Defendants Used Search Engine Results and Popups to Lure Consumers to Deceptive Scheme
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.
“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.”
According to a complaint filed by the FTC, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General and State of Connecticut Office of Attorney General, 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. 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.
Under the 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.
The FTC thanks the Better Business Bureaus serving Connecticut and Eastern Pennsylvania for their assistance in this investigation.
The Commission vote authorizing the staff to file the complaint was 4-0. The complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
NOTE: The Commission files a complaint when it has “reason to believe” that the law has been or is being violated and it appears to the Commission that a proceeding is in the public interest. The case will be decided by the court.
The Federal Trade Commission works for consumers to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices and to provide information to help spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint in English or Spanish, visit the FTC’s online Complaint Assistant or call 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357). The FTC enters complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to more than 2,000 civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad. The FTC’s website provides free information on a variety of consumer topics. Like the FTC on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, and subscribe to press releases for the latest FTC news and resources.
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