and you are not in wrong hands. First you have to ask this security key from every technician than you have to talk to that person if he is unable to provide you the right key just hang up. you don't have to share this key to anyone or any technician, you have to ask this key everytime when someone calls you from our company the hackers can also try to call you anytime even they can take my name or my technician name but you you don't have to trust them without the security key if they will try to twist the words that security is changed so don't believe them just ask this key and it will never be change in the future and they can also tell you that "first go to your computer they will give you on the computer notepad or on your computer" but you don't have to do anything just hang up on them. paste that near your computer so that you will have that everytime.

I was skeptical of the support they would provide yesterday, and I was right. After telling how vulnerable my computer is to 'hackers' and pulling up all the passwords to every account I have (bank, investments, 401k, etc) and how these are also vulnerable, he then proceeds to tell me how I now have to purchase an 'IP addess' protection package for $349. My initial purchase was for $649.

I want to uninstall the software but feel I may need it when I try to dispute this charge once again with my bank. I would appreciate any advice?

SupportCartSolutions trapped me June 3. Found this FTC page after. July 18, 2017: same people called, now Gigabyte US Tec. Had to hang up >dozen times before they stopped trying to 'fix' my PC again. They knew I had stopped any more charges.

I see a settlement was reched, so will f/u with FTC. Just thought you should know they are still at it, do not know if they moved out of Pompano Beach, FL as Gigabyte US Tec - they are still claiming to be Microsoft.

I have been called every day for the last 5 days at my business by a man who says that he is working for I support and that my virus software is in danger. He claims I will be hacked if I do not log onto supremo.com and download their app onto my computer. I am not sure what he would do after that. I have told him everyday that I will not do it and to quit calling me. He is calling from phone number 888-226-0555 and claims the business is isupport.

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